POSTED ON JULY 8, 2009:
Heatin' the Hardwood
Those in need of a pick-me-up should tune in to the world of youth basketball
Baseball season slugs along. Zzzzzz. Wake me when the excitement reaches five out of 10 on the give-a-crap scale. I've been searching for a way to incorporate basketball talk into the dregs of summer.
The Tulsa 66ers' search for a new home would be the logical choice. No news on that front kinda kills the angle. The organization continues to "no comment" the situation with the SpiritBank Event Center.
The team's new coach is out of town coaching in the Las Vegas and Orlando summer leagues. We'll bio him soon enough.
In the meantime, Hardwood Productions continues to slam the local courts. Back in 1998, Jim Cox decided this town needed a reputable youth basketball entity.
What started out as a two-tournament operation in 1998 expanded to 16 tournaments per year. Fourteen youth tournaments and two high-profile pre-season high school tournaments fill the calendar.
"Our very first tournament was the Thanksgiving Shoot-Out in 1998," said Hardwood Productions founder Jim Cox. Cox left the natural gas business in 1991 to erect Champions Athletic Complex. CAC opened in 1996.
He joined 39 partners ranging from Bill Self to Dave Rader to Butch Davis to Kevin Pritchard. A who's who in Tulsa athletics.
"There was a group of partners, not those I just named, that will remain unnamed that had a different agenda. My philosophy has always been customer service first and there was money grubbing as much as you can. Get them in, get them out," he said. He left CAC to form Hardwood Productions in 1998. Now, the ball stops with him.
His passion for basketball fueled his fire. He played collegiate b-ball at NSU and coached the Tulsa Hawks for almost 13 years.
The tournaments draw teams from five states: Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and, of course, Oklahoma. "If you took a compass and put it on Tulsa and put the point of it over on Little Rock and drew a circle--that's basically where we draw from," he said.
Competitive youth teams from Kansas City, Dallas and Little Rock are commonplace. The Tulsa economy gets stimulated. The Web site, www.hwood.com, lists local hotels available as well as specific contacts for out-of-towners.
The tournaments are recession resistance, not recession proof. There are two main reasons for this.
1. Parents forgo personal luxury items before telling their kids they cannot play in a basketball tournament.
2. His clients are not wealthy. They are not Wall Street types trembling as their portfolios dwindle from millions to thousands. "People will spend a little less money but we haven't raised the prices on anything in a long, long, long, long time. And I won't.
"We've been doing this a long time. Our advertising is word of mouth. That's difficult to do when 50 percent of your customers are not happy every hour because 50 percent of the teams lose."
The largest tournaments take place from March to June. Look at the numbers: 92, 103 and 81. That's how many teams entered the past three events. First, second and third place finishers from every tournament can be located on the Web site.
Each tournament is broken down into several divisions. Of course the boys and girls are split. Also, the age grouping is broken down as follows: Third grade--nine and under, fourth grade--10 and under, fifth grade--11 and under, etc...
"In many instances we'll have two divisions (within a given age breakdown). We'll have division one which is a higher level of team, more all-star oriented. Then we'll have division two which is more recreational," he said.
The fifth, sixth and seventh grade divisions field the most teams on average. The younger divisions are just starting out and the high school levels lose a few teams because of their age.
"When you get into the older grades, they decide they aren't good enough or they want to play baseball or soccer so the numbers dwindle a little bit," he said.
This weekend, July 10-12, the Hardwood Tradition takes center stage. Several gyms are used for each event. Cox's relationship with multiple venues allows him to fine-tune a working schedule for each tournament.
He's just one man. If several venues are hosting each tournament how can he oversee the progress?
"I have young men and women who have worked for me for many years. They are site managers, score keepers, gate people, etc. This last weekend I probably had 24 young people who worked for me. They make a nice living I might add," he chuckled. Of course game officials are needed as well. No "call your own foul" rules.
Of course, I wanted a crazy story. We always read about overzealous coaches and parents at youth sporting events. Hell, most of us have witnessed the losers wreak havoc. So give me a story, the best one.
"We don't have enough time for that," he said crushing my hopes. "There are crazy stories at every tournament and they usually involve crazy parents.
"The biggest negative on what I do is out of control parents and out of control coaches--if you want to call them a coach--a wannabe coach. All of a sudden they think they are Bill Self or Mike Krzyzewski and they're not," he said. They are apparently more like Bob Knight and Phillip Wellman (go ahead and Google Phillip Wellman, please do, you're nodding now, aren't you).
The bad apples are weeded out over time. "If a person acts crazy once, they are probably going to act crazy again," he said. "It makes it so much better for all of the people that are there for the right reasons."
It's not all bad.
"We just do the best we can. I got a phone call from a lady today that had a third grade boy's team from Ft. Gibson. She couldn't tell me enough about how it was the greatest thing the parents and kids ever (participated in). They were so excited. They can't wait to come back," he said.
"I don't care what business you are in--you damn sure learn in my business that it is impossible to make everybody happy. Impossible! What we try to do--my philosophy -- we strive to make everything perfect in a completely imperfect situation."
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