On the first few days day after Christmas every year, there’s no place that Bill Beckemeyer would rather be than the Mater Dei High School gym.
He was back again Wednesday night as part of a standing-room-only crowd that witnessed Okawville’s 48-40 tournament championship victory over Central as the Rockets claimed their first Mater Dei Christmas Tournament title since 2002.
Beckemeyer has seen every one of Mater Dei’s 55 holiday tournaments, including the first one in 1961.
“I’ve seen probably a game or more than one game every year,” said Beckemeyer, who has also been on the scorer’s table at the tourney the past 31 years as the scorekeeper for Carlyle High. “For someone that’s a basketball junkie, this is the place to be.”
Beckemeyer recalled the first tournament, which coincided with the first year Mater Dei’s gym opened. It was an eight-team bracket tourney and included Mater Dei, Sts. Peter and Paul from Waterloo, Warrensburg Latham, Decatur St. Teresa, Assumption, Mt. Pulaski, St. Paul from Highland and Marion.
“It was a new gym and that was one reason to have the tournament, because they wanted to showcase the gym,” Beckemeyer said. “It was a nice big gym, it still is. The tournament just kind of mushroomed from there and got bigger and bigger.”
Former Bradley University baseball coach Dewey Kalmer scored 20 points to lead Mater Dei to the 1961 tourney championship. Current Mater Dei athletic director and former basketball and baseball coach Dennis Trame also starred on that team.
The evening sessions are typically sellouts on most night and the crowds Tuesday and Wednesday packed the gym to overflowing with nearly 2,000 people on hand.
“People take off for vacations during this period of time,” Trame said. “A lot of (local) people want to help any way they can and they make a week of it. A lot of people have big family reunions over this period of time and they might just all pick up and go to the tournament.
“People that are Mater Dei season ticket holders never want to give up their tickets because they feel like that’s one of the ways they can still get into the tournament.”
With the lower bleacher section crowd just inches away from the court on three sides and fans also sitting on the stage at the far end, it creates as intense a basketball atmosphere as can be found.
“The players themselves kind of feed off that, too,” Beckemeyer said. “When the gym’s packed you’ve got to be hyped up. It’s rivalries that are fueled by the people that show up here and watch this tournament year after year.
“It’s a very prestigious tournament. It may not be big-time like Centralia or Collinsville, you don’t have all the 4A schools in here. But as far as a 1A, 2A or even a 3A tournament, this is one of the best tournaments in the state.”
PARADE OF STARS
Among the former stars at the tourney over the years include former Iowa player Gary Lusk (Madison), former Kansas standout Rick Suttle (Assumption), former Chicago Cubs No. 1 draft pick Dean Burk (Highland), former Mizzou center Gail Wolf (Okawville), former Notre Dame star running back Jerome Heavens (Assumption), Steve Lanter (Mascoutah), former San Francisco 49ers superstar and four-time Super Bowl winner Eric Wright (Assumption), future major league shortstop Dick Schofield (Springfield Griffin) and former Southern Illinois University Carbondale player and current Nashville High athletic director Wayne Harre (three-time all-tournament team pick).
The list includes former Illini star and current Eastern Illinois University Athletic Director Tom Michael (Carlyle), Belleville East coach and former SIUC standout Abel Schrader (Okawville) and former Northern Iowa star Lucas O’Rear (Nashville).
The tourney stars change from year and the latest crop includes Okawville junior guard Noah Frederking, a Division I prospect and Central senior Logan Kohrmann. Frederking’s 22 points in the championship game Wednesday gave him 302 points in just three years at the tournament.
He needs only three points to surpass former Mascoutah star and current Indians assistant coach Robbie Rudy’s pool play record of 304 points from 2003-06. Frederking also stands 11 points away from breaking the tourney’s all-time scoring record of 312 points set by Suttle from 1967-70.
Kraus was the tourney Most Valuable Player for Okawville back in 1991. On Wednesday he found himself coaching against former Okawville teammate and 1993 all-tournament team member Jeremy Shubert in the title game, with Shubert guiding the Central Cougars.
The Rockets ended a long tourney drought before a huge local fan contingent decked out in orange and blue.
“It has been a while,” Kraus said. “We haven’t played in the evening session a lot in those years. It’s a tough tournament ... but these kids just really gutted it out this week. I told our kids it was a gut-check week, that’s what it is.
“You’ve got to play with a lot of guts, (with) five games in four days, it’s tough. Our kids just executed tonight the best we’ve executed offensively and defensively all year, by far. That was our best game on both ends of the floor.”
ROYCE NEWMAN UPDATE
Nashville High senior Royce Newman remains committed to the University of Missouri as an offensive lineman, but that doesn’t mean he will sign with the Tigers.
“I re-opened my recruiting process so other schools are starting to jump in,” Newman said.
Newman has visited Mizzou and recently visited Nebraska. He has plans to visit Ole Miss and Penn State before making his final decision in late January.
Newman said he was impressed by new Missouri coach Barry Odom.
“He came by the house a couple weeks ago,” Newman said. “He’s a great guy, he’s wanting to win and is trying to get the right guys in the program to win a national championship. I want to look around and see what’s best for me, just go on from there.”