Clovis News: Sports

Selland basketball finals a perfect template

Having observed the high school basketball showcase for seven years now at Selland Arena – a true student-athlete experience like the Central Section has never seen before – we wait for what should be the obvious:

Football? Volleyball? Baseball? Softball?

More championships at a single venue?

Could be, section commissioner Jim Crichlow says, beginning this spring with baseball at Chukchansi Park.

Firm suggestion No. 1 for whomever might manage such an event: Ask basketball championships chairman Vince Wesson for his blueprint.

Firm suggestion No. 2: If you're not going to do it right, don't do it.

In basketball, they do it right.

From the actual red carpet welcome for teams to locker-room amenities, tunnel entrance to the court, team video highlights, playing in a professional venue and post-game treatment, the two-day, 10-game Selland finals that closed this weekend remain the coolest gig for a Valley high school athlete. If not fan.


"The whole pageantry," says boys coach Tony Petersen of Division IV champion Washington, "our kids absolutely loved it. And most of them come from very humble beginnings.

"Just to be treated like that – walking into the locker room, the little cubbies, hooks on the wall, people catering to them: 'What do you need?' – the way they were introduced, the way they were treated afterward, the whole event they were big-eyed and smiling."

Adds boys coach Nick French of D-III titlist Hoover: "To have the kids showcase their talents in a setting like Selland creates a once-in-a-lifetime memory."

Apparently others are paying attention to the concept of an intimate, participant-proud, fan-friendly show at a common venue.

The basketball finals have been such a success it's difficult to fathom what excuse one might embrace to flee from change and continue to hold finals simultaneously at individual school sites, denying fans the opportunity to see more than one.

And let's remind: The idea of change is for the purpose of a positive student-athlete experience.

Is there a higher goal in education?

"Well," Crichlow says, "there are those out there concerned with losing their concessions."

Imagine that? Let's concern ourselves with losing a couple hundy in popcorn and hot dog sales while hosting a home section title game at the expense of athletes being spotlighted in a section showcase shared by the masses.

"It's just a matter of breaking the old mantra of people saying, " 'We've got to play at our schools,' " Crichlow says.

But clearly, organizing finals at a single site is an easier say-than-do project.

Key is commitment, vision and knowledge from those directing the show, to say nothing of an army of volunteers.

A prominent behind-the-scenes figure in the basketball operation is Larry Powell, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

The finals are run out of the Fresno County Office of Education, and it's Powell who springs about 60 of his employees to help prepare the event. Then they volunteer to work during it.

"He allows us to lose our titles and put on the best show there is," says Wesson, coordinator of the FCOE's Safe and Drug Free Schools department.

Another key link is championships committee chair Bob Kayajanian, veteran supervisor for the San Joaquin Valley Officials Association.

He's the man, as Petersen says, who is asking: "What do you need?" Further, Kayajanian provides what is needed – kindly and promptly.

The cleanup hitter and the person who planted the seed to it all years ago is Wesson.

He is the former three-sport Clovis West standout and Fresno State football player who combines athletic background, management and people skills to make this fly.

And it's no accident.

He has indelible memories as a 10-year-old watching Verbum Dei stars David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton grace the Selland Arena court in what was called the Central California Classic.

He's been to two NCAA Final Fours and several other regionals in addition to the College World Series in Omaha.

And he has applied those experiences to shaping the section basketball finals.

"It really comes down to people running the event," French says. "Vince, Bob and others do a first-class job making the kids feel special. And that's the most important aspect of the weekend."