By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
BOONVILLE — When you grow up in a small town, you get used to traveling to the rest of the world’s activities. Car trips to relatives’ houses or youth sports events can feel like an epic journey.
For students at Anderson Valley High, the annual Redwood Classic basketball tournament flips the script, bringing in 15 small-school teams from as far away as Tulelake in Siskiyou County to compete in what the school bills as “the biggest little basketball tournament in the world.”
The Redwood Classic, which Anderson Valley has held every year since 1954, got under way Wednesday with four games featuring North Coast schools. First-round action continued Thursday with schools from more distant locales.
Longtime Anderson Valley athletic director Robert Pinoli, who puts together the tournament with help from his students, said the Panthers relish their role as host of one of the nonleague season’s biggest tournaments.
“The kids love it because they get to see so many kids from different places … especially when we had a few teams from out of state,” he said.
Started in 1958 as a showcase for Anderson Valley’s new gymnasium, the Redwood Classic has, in years past, brought in schools from as far away as South Carolina. Every school this year is a returnee from last season’s tournament.
“We have a waiting list of schools that would like to be in our tournament,” Pinoli said.
The Redwood Classic is a huge event in Boonville. Until about 2005, residents of the town even helped house the teams that came from far away.
These days, “everybody stays in motels in Ukiah,” Pinoli said. “We used to house everyone from all the teams, but it got harder.”
Scorekeeper Debbi Sanchez attended the first Redwood Classic in 1958.
“I watched them build this gym,” she said between games Wednesday. “It was built when I was 3 years old.”
Sanchez started to keep score when her oldest son played basketball in elementary school, and became the Panthers’ scorekeeper when he got older. She said she would keep score for “pretty much all” of this year’s games.
“I don’t do those two early morning ones on Friday or Saturday,” she said.
Her earliest memories of the tournament are of “this gymnasium being packed.”
The love from students and community extends to the Redwood Classic’s robust, 102-page program, which features ads from local businesses, a bracket, profiles of every team and a thorough tournament history. The program includes career record holders, each year’s all-tournament teams and a synopsis of each Redwood Classic.
Student editors Garrett Mezzanatto and Kristen Andersen, both seniors, have worked hard to ensure that an out-of-towner could stop at the high school, spend $10 on a ticket and program and, with a couple minutes of reading, have plenty of context to appreciate the game in front of them.
Mezzanatto would have been playing in the Redwood Classic himself, but turned his focus to helping organize the tournament after sustaining a devastating knee injury during football season. Freshmen Mayte Guerrero and Marisol Jimenez handled advertising and sales and served as “trainees” for next year, Pinoli said. Guerrero designed the program’s cover.
The students’ can-do spirit is reflected in the substantial support the Redwood Classic receives, as shown by the many sponsorship banners hanging in the festively decorated gym, as well as in the 22 pages of advertisements inside the program. Businesses ranging from the Anderson Valley Advertiser newspaper to Sheep Dung Properties, which rents cottages to out-of-towners, chip in to support the tournament.
“We get a lot of community support, a lot of sponsorships that help put this thing on,” Pinoli said.
Pinoli said that Pinewood and Stuart Hall came into the tournament as the leading contenders. Pinewood, from Los Altos Hills, features three seniors who are 6-foot-4 or taller as it looks to defend its title from last year. (Branson, from the Marin County town of Ross, won 10 of the previous 11 tournaments.)
The host Panthers dropped their opening game, 75-22, to Marin Academy late Wednesday night. Pinoli said the program is seeking to bounce back from losing two of its big men. Mezzanatto is out because of his injury, and Anderson Valley lost another student who transferred.
“We’re pretty small, but … they will just not give up,” Pinoli said of the Panthers, who went on a 16-0 run to earn a come-from-behind win over Calistoga earlier this season.
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or email@example.com.
54TH REDWOOD CLASSIC
At Anderson Valley High School, Boonville
Wednesday through Saturday, games begin at 9 a.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday
St. Vincent 44, Mendocino 33
Point Arena 69, Cloverdale 61
Valley Christian 91, Laytonville 67
Marin Academy 75, Anderson Valley 22
Stuart Hall (San Francisco) 82, South Fork (Humboldt County) 55
Branson (Ross) 54, Tulelake 51
California School for the Deaf (Fremont) 84, Upper Lake 47
Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 93, Hoopa 57
Tickets: All-day admission $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, students. Program costs $5.