Friday January 4, 2013

It's easy to get bogged down by the holiday tournaments at this time of year.

Yet the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic this weekend at MCLA is a little different. That's especially true for coaches like Mount Greylock's Bob Thistle, whose mom died of cancer.

"I know many people are affected by [cancer]," Thistle said. "It's something that's very important to me. You want to compete of course in every game, but this one is special."

The sixth annual event returns to MCLA's Amsler Campus Center on Saturday with six boys games starting at 11 a.m. Thistle's Mounties will be facing rival Drury in the nightcap while the other marquee matchup is Pittsfield and St. Joseph's renewing their city rivalry. Admission will be $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Not only are these games interesting rivalries but all the games between Berkshire County league teams are league games. That adds a little something extra. This isn't just a fun tournament (although it is that). These games mean something. For teams hoping to take home a division title, they mean a lot.

"When you get a league game early in the season all in one building, it gives you an opportunity to showcase your team, showcase your talent," said Crusaders coach Paul Brindle.

The tournament started about six years ago when Hoosac Valley coach Bill Robinson drew up an event with four teams -- two from outside Berkshire County. It eventually grew to include all 12 county high schools.

The county's coaches all help out, whether they're selling tickets or working the table. That includes Thistle, who said he'll be volunteering during one of the games on Saturday.

Former Lenox coach Brian Cogswell has been one of those volunteers over the years. Cogswell said he was enthusiastic about the event when it began because it was a moment to teach his players to give back to their community.

"I love to see kids kind of see that it's not just about basketball," Cogswell said. That they can get out and do something for their community and have fun at the same time."

Making these games count in the league standings was just another way the coaches could give the event a solid foundation. Cogswell said coaches didn't really want to use an independent date on a game against a team outside their division, as can be the case in Berkshire County with schools in all three divisions. Making Saturday's contests league games just made scheduling easier and stressed how important the event is.

Robinson said the event has raised nearly $100,000 in six years. The goal this year is to raise $10,000.

"It's crazy how people come out and they want to help in any way they can," Robinson said. "People have been affected by this disease forever. They do it in memory of someone they lost or someone whose currently going through it."

Robinson said part of the fun is also just getting the entire county together. Coaches can just catch up in a way they don't have time for during grind of the season in late January and February.

"We want to beat each other on the court for sure," Thistle said. "But at the end of the day you hope that collectively you've done some good work."

To reach Christopher James:
cjames@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6252.
On Twitter: @BECJ2K