HERMISTON — Five years ago, Nixyaawii and Echo met in the cramped gym at Nixyaawii Community High for their regularly scheduled Big Sky Conference basketball games. The schools athletic directors, Aaron Noisey from Nixyaawii and Jake Bacon on the Echo side, had turned the meetings into something extra with admissions put toward funds raised for the American Cancer Society.
The amount of money raised was slight and the crowd size normal. But that day in 2009, an idea was born.
“Jake and I had talked about it being something that we do every year, but I didn’t expect it to grow as it has,” said Noisey, who also served as the Golden Eagles’ boys’ basketball coach during the tournament’s run up until this season.
“We had no clue, had no idea,” Bacon said with the same pleased astonishment. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger. It’s really good for the school communities to come together and use athletics as that avenue to bring everyone together to do this.”
Tournament games start at 10 a.m. today and run through the 8 p.m. game this evening with a similar schedule slated for Saturday. Full-day tickets cost only $5, or less than a dollar per game.
Noisey said the organizers set a fundraising goal for last year’s tournament — a four-team pool held at the Pendleton Convention Center — at $10,000. The total brought in ran a little short of that number but puts the amount raised in the event’s four-year history at about $20,000.
This year’s goal remains firm at $10,000, a mark that should be a little easier to hit with the recent expansion.
By making the tournament a two-dayer, the event was moved up from its usual late-season spot to the season-opening weekend because of scheduling conflicts. Though involving both Class 2A (Irrigon, Pilot Rock, Stanfield) and 1A teams (Nixyaawii, Echo, Wallowa), games between like-classified schools were played as conference matches in previous years. That got a little messy and this year’s schedule is much cleaner, Bacon said.
“This year has been the most drastic changes in the tenure of the tournament,” Bacon said.
It’s not just the dates and number of teams that’s changed this season, it’s also the location. Bounc’N Cancer visits Hermiston for the first time on what Noisey and Bacon hope is a rotating cycle between the two largest towns in Umatilla County. The games will return to Pendleton next winter and so on, Noisey said.
So far, Hermiston High has welcomed the event with enthused vigor. Upwards of 40 students in a leadership class have chipped in as volunteers to help the basketball bonanza run smoothly.
“When we moved it to Hermiston, we didn’t expect to get the response we got from the student body,” Noisey said. “Now that we’ve got it grown and have it a two-day event, we’re hoping Pendleton will be as responsive (next year).”
Day 1 of the tourney will be all about the basketball while Day 2 will have more special events and celebrations sprinkled in. Noisey said organizers will hold a candlelight memorial for families affected by cancer on Saturday along with raffles to raise a little extra money.
Donations will be accepted throughout the event and all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, with funds designated for cancer patients specifically located in Umatilla County.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.