PITTSBURGH — When the Barnstorm Basketball Association rolls into Pittsburgh later this month for the first annual Steel City Memorial Classic, hoops fans will be treated to a weekend tournament unlike any other.
Just a year old, the Chillicothe, Ohio-based youth basketball organization is rapidly changing the perception of amateur athletics. Gone are the days of players and teams cramming multiple games into a 48-hour window only to jettison off to the next tournament. That format grew stale for Jack Williams, Commissioner of the Barnstorm Basketball Association, and his sons. So he set out to change it.
“I wasn’t happy with the tournaments we were attending,” Williams said. “I felt like they really didn’t care that we where there. I felt like they just threw us in a gym, threw a bracket together, and threw us up there against some other teams. No one really cared. It wasn’t as fun for the kids as it could have been.”
“I knew that we could pull something together that was special, and that’s really what we’ve set off to do.”
With Williams leading the initiative, the BBA has quickly developed a reputation for delivering a five-star tournament. The staff focuses on quality over quantity. While the games are still competitive, the BBA adds several elements not accustomed with traditional AAU tournaments.
All participants will have a chance to compete in an age appropriate three-point contest. The weekend’s top performers will be eligible for the all-tournament team, which is publicized regionally to high school and college coaches. In addition, the BBA offers an educational component. Teaming up with Cleveland-based Validity Sports and Enrichment, the BBA will offer workshops during the Steel City Memorial Classic focusing on character development, nutrition, and gaining understanding of the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“I realize not everyone is striving to do that [playing beyond high school] or has the capability to do that,” Williams said of educating players and parents on the process of becoming a college athlete. “But for those who do possibly, it helps them get in the right position before they go to high school.”
The Steel City Memorial Classic will be held Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27, at California University and is open to boys and girls teams grades 3-11. Coaches can register teams for $195 online at www.barnstormbasketball.com, and the deadline to register is Monday, May 21. Participants will also have the opportunity to tour the campus with members of the school’s admission office.
Williams said the tournament has already secured commitments from teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and teams from as far as New Orleans are weighing invitations.
“It provides a really cool opportunity for those teams looking to travel, and also for the local teams, like PA Elite,” Williams said. “The local teams like it because they get to play some different teams that are traveling in. They’re not going to play the same old team they see every week.”
Pittsburgh’s rich sports history was a big selling factor for the BBA, and Williams believes the tournament will live up to the city’s expectations.
“We really treat our organization and our tournament like a professional sports organization,” Williams said. “We’re right on par with things you would see done with any minor league baseball team, hockey team, semi-professional basketball team…we pride ourselves on putting a first class product out there on everything we do.”