2019 action at the Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational in Sitka. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The 14th annual Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational Basketball Tournament tips off in Sitka Wednesday, January 15

The tournament hosts 32 teams from around Southeast Alaska in a schedule that has 48 games in five brackets.

Tournament organizer Andrew Friske went over the highlights in a presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. He said it all began in 1970 with Ray and Al Perkins as the Sitka American Legion Tournament. In the mid-1980s Alaska Airlines joined the Legion as a tournament host, and that lasted until 2003.

Friske resurrected the tournament when he joined the staff at Sitka High School — calling it the Southeast Shootout. He moved the tournament to Mt. Edgecumbe 15 years ago when he joined the staff there. At first, he called it the Mt. Edgecumbe Alumni Tournament, but as players aged, so did the brackets.

The old timers — the masters — our cut off was 35 years. Well, the guys who started the tournament at 35 are now 40 and they’re saying ‘Man, these young guys who are 35, they’re just too fast for us. Can we adjust the brackets?’ So we went 37 and 45. So now we have an open division (mens and womens) 37-and-over, and 45-and-over. And if you can play in all three of those divisions, then have at it. I’ve tried it — not all three, I’m not 45 yet — but I’ve tried the 37 and the open, and my wife gets upset with me because by the end of the tournament I’m just crippled. And I shouldn’t be doing that (audience laughs). But there’s a few of us trying to relive our glory days, and trying to do it.

The tournament shortly thereafter became known as the Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational; it added a women’s division in 2012, and this year for the first time, a junior division.

Metlakatla is bringing two junior teams to the tournament. Friske said he introduced the junior division too late for some other Southeast Schools to add it to their schedules — and some can’t come, even if they wanted to.

In addition to this tournament, Friske runs activities for Mt. Edgecumbe — including travel for sports and other programs. He said that schools in Southeast — known as Region 5 — were feeling the absence of ferry service.

The Alaska Marine Highway System, in my personal view, this is the biggest concern Southeast Alaska faces. It’s scary how big a deal it is right now. In fact, I was just on a conference call with our Region V trying to figure out what to do about Angoon. There’s no ferries in there. It costs $10,000 for Thorne Bay to get in there, they can’t afford it. Angoon’s not getting any home games. We were actually looking at not doing MusicFest this year, because of the ferry system. They sit down with us first, the Region V board, and say ‘When are your three big tournaments?’ Then they schedule ferries around those tournaments, because we fill those ferries completely, and they come either to Sitka, Juneau, or Ketchikan. That’s not happening this year. So either we cancel MusicFest, or the majority of schools have to fly, and then barge their instruments in. They have all sorts of stuff. We aren’t cancelling it, but there may be fewer folks.

The Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational Tournament is a fundraiser for the activities programs at the school. Friske said it generated between $25,000 – $30,000 in direct revenue for student programs, and was a major economic boost in Sitka. He told the chamber that he had checked at the airport and “they only had one rental car left!”

The tournament runs through Saturday, January 18, at the BJ McGillis field house at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Games are happening on both courts. Championship games begin at 12:30 P.M.