There’s no question Lawrence is making its bid to become the basketball capital of Kansas and beyond.
There’s the Rock Chalk Park recreation center in northwest Lawrence, complete with an eight-gym fieldhouse designed to attract youth tournaments from across the country when completed later this year.
There are the original rules of basketball, planned to be displayed in a new building adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse, which is dubbed by several pundits as the most storied college basketball arena in the country.
And, of course, there is a grave in a Lawrence cemetery for James Naismith, the man who invented the game.
But one basketball object Lawrence doesn’t have — and hasn’t had for decades — is a state high school basketball championship tournament. The state championships will play out at eight different sites across the state beginning Wednesday and running through Saturday.
But Lawrence won’t be one of them. Lawrence hasn’t hosted a state basketball championship since 1987. The Kansas State High School Activities Association — the organizer of the tournaments — said there is a simple reason why.
“I can’t say that anybody from the Lawrence area has called and expressed an interest in hosting a tournament for quite awhile,” said Francine Martin, the assistant executive director of the athletic association.
Bob Sanner, the sports marketing manager for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he knows why that has been the case. Allen Fieldhouse is the only venue in the city that would meet the state tournament’s requirements, and he said getting court time for the most storied basketball arena in the country can be tough.
Sanner said over the years he has been told by administrators from Kansas Athletics that the fieldhouse isn’t available for such events, if basketball season is still under way. Even though the dates for the state basketball tournaments usually have fallen after the home seasons for KU’s men’s and women’s teams have ended, Sanner said he understands the policy.
“There are all types of crazy scenarios you can come up with where a coach would need the fieldhouse court,” Sanner said. “And who wants to tell Bill Self that he can’t have the court? I, for one, wouldn’t want to carry that message.”
But when questioned by the Journal-World recently, a spokesman for the athletics department said there may be a chance Allen Fieldhouse could accommodate a high school championship in future years.
“We haven’t been asked to do it, but if we were asked, we would check with the schedule and what it would require and make a judgment based on that,” said Jim Marchiony, a spokesman with KU Athletics. “There is not some hard and fast rule that says because KU basketball season is still underway that it couldn’t be considered.”
Sanner said he’s pleased to hear of KU’s openness to the idea. He said he would begin investigating whether the tournament would be a good fit for Lawrence.
He won’t have to look far to get some ideas. Manhattan has been hosting a state basketball championship tournament for 25 consecutive years, said Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She estimates that the tournament, which attracts eight boys and eight girls teams, adds about $1 million to the local economy through hotel, food, fuel and other visitor spending.
But it is no small effort for a community. She said about 200 volunteers help run the event. The CVB serves as the lead organizer, but receives significant help from the city’s parks and recreation department and cooperation from Kansas State University.
Manhattan has used Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum for each of the last 25 years. In fact, Allen Fieldhouse is one of the few major college arenas in the state not used to host a tournament. Koch Auditorium in Wichita will host the 6A tournament, and the college arenas for Emporia State and Fort Hays State also will play host to tournaments this year.
“K-State has been wonderful to work with,” Hibbard said. “I can’t say enough about the university, and really the entire Big 12, and how they work to accommodate this.”
Back in 1987, when Lawrence last hosted a state basketball championship, it was held in Allen Fieldhouse. Lawrence and the fieldhouse were fairly frequent hosts of the tournament prior to 1987.
Sanner said there would be questions about budgets, volunteers and several other issues if Lawrence decides to pursue a bid for a tournament. But one issues seems pretty clear.
“I can’t imagine any high school athlete not wanting to play on the court of Allen Fieldhouse,” Sanner said.