For nearly 70 years, the Juneau Lions Club has hosted the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament. Every spring, teams from all over Southeast Alaska come to play, watch games and socialize. For many residents it’s a family reunion, of sorts, and for others it’s a chance to relive athletic rivalries that go back decades. Proceeds from the event then go to local youth in the form of scholarships.
After a recent community push for the addition of women’s teams, the Juneau Lions Club voted this week to add some to its roster for next year’s tournament.
While we wholeheartedly support the addition of women’s teams, we are worried such an adjustment will come at the expense of men’s teams that have been regular participants throughout the years. The tournament could end up alienating some of our neighbors if those communities are unable to participate as a result of the change.
But we aren’t worried exclusively about the tournament. You see, this event also means good things for Juneau as a whole. If teams that have competed for decades are bumped from the tournament, there is no incentive for those community supporters to attend the tournament if they have no team to cheer for. Less teams and spectators traveling to Juneau will mean less dollars spent at hotels, restaurants and shops, putting a dent in our local economy.
It’s also a matter of dollars and cents for the nonprofit organization. This isn’t the Juneau Lion’s Club’s first rodeo when it comes to including women in its basketball tournament. Women’s teams played from 1999 through 2007. In the past, the tournament lost money on women’s games because attendance was low. The reason for the tournament is to raise funds for college scholarships and without financial gain that can’t happen.
That’s why adding women’s brackets needs to be done strategically, with a realistic and sustainable game plan. If it’s going to be done, let’s do it right and make sure that a women’s bracket is able to stick around this time.
If men’s teams that have played for years need to be cut to accommodate women’s teams in the interest of venue space, we suggest using a second gymnasium instead so no teams have to be cut from tournament play. The tournament is currently held at Juneau-Douglas High School, conveniently neighboring both the Marie Drake Gymnasium and Harborview Elementary School, which also has its own gym. Venue-to-venue transportation would be a non-issue. The tournament schedule could be set so women’s and men’s games are alternated at both venues — we think having the women and men sharing a space will cause more spectators to stick around to watch a women’s game. One of the reasons the women’s bracket was eliminated was due to a lack of spectators. We hope that will change this time around, and the Juneau Empire is willing to use its voice to help promote the women’s bracket and encourage specators to attend.
We encourage community members who pushed for the addition of women’s teams to bring solutions to the table so that no one is excluded. If women’s participation in the tournament is to be a success, the club needs support to encourage attendance at games.
Otherwise, someone is going to lose out, whether it be the women’s teams, men’s teams who won’t receive an invite this year, or worst, students relying on scholarship money that won’t be there once the final buzzer sounds. The tournament’s purpose has always been to fund raise, and we hope all Southeast communities keep that in mind as the Lion’s Club makes decisions in the best interest of its organization and the tournament.