The 62nd Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Tournament will feature revamped brackets reminiscent of the event's early days.
This year will feature an eight-team Mighty B Bracket, an eight-team Legendary C Bracket and a six-team Master's Bracket. The Master's Bracket, now in its second year, increases from four to six teams.
What this year's basketball tournament won't have is the Women's and Intermediate brackets. Last December, the Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Committee announced the removal of both brackets.
Talia Marsden, an All Tournament forward on Metlakatla's 2006 Women's Gold Medal championship team, was not pleased with the decision.
"It sucks," she said. "This is a real disappointment for a lot of women in our community because we have a lot of fans that support us and we really enjoy going to Juneau."
The new format will reduce the number of games from 46 to 38 and should cut down Gold Medal's need for manpower and operating costs.
"The basis for the decision was to simplify the tournament, which is run entirely by volunteers," Juneau Lions Club President Ted Burke said.
Last year, action routinely ran more than 12 hours a day. By eliminating two brackets, the Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Committee hopes to lighten the load on people logging long hours for no pay.
CHANGING BRACKETS ISN'T NEW
Eliminating or altering different brackets in Gold Medal isn't new.
The A Bracket for teams from larger communities was eliminated after the 2005 Gold Medal. The AA Bracket also ceased to exist after 1982.
In fact, Gold Medal had just one bracket from 1947 to 1960.
The Women's Bracket ran from 1999 to 2007, while the Intermediate Bracket lasted from 2006 to 2007.
Burke said neither bracket had a large enough audience draw last year to keep them.
"If the brackets drew the audience, we should keep them based on their popularity," he said. "Unfortunately, there were quite a few games for these two brackets that only had a handful of spectators."
While the Mighty B Bracket remains Gold Medal's most popular draw, 1992 Gold Medal Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Gray said he believes the Women's and Intermediate brackets weren't given prime time slots.
The Women's Bracket last year played one game at 10 a.m., one at 11:30 a.m., two at 1 p.m., one at 6 p.m. and its championship game at 4 p.m.
The Intermediate Bracket featured one game at 10 a.m., one at 1 p.m., one at 2:30 p.m., two at 6 p.m. and its championship game at noon.
"I believe that those two brackets were set up for failure to begin with," Gray said. "They were given terrible, terrible time slots in the tournament. They never ever got any prime time games and I didn't think that was very fair because everybody should have the same chance."
Last year's Women's and Intermediate brackets did not lack compelling drama. The Intermediate Bracket featured the return of Angoon's Bailey Johnson, who served in Kuwait and flew back for the tournament. Johnson, who went right from the airport to the gym, led Angoon to a second-straight title. The Women's championship went down to a buzzer beater as Juneau nipped Metlakatla 76-75.
Despite the action, the two brackets did not draw as many fans and customers as the other three brackets.
The revenue generated from gate receipts helps fund some of the Juneau Lions Club's charitable functions, such as scholarships to the participating communities and vision programs.
MASTER'S BRACKET EXPANDED
Burke said he based this year's tournament changes on theories composed during lengthy discussions with the Gold Medal board members.
Burke's committee concluded that if the Master's Bracket expanded, there may be a domino effect between the players in the B and C brackets, he said. It is hoped that some of the players in the B Bracket would move to the C Bracket, freeing up some roster slots for the younger Intermediate players to move into the B Division.
The Intermediate Bracket was for players between the ages of 18 and 23. With the B Bracket now for players ages 18 and up, it is hoped that players can break in the with the B Bracket team, older players can move up to the C Bracket team and so on. The C Bracket is for players age 32 and older while the Master's Bracket is for players 42 and older.
With younger players playing with older athletes, the Gold Medal Committee hopes this will benefit the participating communities develop talent and chemistry.
"It is kind of like job shadowing, ... younger players playing with seasoned players in each division," Burke said. "Now we must observe to see if that theory will work for each community."
Kevin Casperson, who helped lead the Juneau Green Team to the inaugural Master's Division title last year, said he sees the potential for good basketball in the recently expanded division.
"If you would like to keep playing and you are over 40, which is not that old, it is a chance to play against teams whose bodies don't recuperate as quickly as the players in the younger brackets," Casperson laughed.
The Master's Bracket filled its extra spots quickly, offering hope that the bracket may grow in popularity with fans as well.
"It is my understanding that Prince Rupert's All Native tournament has a pretty good Master's Bracket that is well-attended and well-received by the public," Casperson said.
Gray said he believes eliminating two brackets and expanding one reserved for the most senior members does not help the tournament, however.
"We go to basketball games to watch excitement and fast play," Gray said. "The Master's division does not provide that. We need to let other people take over so the younger women and younger brothers can do their thing. There are so many young people who would love to have the opportunity to play in the Gold Medal because it is such a huge, huge deal in Southeast Alaska."
Sid Edenshaw, a 2002 Gold Medal Hall of Fame inductee, agreed.
Edenshaw helped lead the Hydaburg Haida to multiple Mighty B Bracket championships. Now at age 42, Edenshaw said he might have played his last games at Gold Medal.
"At 42, I know I am way, way past my prime and fans probably feel sorry for us out there," Edenshaw said. "Fans want to watch good basketball. People want to see young athletes or ladies competing, not one or two good players over the age of 40 not using Ben Gay or wrapping themselves up just to barely be able to make it up and down the court."
HALL OF FAME MAY WANT A SAY
Gray believes that the Gold Medal Hall of Fame could provide input for the Gold Medal Committee, which he expressed in a My Turn column published in the Juneau Empire on Feb. 11.
"The Gold Medal Committee should find a way to utilize the expertise of the members of the Gold Medal Hall of Fame, if for nothing else, as a sounding board for future direction," he wrote.
Edenshaw agreed with Gray's comment.
"I think because the Hall of Famers have so much basketball knowledge that they should be asked about these decisions," Edenshaw said. "To tell you the truth, there are some committee members that are making decisions and I have not known them before and I do not know how much they know about basketball."
The Gold Medal Hall of Fame includes a large and diverse crew of players, broadcasters and organizers.
While Gray and Edenshaw agree, the opinion of everyone in the Hall of Fame may not be monolithic.
"The sounding board is a great idea; actually getting it to happen is another issue," Casperson said. "And again, it would just be the opinion of four or five or however many Hall of Famers would look to be involved and/or respond, but who's to think that they will agree on any of the issues."
Still, a successful seven-day fundraiser takes lots of volunteers and hard work pull off smoothly, and the Juneau Lions Club always seeks new membership to aid in their efforts.
"Our goal is to run a solid tournament to raise funds for scholarships and nonprofit organizations in the communities," Burke said. "The best way for individuals to shape the tournament is to become a Juneau Lions Club member or volunteer to help."
Even though Gold Medal went through changes this year, there's no reason to believe it will be this way forever.
"One thing is for sure and it is that change is inevitable," Burke said.