Published January 22, 2004
When it comes to traditional holiday entertainment, certain events come to mind—the Nutcracker, college bowl games, and now the St. Pius X Christmas Classic basketball tournament.
The hugely popular tournament, sponsored by St. Pius X High School, brings together boys and girls basketball teams from Catholic high schools across the country for three days of fun-filled, fast-paced competition.
The 2003 tournament, officially the Fourth Annual Adidas/Outback St. Pius X Christmas Classic, lived up to its reputation, providing nail-biting competition as 16 teams from nine states came together Dec. 27-30 for a well-attended showdown. The teams played at St. Pius to a packed crowd all three days.
“There were excellent crowds,” said Stephanie Dunn, St. Pius X head girls basketball coach. “I was very excited to see the huge number of people that came out to support the tournament. The stands were packed on both sides.”
Dunn has more than a packed crowd to be excited about. The St. Pius X Lady Lions were able to capture the one thing that has eluded them for the past three years—a tournament championship. After being runner-up to Villa Maria Academy from Erie, Pa., for the past two years and runner-up to Bishop Lynch of Dallas in 2000, St. Pius pulled out a win against Villa Maria in the final game to capture the tournament crown, 58-44.
“We were very happy to have Villa Maria come back again this year,” said Dunn. “They always provide great competition. I was happy with our girls’ effort and intensity, and I’m extremely glad to finally celebrate a championship at our own tournament.”
According to Dunn, “the girls teams we brought in this year made this by far the toughest girls bracket in the history of the tournament.”
In addition to Villa Maria Academy, St. Pius X also hosted girls teams from Blessed Trinity in Roswell; St. Peter Chanel of Bedford, Ohio; Notre Dame Academy of Covington, Ky.; Bishop Ireton of Alexandria, Va.; St. Gertrude of Richmond, Va.; and Towson Catholic of Towson, Md.
The boys side of the tournament was equally exciting, with Bishop Verot of Fort Myers, Fla., taking the title in an exciting game against Belen Jesuit of Miami.
“This year’s tournament was undoubtedly the toughest and most competitive field that we have had in the four-year history of the St. Pius Christmas Classic,” said Kevin Carroll, St. Pius X head boys coach. “The fact that we have teams from nine different states, including California, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, is proof that the tournament is one of the premier Catholic school tournaments in the entire country.”
The boys tournament was highlighted by the return of last year’s champion, Archbishop Alter of Kettering, Ohio; Christian Brothers and Jesuit High, both of Sacramento, Calif.; Bishop Ireton of Alexandria, Va.; Belen Jesuit of Miami; Bishop Kenny of Jacksonville, Fla.; and Bishop Verot of Fort Myers, Fla.
The tournament is the brainchild of Mark Kelly, St. Pius X athletic director. He first envisioned bringing the best Catholic high school teams in the nation together in one place to play basketball and have some fun.
“The first year the idea was just to get it going,” said Kelly. “We originally invited four boys and four girls teams and hoped the Catholic community would come together for some friendly competition. We ended up having eight teams that first year.”
Although Kelly was the one who conceived the idea, he is quick to give credit to Ron Sattele, former St. Pius X head girls basketball coach for getting the event going. Sattele got to work and invited teams from across the Northeast to participate. Sattele then approached the Serra Club, a lay Catholic organization, to sponsor the tournament.
“We felt the Serra Club would be a good lead sponsor,” said Sattele.
They readily agreed and for the first two years the Serra Club was the tournament’s sole sponsor. As the event grew in popularity, so did its sponsorship. The tournament now has two title sponsors–Adidas and Outback Steakhouse. Corporate sponsors include Atlanta-based Kapp Koncepts and Holiday Inn.
The tournament retains its original format, with eight boys teams and eight girls teams. Every team is guaranteed at least three games. Seven players from the boys and girls teams are named to an all-tournament team at the end of the event. Three St. Pius athletes were selected to the 2003 All-Tournament Girls Team—freshman Kelly Cain, junior Katie Kulavic and junior Karrie Kulavic, who was also named the tournament MVP.
Along with hosting some great basketball teams, St. Pius X also provides plenty of fun and relaxation time for the players and their families. This year the boys teams received tickets to an Atlanta Hawks game and the girls teams were given tickets to attend the Peach State Classic.
Other activities included a dance for all team members and a Mass for families, players and friends.
“It’s an opportunity for members of the Catholic community to gather together and share in the missions of the Catholic Church,” said Carroll.
Gil Boland, a St. Pius senior and team member said, “This year was the best yet, because of the way it was run and how smoothly it went.” Besides playing in the tournament, Boland said that he most enjoyed meeting new people from other states.
“Everyone was very friendly and open. It was fun,” Karrie Kulavic agreed. “It was a great experience and the competition was good. I enjoyed it.”
From its humble beginnings, the tournament has gained nationwide recognition and now has a waiting list of teams from across the country wanting to participate. Teams in the past have come from Georgia, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Texas and Rhode Island. What makes the tournament so special that teams come from across the country to participate, some of them returning year after year to compete?
“Awesome hospitality,” provided by St. Pius X is a sentiment echoed by many of the teams that travel from afar each year to attend. Marty Goodhart, head girls coach at Bishop Ireton, said, “Every person associated with the tournament from our contact person to the game announcers made us feel welcome at all times.”
Joe Picardo, head coach at Bishop Kenny, brought his Jacksonville team back to Atlanta for the fourth year in a row. Picardo cites the hospitality offered by St. Pius and the Atlanta community as the number one reason he keeps returning.
“We are treated as guests when we come,” said Picardo. “We are always warmly welcomed and made to feel at home. The boys really look forward to it.”
Picardo also gives high marks to the tournament’s organization. “In terms of organization, this tournament is second to none. St. Pius knows what they are doing and provides great follow-up.”
“The overall positive experience keeps us coming back for more,” added Picardo. “The competition gets better every year and it helps our team to compete with other teams that we usually don’t get to play.
It is also a great opportunity to promote Christian fellowship through sports.”
Andy Zihlman, head girls coach at Bishop Lynch in Dallas, and winner of the girls tournament in 2000, also believes the tournament’s organization and hospitality make it one of the best in the country.
“It is an extremely well-run event,” said Zihlman. “We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Atlanta and the host family we stayed with really made us feel at home.”