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St. Joe Invitational goes to Big Sandy

Jan. 22, 2013 @ 12:18 AM

HUNTINGTON -- For the first time in nearly four decades, the CSX Transportation St. Joe Invitational Tournament will not take place at the former site of Veterans Memorial Field House at 29th Street and 5th Avenue.

That's because the badly dilapidated building was demolished over the course of the past year.

So the obvious difference between the 36th SJI and its 35 predecessors is that it will take place at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington's downtown area.

The tournament begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Tickets per session are $7 for adults, $6 for students and $3 for children under the age of 12.

For some people, the tournament that was synonymous with the Field House won't be the same without it. Others are excited that this year's contest will take place in a larger, arena atmosphere.

"There's a lot of history there and it's kind of sad," said Huntington St. Joe Principal Bill Archer. "But we knew when they tore (the Field House) down that we were going to have to go someplace else. Where are you going to go? Our gym is way too small for something like this."

Archer has some experience in Field House separation anxiety. He operates the annual WSAZ Wrestling Invitational that moved out of the old building some years back and took up residence in the downtown arena.

That was a case of the tournament simply getting too big for the building, he said.

But moving the event downtown created more buzz for the tournament, and offered spectators and competitors local places to eat, shop and stay during idle time.

Archer said he hopes moving the SJI downtown will have the same impact.

"You know, up around 29th Street, it was getting to the point that there weren't that many places for people to go around there," he said. "And basketball has more breaks than a wrestling tournament. So it will be good to have some people walking around downtown and around Pullman Square. It will take some getting used to, but I think it will be good."

Staff members at Big Sandy Superstore Arena are hoping that will be the case.

"We're really excited," said Veronica Hordubay, marketing director for the arena. "I think the fans will like the spaciousness of it, and we're going to put the floor down and the students will have a great time.

"I think the convenience of it being downtown is a draw," she said. "We have the two parking garages and parking downtown is easier than what the Field House had. And we're just happy to have another event in our building, especially one that is as community-minded as St. Joe's is."

There are two things long-time fans of the tournament can count on. There will be high school basketball, and the quirky skits that students from each participating school put together -- a long-running and unique tradition associated with the SJI -- will continue in the new building.

The theme the skits and band performances will be centered around this year is "America's Got Talent."

One major piece that will be missing is a separate girl's tournament.

St. Joe athletic director and girls basketball coach Shannon Lewis said it simply wasn't affordable.

However, there will be girls games. Huntington St. Joe girls, ranked No. 1 in Class A basketball and state champions for the past four years, will play a game at the arena Friday against Eastern Meigs. Boyd County's girls team will also play Eastern on Saturday.

"We're always excited about being a part of it," Lewis said of his squad. "We'll be playing a pretty good team."

There will be a girls middle school tournament.

Lewis said the larger venue should be fun for the boys teams that are participating.

"For the boys it's a chance to get out of the high school gym and get an arena experience," he said.

"Of course it was always fun at the Field House, but I think people will enjoy coming out to the arena."