TERRE HAUTE —
Brian Mancuso, athletic director at Terre Haute South High School, knew his 2012 Christmas with family might be interrupted by his involvement in helping plan the 13th annual Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic.
What he did not expect was a blizzard warning for the following day, Dec. 26, forcing the first postponement ever in the popular boys basketball tournament.
“I spent a lot of my Christmas on my phone calling people,” he told the Tribune-Star over the weekend. “All the ADs [athletic directors] are great to deal with, easy to communicate with. We just tried to gather as much [weather] info as we could about what was coming, what was out there.”
Mancuso said he still managed to eat too much and visit with family on Christmas, then he continued preparation for the rescheduled tournament, which started one day later (Thursday) and concluded New Year’s Eve night (Monday) with Rockville capturing the title.
“That was our first time [to postpone a scheduled day of games] in the 13 years,” tournament chairman Gary Fears mentioned. “Once we got to a blizzard warning, I felt like we needed to postpone the games, notify the teams and the fans so they could prepare accordingly … We get people who call us [in advance] and want to know the dates of the tournament so they can plan their vacations, so I said we needed to let these people know [about the postponement] as soon as we could.
“We tried to make a good decision. I just hope we did.”
Tournament organizers also ran into an unexpected issue for Thursday when Owen Valley couldn’t travel to Terre Haute for its opener against Shakamak because of the weather, but Fears praised the sportsmanship of the Patriots for agreeing to forfeit that day and not disrupting the flow of the tournament.
Fears said he appreciates the cooperation he’s received from Mancuso and South for the recently completed Classic and from the previous ADs at South and Terre Haute North over the years.
“We need a tremendous amount of help,” he emphasized. “This tournament would not have been successful without all the athletic directors [from the host schools] over the past years. Brian [Mancuso] probably worked 18 hours a day for four days. Prior to that, he spent the whole month preparing for the tournament. It’s a labor of love for him and the host school.”
Mancuso’s part in planning the recent Classic began with a meeting in January.
“The Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic Committee met and we went over the  tournament – things we liked, things we could improve upon – and that’s when we started looking at this  tournament,” he said.
Fears said preparation for the 2013 version at North will likely take place in a similar manner.
“We’ll review this  tournament and all the finances in January,” he explained. “Then we’ll sit down and talk about what the next tournament looks like, then we’ll meet again in September.
“Now if there happens to be an opening for a team, then I usually go to work and talk to the different schools. We have a waiting list. It keeps growing every year. So we’d go to that waiting list and see who might be able to play in their first [Classic] tournament.”
That situation arose for Fears and the committee this past year when Bloomfield dropped out and eventual 2012 Classic runner-up Robinson, Ill., was chosen to replace the Greene County school.
“We knew Robinson had played in the old Wabash Valley Tournament for several years,” Fears said. “We knew they’d be competitive … We had been trying to get them for the last several years.”
“Robinson has a nice basketball tradition with several good players,” Mancuso added. “They’re a Wabash Valley school and they expressed interest. Obviously, they were a natural fit for us.”
From a personal viewpoint, Mancuso admitted that preparing for the Wabash Valley Classic is much more difficult than planning a regular-season event at South.
“It’s definitely more time-intensive,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into planning all of our regular-season events, but this is 16 teams involving schools from several different counties. It’s a community event with much larger attendance. So there definitely is more pressure and more of a time commitment.
“There’s finding officials, finding hospitality, finding workers, getting our sports teams involved [as volunteer workers]. And we’re really lucky that we have a good Booster Club president [Leah Allman], a good Booster Club and a good coaching staff that want to help us out with that … Obviously, there are more members of the media here to accommodate – more radio stations, more [television] camera crews, things like that.”
As for game officials, Mancuso pointed out that none double-up during this four-day tournament, which means 84 different persons had to be booked in advance for the 28 games that took place.
Anyone who has spent much time at any of the past Classics knows there’s a flurry of activity in and around the gym from 10 a.m. until after the 8:30 p.m. game ends during the first three days of the tournament.
The host athletic director must make sure the scene doesn’t turn into total chaos at any point in the day.
“You have to have your concession people,” Mancuso noted. “You have to have your ticket takers. Throughout the week, we probably have 100-150 people coming through working for us. There’s security, medical people, our game-day workers, our timers, our scoreboard people, our announcers, our music coordinators, our check-in coordinators. So you have a wide variety of people with their own unique skill set, which helps make this a fun tournament for us.”
Mancuso also thanked the countless number of volunteers who help make the tournament successful.
“All of our athletic teams are represented at the concession stands at some point,” he mentioned. “And we have a lot of parents who care about Terre Haute South and they care about the entire Terre Haute South program.”
Fears and Mancuso seemed certain that 2012 Classic attendance figures would not be available until later this week, but both liked what they saw from looking around the gym all four days.
“This year, we broke a record for the number of pre-sale tickets we had,” Fears pointed out. “It was over 1,200. We’re looking at maybe setting the record this year.”
“I think our crowds have been good,” Mancuso assessed. “I think the play has been good. Sometimes coming off a layoff, you never know how teams are going to play … But I think the teams throughout this tournament have done a nice job with that.”
Looking into the distant future, the 70-year-old Fears said he would like to help organize the Classic “as long as my health stays good.”
So far, so good, he insisted.
“I don’t believe you’ll find another tournament that provides the kind of atmosphere we just saw out there,” Fears said, explaining why people such as himself and Mancuso don’t mind putting forth so much extra effort every year.