FRENCHTOWN — Excitement filled the air at McDonald’s restaurant Tuesday. Cameras clicked and uninformed athletes beamed behind a banner that evoked excellence and unity in competition.
That’s how the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Varsity Basketball Invitational Tournament kicked off, just days before the first jump ball flies in the air at center court on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Ivanna Eudora Kean H.S. plays host for the silver anniversary edition of the MLK tourney. Most years the venue changes but Charlotte Amalie High School gymnasium suffered damage from Hurricane Irma.
That left Kean High in place as tourney host two years in a row. Teams from CAHS, Antilles, Gifft Hill, VI Montessori, St. Croix Central, and St. Croix Educational Complex are slated for play, as well as a newcomer — the All Saints Cathedral School Vikings.
Seven boys teams and four girls teams will face off in elimination matches, followed by championship play on Sunday.
And like many gracious hosts, Kean High girls will offer their rivals a shot at the MLK title they’ve held since 2017. To defend the crown, the Lady Rays will have to muster the scoring prowess of last year’s leader, Nia Simmonds, who left after the storm.
Their cross-island challengers, the CAHS Lady Hawks, will be ready to show Lady Rays what Chickenhawks do best — win. Although 15-year-old sophomore Brianne Esprit humbly admits it wasn’t that easy the last time around.
A short athletic season, made so by passing hurricanes, new players and short practices will have to be overcome over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
“Better than last year, our overall effort is more focused,” she said.
Kean High boys are hoping to bring the 2018 trophy home after scoring wins at the junior varsity tournament and the BCB March Madness games last year.
Sixteen-year-old Kishawn Mason played basketball for the Rays on those winning teams. “I’m very eager for this. Hopefully, Eudora Kean will win,” he said.
The MLK tournament is sponsored by McDonald’s, the Department of Education and the Interscholastic Athletic Association, St. Thomas-St. John district.
For more information contact IAA Basketball Commissioner Kenny Todman at (340) 642-2156.