Basketball fans from throughout the 13th Region and beyond will descend on Harlan County next week. During the course of seven days, several thousands of visitors are expected to provide a financial boost to the local economy.
Harlan County High School is hosting the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s 13th Region Boys and Girls Basketball tournaments beginning Monday and running through March 4.
Harlan County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard explained a lot of concentrated, diligent and persistent effort led the region’s participating schools to move the tournament here this year instead of hosting it at The Corbin Arena as has been the case for the past several years.
“I am tickled for our people and for our businesses,” said Howard. “Our fans previously had to travel to Corbin for the regional tournaments and that became expensive for our families. In addition to paying for admission for the family members, they paid for gas, meals and other purchases along the way. Those are dollars that will now stay in Harlan County.”
“With gas prices now nearing $4 per gallon, I am really happy our people can enjoy the games here at Harlan County High School,” he said. “More importantly, the people coming here will be spending money in Harlan County.”
HCHS Principal Bob Howard agrees.
“The amount of work it took for me and my staff to hold this was never an issue… We wanted the tournament here for the people of Harlan County. This allows our businesses to get a return from our school and the schools across the 13th Region… restaurants, gas and even hotels. Getting this for Harlan County was a driving factor for us… We have the facilities; We wanted Harlan County to benefit from this and all the business to get their share of what the regional tournament means to a community.”
Ada Harris, manager of Arby’s Restaurant at the junction of U.S. 119 and U.S. 421, said, “We are more than excited” about the tournament being in Harlan County. “We are really looking forward to the tournament.”
Harris said Arby’s will be expanding store hours and has scheduled extra staff to serve visitors and others associated with the tournament.
Carol Irvin, shift manager at nearby Dairy Queen, said her staff is excited about the tournament and the opportunities for increased business.
“We get a lot of business when we have games here,” she said. “The larger tournament crowd is sure to boost sales.
Paul Barger, manager of Harlan Station, said his restaurant will also extend hours “as customers keep coming in.”
With the tournament occurring in 2013, it may well be another 16 years before it returns.
Principal Howard said when the tournament was moved from region schools to the arena, there was no consideration of future construction taking place that would allow for the tournament to remain in other communities across the region.
“This might be the first step in bringing the tournaments back to the local communities where they belong,” he said of the tournament next week.
He said an estimated 3,100 people attended the championship game at the arena last year.
“A lot of people did not enjoy The Corbin Arena atmosphere,” he said. “We are expecting good crowds every night. The actual crowds will depend on the schools coming. Some schools have a better following (of fan support) than others. I’d say 2,500 on a normal night would be a good estimate.”
He said he appreciates the support being provided for the tournament by his staff, the school district, businesses and individuals across the county.
“We want this to be a good tournament. I hope and encourage everyone to come out to the games and show your support. We have two teams in it and hopefully they will win regional championships.”
“Parking is good. We have a great plan. You have to remember we had 6,000 people at the Bell County football game. We are in good shape on parking. We have worked and planned and worked and planned. We have worked on the concessions and hospitality. Now, we just have to open up the doors. We think the crowd will see it is a good place and it will be alright.”
Tickets for the tournament were set at $8 by the 13th Region Policy Board.
“We have no control over the ticket prices,” Howard said. “We hope people will come out and support us on this tournament. Our people will be saving money by not having to travel out of the county.”