BY AARON PATTERSON
When Dwight Lucas co-founded the Dustbowl Basketball Tournament with Dorsey Boyd 41 years ago, it was started as an eight-team men’s tournament in Carver Park, competing against teams from other communities such as Champaign, Bloomington, and East Moline. It has since expanded to a summertime staple in Danville at the David S. Palmer Arena, and has grown to multiple divisions.
This year, another division will be added to the lineup giving junior high student-athletes the opportunity to add their names to the ever-growing list of annual Dustbowl participants.
“We had been thinking about it for some time, but we know that there is a lot of activity at the junior high level with AAU,” Lucas said. “We had many of those kids in our camp but there was no opportunity for them to participate in league play.
“We just wanted to afford them an opportunity to play, so we’re starting out this year with four teams at the junior high level.”
The Junior High division will consist of a four-team, double-elimination tournament, and Lucas expects that with the interest and excitement already generated, it will soon expand to an eight-team tournament.
There is, however, one twist. Rather than introducing both a boys and girls division, the tournament will be co-ed. Each roster will have 12 members, and each team is required to have at least two girls.
“We just want to make sure that we give the young ladies an opportunity to participate,” Lucas said. “Now, we haven’t regulated that they have to get in the game, but certainly we will be watching. If they are on the team, we do expect them to play.”
Each year, the Dustbowl holds a Youth Leadership Camp to provide guidance, motivation, and inspiration that goes beyond the fundamentals of basketball. Junior high students had always been included in the camp, but until this year had not been allowed to compete. So, adding the Junior High division seemed almost inevitable, and is fitting for the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency event which prides itself on community, and specifically the youth of the community.
“I always say the Dustbowl is more than about basketball,” Lucas said. “It’s about being able to be successful, using basketball as a tool to achieve your own personal career goals.”
With a Pee-Wee division tournament already being played, adding middle school students to the mix now covers nearly all age groups, and completes a full expansion of the Dustbowl tournament that was originally created as simply a summer tournament event for men in their early 20s.
“I’m just thankful and blessed that it has been going on for 41 years,” Lucas said. “No one imagined that it would have grown from an outdoors, sandlot basketball tournament to a week-long event engaging the community from four-year olds to 80-year olds.
“It’s a community staple, and we couldn’t do it without the support of our local sponsors and contributors to this event.”
The first game of this year’s Dustbowl is scheduled to tip off at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at the David S. Palmer Arena.