DANVILLE — For eight years, Dwight Lucas has been waiting for his opportunity.
The founder of the Dustbowl Tournament left the tournament in 2013 when he left the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency and had thoughts about a return.
“I wasn’t involved in the tournament that I helped create. After listening to the former coaches, players and community people, they wanted to see a tournament that we originally had with Division I, AAU-caliber basketball teams,” Lucas said. “I decided after consulting with family, friends, coaches, players and volunteers that worked in the tournament to give it a shot. I reached back at some contacts that I have had to determine if I had some interest and we decided to take a shot at it.”
Lucas’ shot is the Original Danville Basketball Tournament, which will run from Friday through Sunday at the David S. Palmer Arena.
Lucas — who started the Dustbowl in 1973 — said when he started planning for this new tournament, interest came in locally and in other states.
“I think it was a high level of excitement, based on the history if my organizing a tournament for over 40 years and the ability to reach out to teams in the Midwest and outside because of past contact,” Lucas said. “In this tournament, there will be children and grandchildren of players who were in the tournament years ago, so with their experiences in the tournament from 1973-2013 and when they found out that I was organizing it, it brought an excitement.
“We have a team coming out of Texas, a team out of Iowa that has grandchildren of players that played in the early days of the Dustbowl and a team coming out of the East coast sponsored by a local lawyer named Kevin Dixon. We also have teams from Peoria, Champaign and Indiana and we hope to bring the competition that people saw years ago.”
There will be eight teams in the tournament with two high school teams that will play a separate game.
“For the first time out, I think it is a good achievement,” Lucas said. “We will start 5:30 p.m. on Friday and play until the championship game on Sunday. We have local groups that will provide halftime and in-game entertainment and we will have the Jesse White Tumblers perform in halftime of the championship game.”
With some people getting a chance to gather for the first time in over a year at the tournament, Lucas said that it will be more than basketball.
“I think it is a great thing for the community. It is an opportunity for friends, family, former basketball legends in the community and our young people to come together and see some high-caliber basketball,” Lucas said. “But it is also a time to talk about nostalgia and how we used to have the tournament at Carver Park in 1973 that I helped design and that camaraderie and community gathering.
“We are going to have people that are coming to Danville, not to play basketball, but they know that some of their former basketball teammates or a family reunion and class reunion-type people and brings a resource to the community because people are getting rooms in our hotels and eating at our restaurants. That is what it is all about, coming together and having some fun and in the spirit of watching some great basketball. I am excited that it is coming back to Danville especially after a pandemic and to see some family and friends that they had not had a chance to see for a time.”
Lucas said that with interest from fans and teams, he says a second edition of the tournament next year should be a lock.
“We had some interest in the last days after the deadline to apply passed and I anticipate that it will continue next year and we will have better participation from the local and national teams,” Lucas said. “I am thankful that a lot of volunteers from those days are helping me and sharing their time. We don’t have a big corporate sponsor, so we used a lot of people’s time and donations to get ready for this year. I think the response I am getting is that we can continue.”
There will be an admission fee of $3 per day for adults, with kids ages 7-15 entering at $1 a day and kids 7 and under can come in for free.
“I think for what we are going to give out, it is more than worth the investment,” Lucas said. “On Friday, there will be six games, there will be 10 games on Saturday and on Sunday, you have games and you can see a great group like the Jesse White Tumblers at no extra cost. I think it is phenomenal and it is not a fund-raiser and it is an effort to cover expenses. We will have Covid restrictions with security and people will be wanded just to make sure there is a safe environment.”
The Original Danville Basketball Tournament will bring a second straight week of basketball action to the Danville area after last week’s Dustbowl at the Boys and Girls Club, where Angie’s Boys won the tournament.
“The games went well and they were competitive and the fans enjoyed themselves,” Dustbowl organizer Jason Henton said. “The guys are planning on next year and how they can win a title, so it was a great event.”
With Covid restrictions set at the Arena, Henton had to move the event to the Boys and Girls Club for the first time.
“Making the move was something we had to do because of the restrictions that were going to be put on us if we had it in the arena, but it worked out really well,” Henton said. “I already have programs that I run out the Boys and Girls Club from traveling teams and kids coming in for open gym. Even though the move was swift, it was something Mr. Rob (Gifford) was happy to let us do and he trusted us with the facility.”
Henton said that the opportunity to have two tournaments in the summer is a great thing for the city.
“The Original Tournament is a great opportunity for everyone to come out and have another event to participate in the summer months,” Henton said. “Sometimes there are not a lot of options, and for those who love basketball, there are now two options that we can go to and bring our family to and have a good time. It is a tournament where if I was still playing in high school and had the chance to play in both of them, I would.”