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Prep Basketball: Third annual Lawson Memorial tourney delivering fantastic field

  • 2 min to read
NHS DC - 3

Norman High’s Zya Vann goes up for a shot during the Tigers’ game against Del City on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, at the Joe Lawson Memorial Invitational at the NHS Gym. The 2021 event begins Dec. 9 and will be between NHS and Norman North.

T.D. O’Hara, Norman Public Schools athletic director, long had a vision of a regular-season basketball tournament that would not only recreate the best of the old Norman Invitational Tournament, but improve upon it.

He wanted both high schools to host it, a girls tournament as well as a boys tournament and great fields, too.

The family of Joe Lawson, who played at Norman High before coaching at Norman North, who died in January of 2017, wanted to honor Lawson’s spirit and the sport that filled his life.

Two Decembers ago, those objectives came together to create the Joe Lawson Memorial Invitational Tournament, and the tourney that begins its third run on Dec. 9 may have a hard time attracting a better field than the one it has now.

The girls draw includes one state champion from last season and three more state tourney entrants from last season.

The boys draw includes one state champion from last season, one state runner-up from last season and four more state tournament teams from last season.

“We want to make this a top-notch tournament,” O’Hara said, “and to do that there are things that you have to do to show those teams that this is one of the best tournament in the state of Oklahoma.”

They’ve been shown.

The field

The girls draw, from the bracket’s top to bottom, includes Norman High, Enid, Owasso, Putnam City North, Putnam City West, Norman North, Lawton MacArthur and Midwest City.

NHS has won the last two Class 6A state championships. Midwest City and Putnam City North both reached last season’s Class 6A state tournament and Lawton Mac reached last season’s Class 5A state tournament.

Additionally, P.C. West was the No. 1 seed at the Class 6A state tourney as recently as 2019.

The boys draw, top to bottom, includes Del City, Norman High, P.C. West, Owasso, Tulsa Memorial, Lawton Mac, Ardmore and Norman North.

Del City won Class 6A’s gold ball last season. Lawton Mac played for the Class 5A gold ball, losing to Carl Albert. Norman North and Owasso both reached the Class 6A state tournament. Ardmore reached the Class 5A state tourney, losing to Tulsa Memorial in the first round.

Because both the NHS and North gyms are in use, no game will tip before 3 p.m. and the last games each day are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

How it happened

The most expensive piece of traveling from beyond the Oklahoma City metro to play a regular-season hoops tourney is lodging and for the programs that require it, the tournament, with the help of sponsorship dollars, is providing.

Additionally, each team will be provided one meal the tourney’s first two days, which is another money saver for the programs.

Should a team require laundry services during the event, the tournament’s inclined to take care of that, too, O’Hara said, and it’s those kinds of conveniences that are allowing the Lawson Memorial event to organize the kinds of fields it will be putting on the court.

“The big thing with the tournament is the expenses and … sponsorships provide us an opportunity to eliminate a large number of expenses,” O’Hara said.

In addition to it helping the tourney deliver an accomplished field, it’s also helping the tourney to bring a diverse field.

NHS and North play in the 10-school Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference, which includes the Edmond, Moore, Deer Creek, Yukon, Mustang and Stillwater districts, meaning the tournaments that begin Dec. 9 at NHS and North will be filled with programs the Tigers and T-Wolves would not otherwise play.

“It takes a lot of help from a lot of folks,” O’Hara said.

Clearly, they’re getting it.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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