The Energy Classic Holiday Basketball Tournament will be back in Gillette from Jan. 2-4, the 23rd straight year of providing top-notch prep basketball for Campbell County.
The eight-team tournament began in 1996 in an attempt to create more home games for Campbell County High School amid a dominant stretch for its basketball teams, said Dave Olsen, co-chairman of the Energy Classic Committee.
From 1992-2002, the boys team won nine state Class 4A championships and took third the other two years. From 1994-2004, the girls team matched those nine state titles and added two runner-up finishes.
The Camels’ dominance got to the point where Wyoming teams didn’t want to face them any more than they had to, Olsen said. CCHS only had five home games one year, which was what sparked the idea for the Energy Classic.
“We started (the Energy Classic) a long time ago when (the Camels) were very good,” Olsen said. “We couldn’t get any home games in town. … No one would schedule non-conference games up here.”
Then-CCHS Athletic Director Dave Milliken called for a 6 a.m. coffee meeting at Perkins before the 1996-97 season, Olsen said. He gathered Olsen, James Chick (now co-chair of the committee) and a few others to tell them, “We’ve got a problem.”
That’s where the idea for the Energy Classic started and now it “has really become a part of this community,” Olsen said.
Through community donations and a recreation mill grant from the Campbell County Community Public Recreation District, the Energy Classic Committee raised enough money to start a tournament that attracts some of the best competition in the country.
For years, the Energy Classic sought out some of the best teams in the U.S., often hosting nationally ranked teams. Usually, the committee would invite teams west of the Mississippi River, but there have been teams from as far as Florida and Washington, D.C., that made the trip in the past.
One year, Olsen remembers when the spectators were treated to a showdown between the top two teams in the nation. Lynwood High School of Lynwood, California, ended up beating Northside High School of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the Energy Classic championship.
Lynwood was undefeated and the No. 1 ranked girls basketball team in the nation at the end of the season, while Northside finished No. 2 with its only loss coming at Gillette’s tournament.
“It’s sometimes a tougher bracket than teams would see at the state tournament,” Olsen said.
The committee has always placed a high priority on bringing tough teams to Gillette and it tries to help them with expenses when possible, Olsen said. The committee pays for 10 meals for the teams, helps out with motel rooms and tries to set up off-time activities like a trip to Mount Rushmore.
“Gillette, Wyoming, is not a December Christmastime destination, so we try to help the teams out,” Olsen said.
The eight teams that compete in the Energy Classic are guaranteed one game per day. Then on the Saturday, there are championship, third-, fifth- and seventh-place games.
As Campbell County’s level of the success has dipped a little since its unprecedented run into the 2000s, so has the level of competition at the Energy Classic. The tournament will host a nationally ranked team in some years, but not much anymore, Olsen said.
However, the committee has gone far and wide to invite quality competition as usual this year. In addition to Campbell County and Thunder Basin high schools, this season’s field includes teams from California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Canada.
The only other Wyoming team in the tournament will be the Douglas High School girls. Among the other girls teams are three California high schools, Bishop Gorman High School of Las Vegas and a team from Idaho Falls, Idaho.
One of the California teams will be the same Lynwood High School that went on to win the national championship in 2002. Another team from California, Miramont High, is the alma mater for University of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. She is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
On the boys side, this year’s competition features two teams out of Oregon, one from Nevada, one from California and Holy Rosary High School of Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada.
The Energy Classic Committee also puts together the RE/MAX Gillette Invite, which is both Gillette teams’ first tournament of the season Dec. 12-14. The RE/MAX will feature Cody and Evanston high schools from Wyoming, along with Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Rapid City Central from South Dakota.
One of the things the committee prides itself on is the fact that there is no admission for the public to watch the games in either tournament. The Energy Classic will be held at Gillette College’s Pronghorn Center for the second year.