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SJIT takes steps to improve good thing

February 17, 1997

By SHELDON SHEALER

Staff Writer

ST. JAMES - Stu Vetter remembers when he had to pay $35 to enter his team in the St. James Invitational Tournament, and games were played before a packed house of 300 fans.

"It's a totally different situation now," he said with a laugh Sunday, while watching a television replay of St. John's at Prospect Hall's 52-49 victory over Mt. Zion for the SJIT championship.

Eight teams from five states took part in the three-day prep basketball extravaganza and capacity crowds of more than 1,500 saw some of the nation's top recruits.

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Now, tournament director Wayne Ridenour might look to sweeten the pot for next year.

"We've had two or three (nationally ranked teams in the field), but maybe we could add a fourth next year," Ridenour said Sunday. "We've got some irons in the fire."

Ridenour would not specify what team or teams could be lured into the event, but he did say he expects perennial powers Oak Hill and St. John's, coached by Vetter, to return. Joel Hopkins, Mt. Zion's coach, voiced concern over officiating and wouldn't indicate if he plans to come back if invited.

As for the local contingent, Thomas Johnson coach Tom Dickman expects to return, assuming the tournament can be worked into a new league schedule.

"I had talked to Wayne years before I even knew who Terence Morris was about being in the tournament," Dickman said. "We'll probably go back next year."

Morris, Thomas Johnson's 6-foot-8 star bound for the University of Maryland, was the only public school player named to the All-Tournament team.

St. Maria Goretti and Mercersburg Academy should return. Martinsburg coach Vic Holmes said months before the tournament he wasn't sure if the Bulldogs, seventh-place finishers the past two years, will continue in the event.

One thing's for sure, according to Ridenour, the tournament's not going anywhere.

Fans were turned away at the school's entrance Friday and Saturday night, hours prior to the start of the winners' bracket contests. Ridenour said a move to a larger facility could reap greater financial gain at the gate, but would take away from the purpose of the event - to get people on the St. James campus.

"This was the best overall tournament we've had," Ridenour said. "I had college coaches and other coaches tell me, `Don't move it.' (Playing at St. James) is what makes it special."

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