High school student-athletes

High school student-athletes came from around the state to play in the 2019 TSJC Tournament.

The Trinidad State Basketball Tournament, the longest running high school basketball tournament in Colorado, cancelled its 2020 competition amid growing COVID-19 concerns.

The tournament has been held annually in early December at TSJC’s Scott Gym and has been played for the past 84 years.

“As of right now it’s cancelled,” said TSJC Athletic Director Mike Salbato. “It was a big deal and I feel sorry for this year’s seniors.”

The 84 years of tournament competition has brought around many changes and has maintained a tradition as one of Las Animas County’s longest running events.

The tournament usually scheduled local teams in a 16-team single bracket tournament spanning three days.

“It used to be just local teams,” said Jim Doherty, a coach and former player in the tournament, “There used to be such good rivalries in that tournament.”

Since 1936, Saturday night championships have been the spectacle of the tournament, as fans packed into the small Scott Gym to watch the tournament’s finale.  

Salbato said, “For the last 20 years, people don’t even realize how packed that gym used to get when people were hanging down over the rails, because you used to be able to hang your legs down. It was like another row of seating.”

“Both my dad and granddad played in the TSJC tournament,” said Alyssa Winford.

Winford, a senior at Branson High School, is the third generation of her family to compete in the TSJC tournament in its 84 years of operation.

“They both played for Branson and were tournament champions at least once in their high school career,” she said.

Winford won the tournament as a sophomore and was the runner up as a junior in 2019 with the Kim Lady Mustang basketball team.

The 2020 tournament was her last chance to make the coveted all-tournament team and win a second title in her high school career.

The tournament expanded in 2012, introducing girls’ basketball to the tournament.

“I think that was awesome. Way beyond its time thing for this tournament, to invite girls,” said Salbato, “I think the girls’ basketball we have seen in the past few years is better than the boys’ basketball.”

The TSJC tournament has also crowed a tournament queen since 1950. This was the girls only formal involvement in the tournament, until the introduction of cheerleading, which returned to the tournament in 2017.

The tournament hosts two 8-team brackets, coronating one champion in each division, girls and boys.

Historically the TSJC tournament was a postseason tournament, giving high school teams a preview of the District tournaments, which kicked off the following weekend.

In 1972 the tournament concluded the ’71-’72 season and became a preseason tournament opening the ’72-’73 season. It has opened the high school basketball season since.

Salbato plans to return to normal tournament competition in 2021.

“Just the quality of kids who have been in there, the quality of the coaches who have been in there and the ambiance of the tournament is unlike any other,” said Jim Doherty.

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