The mission was to stage one of the premier high school basketball tournaments in Texas for the 2003-2004 season.
Six years later and thousands of fans and dollars that have flowed into the city to watch a potent lineup of teams, it's mission accomplished.
Now the McDonald’s Texas Invitational has accomplished another mission. It has been named the No. 1 Pasadena Citizen sports story of the decade.
Topping a list of the 10 most spectacular and amazing stories to hit town over the last decade was no small feat and neither has been the tournament’s rapid rise from one man’s dream to an event that has brought in teams not just from all corners of Texas but also from Louisiana and Mississippi.
That first tournament in November of 2003 brought in 32 boys teams. That was just the appetizer to what was to come. The tournament’s tidal wave has grown to 80 teams with both a girls and boys division, 48 on the boys side, 32 on the girls.
With a waiting list to boot, the tournament has grown to such a point that it no longer can be completely played in Pasadena. That’s why the towns of League City and Pearland, with their schools in the tourney, have also agreed to host a small portion of the tournament over the years. The boys’ teams are seeded and grouped into a Division I and II with trophies going to winners in a Gold, Silver and Bronze bracket.
Kingwood High School’s highly-respected program has won the highest number of tournament titles, reeling off a series of championships before Klein Collins ended the Mustangs’ streak in 2007.
But Kingwood gave the McDonald’s Texas Invitational yet another feather in its cap when the Mustangs used one of its crowns as a springboard to an eventual Class 5A state championship four months later in March.
Now it’s an occurrence that’s become almost commonplace. Just last March, two of the four girls' teams at the 5A state tournament competed at the McDonald’s Texas Invitational. Pflugerville and Mansfield-Summit carried the tournament flag to state. But at the tournament, neither played for the Division I championship, giving an indication of just how stout the girls field has become. They did play each other but it was for fifth place.
Meanwhile, DeSoto High School, which lost the Division I boys consolation title, went on to capture the 2009 Class 5A state crown.
Another bonus from the tournament has been the handful of players who have gone on to play collegiately. That’s why college scouts are also among the fans walking through the doors at any one of the tournament’s eight venues.
Tournament Chairman Ben Meador, whose idea it was to bring a tournament of this size to his hometown, loves the moment every January when he submits a check to the Pasadena Education Foundation, the tourney’s beneficiary. Going into the 2009 tournament, the foundation had received $385,000.
No. 2 - Memorial’s 4 straight football playoff berths
Who would have ever imagined that a high school football program that lost a game in 2004 by the score of 82-0 would by decade’s end earn The Citizen’s No. 2 ranking for best sports story?
So describes Memorial High School’s program, the new kids on the varsity block in 2004 who were getting punched around by the bullies on the block like state powerhouse North Shore to defeating area-ranked clubs like Pearland in 2009.
With this past season’s success, the Mavericks have reeled off four consecutive Class 5A state playoff berths, an extremely rare feat for a PISD program.
Head coach John Snelson, who took over for Tom Ed Gooden after the program’s opening two seasons, has been the architect to the fabulous run as has his coaches of all four postseason appearances.
“We were very blessed to be under great leadership of Billye Smith and Tom Ed Gooden. They set a firm solid foundation for our football program to build on. They have moved on to bigger and better things and the coaches and I are working like crazy not to mess it up,” Snelson said. “We have had a very good run of kids who were very unselfish, worked hard and were hungry to be winners. They were hungry to bring the pride back to Pasadena football. Lots of their daddies and cousins played a couple decades ago and just hearing their stories of glory, these kids were all very, very hungry.”
Memorial garnered its first postseason berth in 2006 when the club clinched fourth place with a 4-3 record. The clincher came early in the district race with a hard-fought 31-28 win over Dobie, which finished at 3-4.
“I think the game that sticks out the most is my first year as head coach when we beat Dobie. Dobie’s a great school with a storied past. They had really dominated PISD for a very long time. One of our goals was to beat the best team in the city and that was a landmark victory for us. That I felt was truly our first landmark victory. I felt that win told our kids, our coaches and the community that we could play with the big boys,” Snelson said.
The team’s historic first state playoff berth produced a meeting with Beaumont West Brook and the Bruins rolled to a 57-34 victory. But it apparently left a taste in Memorial’s mouth of wanting more of that special November feeling, much more.
In 2007, the Mavs raised the bar considerably when the club captured third place with a 5-2 district record. En route to that record, Memorial found itself undefeated going into the ninth week of the season, defeating Dobie a second straight time before coming up with its second landmark victory, a win over its first non-PISD opponent. The squad topped La Porte 34-14.
Owning the district’s top-rated offense and defense, the team was averaging 32.1 points and only surrendering 14.7. They used that combination to collect the school’s first-ever state playoff win, a 35-10 decision over Baytown Lee. The next week, the team opposed Brazoswood, a club Memorial tied 7-7 in Zero week that was stopped at halftime because of storms.
Brazoswood brought an impressive 9-1 record to the game and 24-5A’s top-rated offense, but the Mavericks kept their season alive with a 28-17 win.
It’s a team goal to be practicing on Thanksgiving Day and the 2007 Mavs got to do that with that victory. But the prize was a meeting with state powerhouse Katy at Rice Stadium. The first December game for a PISD team since the early 1960s, Memorial gave it everything they had, leading by scores of 7-0 and 14-7, before the Tigers’ talent simply wore down the Mavs to earn a 30-14 win. It would prove to be Katy’s closest postseason game as it went on to win the Division II state title.
Memorial was a bit fortunate to keep the streak alive in 2008. The team reached the state playoffs with a 4-5 season record and 3-4 district record, but there they were in Week 11 with the other big dogs. It was the offense and its 400 yards-per-carry average that carried the team. That attack showed up for the state playoffs but a second meeting with West Brook produced a 51-35 loss.
This past fall, Memorial regained its swagger in a major way by winning the coveted District 22-5A championship with a 6-1 record. Thought to be a middle-of-the-pack team, the Mavericks overcame injuries to surprise the pack.
The landmark victories returned with the Mavs defeating an area-ranked team for the first time as the club belted Pearland 28-13, the preseason favorite to win the district. That was followed by a tense 42-35 road win over La Porte, giving the program two victories over non-PISD teams in the same year, another first. In the playoffs, the team grabbed its third win of the decade by ousting Lee, before Clear Springs eliminated Memorial the following week.
“Lots of factors have really come into it. To sum it up, we’ve had good players, a supportive administration and coaches who wouldn’t tolerate anything less than a great attitude and good old-fashioned hard work,” Snelson said.
No. 3 - Icon Walter Woodard’s death
Anyone who attended a sporting event in town since the 1970s probably has a Walter Woodard story. Coaches, mothers, fathers, kids, they all knew or were aware of gentle Walter in some form or fashion and shared story after story.
But on Feb. 13, 2009 Walter lost his battle to throat cancer and the city lost a true icon.
Near his end, the city paid tribute to Walter by proclaiming Nov. 1, 2008 as Walter Woodard Day. During ceremonies at the Kipper Mease Sports Complex in which the Toys for Tots Softball Tournament was renamed the Walter Woodard Toys for Tots Softball Tournament, the guest of honor accepted a trophy that was every bit as tall as Walter was.
His presence began to become known when he was declared an honorary coach for the 1973 Colt Baseball All-Stars, who captured the world championship. From then on, he was a fixture at youth baseball games.
He “fired” coaches, gave them strategy by yelling out plays with complex numbering systems, he helped umpires by yelling foul ball and he absolutely detested seeing a youngster’s shirt tail hanging out.
“Tuck your shirt in,” was perhaps Walter’s most famous battle cry at games, before walking off in his famous Walter waddle wearing his blue Pasadena Hall of Fame jacket.
Walter may be gone, but the hundreds of Walter stories are guaranteed to live on.
No. 4 - Amazing turnaround nearly gives San Jac national title
It looked like it was time to stick a fork in the 2002-2003 San Jacinto College men’s basketball team. On March 1, 2003, they seemed done after losing 93-79 to Navarro College in a disappointing regular season finale.
“I remember turning to (assistant) Scott Horstman and saying, well, we can begin recruiting for next season,” Ravens head coach Scott Gernander recalled Wednesday.
Unable to win back-to-back conference contests for the entire last month of the regular season, the Ravens limped into the postseason with a 5-6 record, giving them an overall 14-8 conference mark, one of the worst records in recent memory.
To add to the misery, San Jac’s Anders Gym was host that year for the Region 14 postseason tournament. The way the Ravens finished the season, there was no way San Jac would be on its own floor for the championship game.
But as it would turn out, not only were the Ravens on their home floor for that championship game, they would be on the floor for the NJCAA Division I national championship game.
“It wasn’t like we made changes. Jihad (Muhammad) really got hot and we had four or five big guys. None of them were big scorers, but they all kind of contributed,” Gernander said.
Gernander also recalled how he thought his son, Scott Gernander, Jr., who was a player on that team, wouldn’t have the experience of playing at nationals. As a child, he did experience it tagging along with his famous father, but as a player it looked out of reach.
But in an astounding turnaround, San Jac found new life in the postseason, reeling off six consecutive wins. One week after losing to Navarro, the Ravens avenged that loss with a 91-81 win, following that with a 104-76 victory over Kilgore and a wild 117-113 win over Panola for the ticket to nationals.
Then at the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas San Jac’s bubble wasn’t ready to burst. They dumped Coffeyville 76-73 and Monroe, N.Y. 74-67 to reach the semifinals where the club ousted Dixie, Utah 69-65. Then on March 22, three weeks after it looked like their season was done, San Jac faced Southeastern Community College for the national crown. But that’s where the team’s magical run ended with a 76-68 loss.
“I couldn’t believe it after the kind of year we had,” Gernander said. “That’s one of those teams you’re so proud of at the end of the season.”
No. 5 - Baywood Country Club shuts its doors
The private golf course that opened in 1954 at 5500 Genoa Red Bluff saw its last golfer walk off the No. 18 green in 2008.
Declining membership and a lack of better facilities saw the old gal give way to a new apartment complex that’s currently going up at the old site.
In her heyday, Baywood Country Club was host to a parade of tournaments and many a golfer who fought her greens and fairways amid trees draped with Spanish moss.
In addition, the club was the setting for hundreds of community and civic events, parties and award ceremonies throughout its five decades.
No. 6 - The deaths of Scott Talton & Billy Carlisle
The local high school basketball scene was rocked this decade by the untimely deaths of Billy Carlisle at Deer Park and Dobie’s Scott Talton.
Carlisle, who had been hounded by health problems for several seasons, died minutes after Deer Park fell to North Shore 54-50 on Feb. 10, 2006 in the team’s regular season home finale.
The program’s head coach since the 1980s, Carlisle had put Deer Park’s program on the map with playoff berth after playoff berth. Blessed with talent like that of Nathan Walkup and a wealth of others, he routinely had the Deer winning eight or more district games per season and Carlisle had his share of Coach-of-the-Year honors. He was posthumously given that award after the 2006 season.
Talton, Dobie’s head coach for 27 years, passed away at his home this past Feb. 22, one year after retiring with 500 victories.
Talton, who was one of the key cogs in getting the McDonald’s Texas Invitational up and running, is easily the winningest coach in PISD history. Under Talton’s leadership, there never was a game in which Dobie was out of it. Known for his teams earning high marks for their strong fundamentals to go with a patient but opportunistic offense and sound defense, over half of his clubs earned postseason berths.
Talton concluded his coaching career by watching his son play for the Longhorns. Scott Talton, Jr., captured co-Newcomer of the Year honors in 2006 and First Team recognition by his senior year.
Today, both the courts at Deer Park and Dobie have been named after the giants in the coaching ranks, their signatures adorn each court.
No. 7 - Japan Little Leaguers compete in town
For a couple of games that didn’t mean anything in the standings, the arrival of some Japanese Little Leaguers to town in March of 2008 was truly one of the sports highlights for the decade.
Hadano, Japan, Pasadena’s sister city, brought a group of all-stars for a six-day stay in town to sightsee and to play baseball.
In between visits to Minute Maid Park, Moody Gardens and NASA, the Japanese kids took on an all-star collection from mostly International and Pan American little leagues.
Hadano was the far superior team in both contests, but the results were secondary to the experience of the city’s kids being on the same field with an opponent from the other side of the world.
“Even if we’re getting our butts kicked, it’s still fun to be out here,” Pan Am’s Lane Bankhead said in summing up the experience.
After both contests, the teams met at restaurants on Spencer Highway for a postgame party of autograph signing.
No. 8 - Hurricane Ike’s wrath on the sports schedule
The first hurricane since Alicia in 1983 to make a direct hit on the Houston area, Hurricane Ike left a path of destruction on the sports schedule.
And he did a pretty good job on people’s homes and property as well.
From practices to games, everything was thrown in a turmoil after the storm pummeled the area on Sept. 12, 2008 with winds topped out at over 100 mph.
The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of extracurricular events, issued a special statement regarding games after Ike.
But the damage had been done. All of the PISD football programs lost at least one game to the storm and South Houston lost two. The UIL suspended its five-day rule between games and allowed schools to compete with a temporary four-day window.
High school volleyball was scheduled to start district play the day Ike roared ashore, but the storm put it on hold for another 12 days. On Sept. 24, the district campaign finally got under way. Even still, the first round of district was a hurry up situation. A revamped schedule had teams finishing Round I in only 13 days, not the usual 21. The storm also caused the order of games to be switched about. The district opener, for example, wasn’t played until the third game.
That was the story at San Jacinto College and its volleyball team. Matches were scrubbed and contests moved to the following month thanks to the storm.
Facilities-wise, there was damage but it could have been worse. Of the 42 dugouts at the city’s youth fields, 30 were estimated to have suffered damage.
No 9. Memorial’s 4 x 100 relay team winning Region III crown
And they said it couldn’t be done. The very thought of a PISD track and field team winning a Region III Class 5A crown in the sprint races had always been deemed ridiculous. But this past spring, Memorial High School’s 4 by 100 squad proved even the most ridiculous thought can be thrown away.
The team of Bo Snelson, Chance Imhoff, Thaddeus Stewart and Wykie Freeman defied all the odds by recording the championship time of 41.15 seconds, holding off Baytown Lee, North Shore and Pearland.
The four had to overcome more than other teams. The swine flu scare put the regional meet on hold for two weeks, making some wonder if the extra time would hinder the performances. In Memorial’s case, it didn’t.
“It would have taken a thousand years to convince me that we’d have kids fast enough to compete at the regional meet much less win the gosh-darn thing,” Memorial coach Mike Adams said.
At the state championship meet, the team medaled again, capturing third place.
No. 10 - Rayburn freshman runner competes at state
Staying with the theme of “It can’t be done,” Sam Rayburn cross country runner Jose Ortega became the first Texans male runner to clinch a state championship berth during a stunning 2007 season.
It was the first time that a PISD runner had earned a state cross country berth in years if not more than a decade.
Just a freshman that season, Ortega secured 51st place with the time of 16:57.25, who ran at a pace of 5:26 a minute. Competing on a challenging course that was fit for the state’s best, Ortega finished smack in the middle of the 102-runners field.
To qualify for state, Ortega had to earn a top-10 berth at the Region III run and he did that with a finish of eighth place.
Ortega has also been instrumental in helping Sam Rayburn’s program capture four straight district titles (2005-2008), a streak that ended just this year.