By Gail Wood
But Vernon went one step farther.
He organized his own basketball tournaments for his kids to play in.
Twenty-six years ago, when Vernon’s son was a sixth grader, he organized a local tournament. Now, Vernon’s son, Chris, is 37 and a doctor in Spokane. And Vernon? He’s the General Manager of youth basketball, organizing leagues and tournaments year around in Tumwater. Since 1988, when Chris played in his dad’s first tournament, Vernon has organized leagues and tournaments for kids ranging in age from nine-year-old, fourth graders through high school seniors.
“It keeps me busy and out of trouble,” said Vernon, a retired teacher.
Last year, 127 teams signed up to play in Vernon’s weekend tournaments and in his summer, fall and winter leagues.
From February to early March, Vernon hosts a tournament every weekend for kids in grades fifth through eighth, alternating weekends between boys and girls.
If the brackets are full for each of the four different age groups, that’s 32 teams or about 320 kids each weekend. With each team guaranteed four games – two games Saturday and two games Sunday – that works out to 64 games.
“I don’t mind paying for the custodial help when I rent the gyms,” Vernon said with a chuckle. “I’m exhausted at the end of it anyway.”
Because of Vernon, who retired from teaching eight years ago at age 53 after teaching English at Tumwater High School for 30 years, thousands of kids have had an opportunity to play basketball. And it’s not just local kids as teams from Grays Harbor, White Pass, Port Angeles and Bonnie Lake are among the towns represented.
Tim Graham, Tumwater High School’s athlete director for 16 years, gives the tournaments and leagues a double thumbs up. Graham has seen Vernon’s tournaments through the eyes of an AD and a parent. His kids played in Vernon’s tournaments.
“It’s one of the most organized and most open tournaments,” Graham said. “He helps keep basketball up front. Kids know they can play quality opponents right here without having to drive a long ways. It saves parents money.”
Lots of kids who once played in Vernon’s tournaments are now grown and either coach youth teams or referee for him. What’s helped the tournaments survive – besides Vernon’s hard work and the cooperation from Tumwater and Black Hills High Schools – are the quality of the officials that have refereed the games.
“I’ve got 16 guys who have worked state tournament games,” Vernon said. “That’s why the tournaments are so successful. I’ve got really good officials.”
Refs with state tournament experience participate more as a favor for a friend.
“Sometimes in tournaments you’ve got a high school freshman refereeing the games and they don’t know what they’re doing,” Vernon said.
That results with disgruntled parents, which may result in teams not returning next year.
“The parents get all mad and that kind of stuff,” Vernon said. “But I’ve got such good officials everything runs so much more smoothly.”
In addition to the upcoming weekend tournaments that are held at Tumwater and Black Hills high schools, Vernon also organizes four different leagues. In June, there’s the summer league for local high schools and usually about 60 teams enter. His fall league – which is also for high schools – begins the weekend after Labor Day and runs seven weekends with teams playing doubleheaders. Last year, 56 teams – which includes teams from sixth grade to 12th grade from Olympia, Tumwater, Hoquiam, White Pass, Port Angeles, and Elma – signed up for that. His winter league is for third through eighth grade.
As if that’s not enough basketball, Vernon still organizes the intramural program for the Tumwater and Black Hills high schools.
Even Vernon’s escape – a trip to Las Vegas in March – includes basketball.
“Every year I go to Vegas during March Madness and I watch 48 games and I don’t have to schedule anybody,” Vernon said with a chuckle. “I don’t have to hire any referees. I can just sit and watch basketball and not be responsible for anything. It’s glorious.”
As a kid growing up in Olympia, Vernon played basketball. He played at Saint Martin’s High School in the early 1970s, placing at state his junior year.
“We had to play against the great Elma and Raymond teams,” Vernon said. “With Ron Sheets and Rod Derline and that bunch.”
Two of Vernon’s high school teammates – Matt Schade and Jack Feeney – now ref his tournament and league games.
“I’ve known those guys since 1967,” Vernon said. “Those are the guys I like to have in the program.”
After all these years of organizing tournaments and leagues, Vernon is still motivated by the same thing – give kids a chance to participate in a quality local program.
“There’s lots of nice tournaments in Tacoma and Seattle,” Vernon said. “A lot of AAU tournaments. But I try to have school teams and not big powerful AAU teams that takes the top boys from 10 different schools and just pound everybody.”
For more information about signing up for the upcoming tournaments and leagues, call Vernon at 360-943-3200 or connect via Facebook. The weekend tournaments cost $165 per team.