Junior Kelsie Siegner was the 1A player of the year for state champion Crane in 2020. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Junior Kelsie Siegner was the 1A player of the year for state champion Crane in 2020. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

It's been 30 years since Daryl Knox played for East Linn Christian in the 1A boys basketball final at Baker High School, but the memories remain vivid.

“It's a special environment for small schools,” said Knox, whose son Carter, a senior on the team at Crosshill Christian, played in the tournament last year. “I've always had sort of a soft place in my heart for it.”

So when Knox learned that Baker would not be hosting the state tournament this year, he called Baker athletic director Buell Gonzales Jr. to gauge his interest in organizing a 1A season-ending event.

“I said, 'Hey, I have a bunch of ideas, would you guys have any interest in doing this?'” Knox said. “And he got back to me immediately, like, 'Absolutely.'”

Gonzales, who played against Knox for Prairie City in the 1991 semifinals, put Knox in touch with Brad Dunten, the athletic director at 1A Powder Valley, and the three took it from there.

Baker and Powder Valley will play host to 16-team, season-ending boys and girls 1A tournaments for culminating week June 21-24. Community Bank has signed on as a title sponsor, and Baker County Tournaments, a community group that has provided support for OSAA events, has jumped on board.

“It's all coming together,” Dunten said. “Everything is kind of rolling.”

It's not an official state tournament, and summer commitments could keep some players and teams from participating, but organizers believe that the event will fill a vital need.

“Hopefully we get as many teams involved in as many games in something that resembles closely what the normal tournament would be,” Knox said. “It won't be quite the same, but it's better than nothing.”

The plan is for the brackets to include the top two teams in each of 1A's eight districts. Teams will be guaranteed three games at the tournament, which will have a full consolation bracket.

Each of the first three days will have 16 games. The fourth day will have six trophy games, all at Baker.

A meeting of league representatives is set for Tuesday to begin shaping the brackets. Dunten said he is hopeful of confirming the teams by Thursday and releasing a seeded bracket by Friday.

Dunten said he will seed the bracket, relying on input from “two or three people from eastern Oregon” and others such as Country Christian girls coach Russell Halverson, who has organized coaches polls.

Some districts may be unable to provide their top two teams – for example, the High Desert League, where reigning state champion Crane is the only girls team still playing.

“We also know we're going to have some teams opt out, so we're probably going to have to do some back-filling with some No. 3s,” Dunten said.

For travel purposes, No. 3 teams from the nearby Old Oregon and Big Sky leagues would be prioritized, according to Dunten.

The tournaments will have more moving pieces than the typical eight-team state tournaments, but Dunten is confident that Powder Valley – which played host to a 24-team, three-day event in its two gyms in December 2019 – will hold up its end of the deal.

“We've done it already once,” he said.

Dunten said the tournament was scheduled for Monday through Thursday to avoid conflicting with Little League and wooden bat baseball tournaments late in the week. Finding lodging could pose a challenge.

“Some teams have already talked about, if there are no hotels available, that we'll have football fields and soccer fields at Baker and North Powder for people to camp on,” Dunten said. “Pull their RVs up, all that kind of stuff.”

Four-day tournament passes are $45 for adults and $35 for students. Single-day admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students. Games will be streamed live on the NFHS Network.

Baker, known for its hospitality in hosting state tournaments, plans to provide meals for athletes, according to Dunten. It's all part of creating an all-around experience.

“Kids have lost out on enough as it is, and it'll be a good opportunity for them,” Dunten said.