The final edition of the Tournament of the Stars pro-am basketball tournament will be held next week. The tournament, which has attracted more than a dozen NBA players over the years, started out as a recreational project but grew into a community staple that has helped provide scholarships to hundreds of area students.
Harold McReynolds co-founded the tournament in 1994 and helped it grow over the years. Eventually the tournament became a way for McReynolds to provide scholarships, which he wanted to do to honor his late father.
“Me and another guy, Floyd Guillory, used to go play in tournaments all the time,” McReynolds said. “We decided to host our own tournament. Back then, you had to go find adult tournaments. We did it just for fun and started in 1994 with four teams — and one of them was a women’s team. We didn’t know that until they got here so we had them playing against men.”
It started off slow the first four or five years, then Guillory went off to do other things. McReynolds said he decided to keep the tournament going and merged it with a more personal project.
“My dad, Israel, passed away in 1991 and I was thinking of ways to honor him,” he said. “I grew up with a lot of kids he would take in. They would stay for two weeks, a month, two years. He believed in education and he believed in helping kids. So I decided to establish a scholarship fund in his name. That gave me a purpose to put something behind the tournament, have some meaning behind it.”
McReynolds hit the road to study what worked and didn’t work at other tournaments.
“Most were disorganized, but Mobile had a good one named Bud Fest, so I learned from that one,” he said.
“I just wanted a good product, I didn’t care what it would eventually get to. Back then, 20-25 teams was a big tournament. After another four or five years after that it got to the point where we were able to give a scholarship away. It was kind of emotional, we gave it to Desmond Wallace, who is a pastor (and Calcasieu Parish School Board member) now. He was at Washington-Marion and wanted to go to Bible school. When we interviewed him he was real innocent, he wrote a nice essay and was in need. I remember how calm he was, what he wanted and how he talked. It all just hit me, and to be able to help him with a scholarship in my dad’s name, it was real emotional for me.”
About 300 scholarships have been awarded since then. McReynolds said the success of the tournament and scholarship program is due to the team of volunteers that have helped them grow.
“We have a great team of volunteers, that is what really helped us grow,” he said. “I have been blessed. Our team — Ron and Don Piper, Karen Hardy, Linda Carrier, Craig Ryan, Vanessa McKinstry, Darlene South, Richard Patterson, CJ and Cynthia Daigle. Jennifer Thomas was a part at the start, Tony Miller, Jerry Williams, Cassandra Collins — all these guys were the foundation as volunteers. They started it, got the volunteers and that is what vaulted us ahead of tournaments. Starting out, I just wanted to help one. I didn’t have a goal of 10 or 20. We just wanted to do the best we could do. We have great sponsors like Citgo and Phillips 66. Karen Hardy, the Pipers, Linda Carrier have done so much behind the scenes — getting volunteers, making phone calls.”
Word of mouth about the pro-am tournament helped the event gain popularity among professional players.
“Moses Malone and Rodney McCray used to come down out of Houston, they were the first NBA guys to show up, even though Moses never played,” McReynolds said.
“Penny Hardaway is the one who really put us on the map with NBA guys. Stephen Jackson was huge. He really went out of his way. He knows everybody and he brought a lot of people. He brought James Harden, guys from Golden State, Kendrick Perkins. He started with the big NBA guys and Penny kind of put the exclamation point on it. We had rivalries with teams from Port Arthur and Houston and Memphis. Memphis had a good team even before Penny. Those guys said they were going to tell Penny about it and he eventually came. Jackson was always helping. I never had a clue that I would ever have NBA guys here. I just tried to have a good product, do it for the right reason and everything just kind of fell into place. I had a great team and without them we would never make it.”
McReynolds targeted this year to end the pro-am tournament a few years ago.
“I always said 25 years would be it with the pro-am,” he said. “I’ll miss all the people and the friendships — I never thought I’d be friends with or on phone calls with Penny Hardaway, all these famous NBA players. Aside from the players, I met people from all over the country, those are friends I never had before. I won’t miss putting it on — it takes a lot of work to do it. It is a lot harder to put together now.”
Support for area students will not stop for McReynolds or the TOS organization.
“We’ll still do the golf tournament and youth basketball tournament to boost the scholarship fund,” he said.
“Golf is our biggest fundraiser and the youth tournament has grown to 115 teams in five years. We do a banquet for the scholarship recipients to honor them. That is my favorite thing. To see those kids and their families, to see them all light up, it is really something. Me and the staff we all enjoy that. If I could only do one thing, and I could help 100 kids, that would be all I’d do.”
For more information, visit www.tournamentofstars.com or call (337) 491-1466.