Their jump shots may be rusty, but for former Gardner Edgerton High School basketball players, their memories of Don Bechard remain sharp.
Bechard, a former GEHS basketball and volleyball coach, died in 2008 after a lengthy battle with stage 4 Pleomorphic Sarcoma. Despite his absence courtside, for the last several years, his former players have converged at GEHS each April for an alumni basketball tournament and fundraiser in his honor.
For Logan Bond, a 1996 GEHS graduate, now lives in Ft. Myers, Fla., and plans to drive more than 20 hours with his family to make play in the tournament.
The trip home to Kansas will be a pilgrimage, “to keep coach’s name alive.”
“He always encouraged us to try our hardest and to play together and not be selfish and off the court always be a gentleman,” Bond explained.
Organizers anticipate eight teams will take the court during the Don Bechard Memorial Basketball Tournament on April 20. The tournament benefits a scholarship fund in Bechard’s name.
He coached boys basketball at GEHS from 1992 to 2008. Several of his teams competed in post-season play, including the 1996 State Championship team.
Bond says his tournament team is filled with “old guys.”
“I’m not saying we’re going to win,” Bond said.
His skill level may have decreased, but Bond said the love of the game Coach Bechard instilled remains.
Bond played collegiate basketball for Drury University.
“I’m actually driving to play basketball right now,” he said Monday afternoon. “I can’t jump like I used to. I can’t run like I used to.”
Event organizers tweak the event each year.
In its infancy, tournament teams played a round robin tournament with 40-minute basketball games. As the players have aged, the number of game minutes and tournament play has changed. The round-robin play, which resulted in four games for the winning team’s players, has been eliminated. Teams will play no more than three games this year.
Prior to the tournament, players and guests are invited to a pot luck dinner. The dinner will be at 6 p.m. on April 19. Attendees are asked to bring a dish.
Eight tournament teams, including GEHS alumni from a variety of classes, will compete at GEHS on April 20. The earliest games will start at 9 a.m., and the event should wrap-up by 6 p.m, but the fun doesn’t end there.
Tournament players and fans typically head to the Tumbleweed after the games to relive the glory days.
Bond said the only thing that would make the event better is if Bechard could be there himself.
“I think he’d be happy that we still all get together,” Bond said. “We have nothing but good things and good stories to tell about him. He was the best.”
Bechard amassed more than 400 career wins as a basketball coach and 500 career victories as a volleyball coach. He is the only coach in Kansas high school history to win a state championship in volleyball (Manhattan High School, 1987) and a basketball championship (GEHS, 1996).
For more information about the Don Bechard Memorial Tournament, visit the website at LINK.