Amy Cunningham
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Don Bechard, former Gardner Edgerton High School teacher and coach, was well known in the

Coach Don Bechard shows off state championship trophy in 1996. File photo

community for his dedication to helping young people succeed.  While the coach passed away in the fall of 2008, his legacy of service has continued on through the players he once mentored.

Bechard’s former players will be joined by a youth movement when they take the court on Sat., April 16 at GEHS for the third annual Don Bechard Memorial Tournament to benefit the Don Bechard Scholarship Fund.  Bechard coached boy’s basketball at the high school from the 1992-93 season until 2008.  Several of his teams competed in post-season play including the 1996 State Championship team.

Event organizer Corey Adams, a 2000 GEHS graduate and one of Bechard’s former players, said this year will feature a broader mix of players, some of whom never had the chance to play for the revered coach.

“The tournament is becoming younger and younger,” Adams said, explaining that organizers have opened up slots for any player who is a senior in high school or older.  “As long as they’re done with their high school basketball, they’re eligible to play.”

Josh Wempe, 2002 GEHS graduate and another of the event’s organizers believes that it is important to Bechard’s former players to keep the coach’s memory alive.  He said that players think the cause is so important that many will be traveling back from around the country to play in the tournament.

“Really people come back just for the cause, because we’re playing for coach B.,” he said.  “He was a just a great individual, and of course, as a coach and teacher he was a great guy…that’s what motivates me.  Playing in his name is inspirational, he had a love of the game, and he (shared that) with the community, that’s what he meant to the community.”

Wally’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill will be sponsoring the concession stand for the event.

Guests can come to the event hungry for breakfast, because Wally will offer his biscuits and gravy to tournament goers.  The bar and grill will also have hot lunch selections available for purchase.

During the tournament a raffle and a silent auction will take place in the concession area.  Auction organizer Kellie Meyer said she expects to offer various autographed sports memorabilia, similar to last year’s event.  The group also plans to have some game packages from local professional sports teams, a boot camp membership, spa pack and other items up for bid.

Meyer believes that the tournament has started a Gardner tradition.  She said that alumni have a great time coming back to watch and participate every year.  It’s also sparked a rivalry between the young and the not-so-young players.

“It’s for a good cause so people are happy to come out and support it,” she said.  “I think, for the players, they look forward to getting to see people that they don’t typically see all the time and they can catch up with one another.  The older guys, especially from the (state) championship team, they look forward to seeing if they’ve still got ‘it’ and proving that they’re still the best.

For everyone else, it’s just another Gardner reunion, and everybody looks forward to having a good time and watching a game everybody loves.”

Teams will take the court on April 16 at 9 a.m.  All-day admission is $5.

The Don Bechard Scholarship Fund benefits college-bound graduates of Gardner Edgerton High School.

Bechard, who also coached girl’s volleyball, guided his basketball teams to more than 400 career victories and volleyball teams to more than 500 career victories. He is the only coach in Kansas high school history to win a state championship in both sports; volleyball (Manhattan High School, 1987) and basketball (Gardner Edgerton High School, 1996).
He passed away September 5, 2008 after a two year battle with Stage 4 Pleomorphic Sarcoma.

People interested in playing in the tournament may sign up at
www.donbechardtournament.com.  Adams said that players may sign up as individuals or players may sign up an entire team to compete in the tournament.