Cory Adams, Gardner, thinks former Gardner Edgerton boys basketball coach Don Bechard would enjoy watching his former players compete, despite the fact that their jump shots are a little bit rusty.
Bechard died in 2008 after a lengthy battle with Stage 4 Pleomorphic Sarcoma, but his absence courtside doesn’t keep the players away. They converge on the high school each year for an alumni basketball tournament and fundraiser in his honor.
“I think if he was still alive and he was able to come up there, I think he would enjoy that watching those guys that he had a relationship with,” Adams, an organizer of the annual event, said.
To date, approximately 80 people are scheduled to hit the court for a round robin basketball tournament April 21 to benefit the Don Bechard Scholarship Fund.
Bechard coached boys basketball at GEHS from 1992-2008. Several of his teams competed in post-season play including the 1996 State Championship team.
As the players get older, Adams, a 1999 graduate, said it’s difficult to get some of the younger, more recent GE grads interested in the event. And, he admits, it gets tougher for some of the former players to get up and down the court during several hours of play at the annual tournament.
In its infancy, tournament teams each played 40-minute basketball games, or two, 20 minute halves. As the tournament and players have aged, the length of the games has shortened. Adams said this year the games will probably have 16-minute halves.
“Some of the young guys will complain about it, but it’s just supposed to be fun,” Adams said.
Event organizers tweak the event every year. New this year will be a Knock-Out competition. In the quick competition, players will shoot baskets as quickly as possible to knock other players out of the game.
”I think that will be fun to watch,” Adams said. Ideally, he said in future years, he hopes to add other competitions to the tournament to make the entire event similar to the NBA All-Star event with dunk competitions and other games.
But that’s down the road. This year, the focus is on keeping the tradition alive, he said. Many of the younger players never played for Bechard, so getting them excited and involved is a priority.
“It’s really more about just getting together and playing and having an excuse to hang out afterwards and see everybody and talk about old times,” Adams said.
Chris Shaw, a 1996 graduate and member of the GEHS team that won the state championship, will travel from his North Carolina home to play in the memorial tournament.
“I have tons of fond memories of Coach Bechard, but for me, I will never not come back for this event,” Shaw said. “He and the entire Bechard family had such a big influence on my life, that I feel I owe it to him to come back home to honor his life and also raise as much money as we can in behalf of his name.”
The eight tournament teams will compete at GEHS on April 21. The earliest game will start at 9 a.m., and Adams said the event will wrap up around 5 p.m. But, the fun doesn’t end there.
Tournament players and fans typically head out to the Tumbleweed after the games to relive their glory days and the day’s games.
Bechard amassed more than 400 career victories 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 basketball (Gardner-Edgerton, 1996).