The Harnett County Tipoff makes its much-anticipated return this month following a year off. Details and comments ahead of this year's event.
ANGIER — When basketball fans from Harnett County’s four high schools converge at Harnett Central on Monday, Nov. 22, it’ll mark the return of an event that’s entertained locals for decades.
The tipoff function, featuring girls and boys teams from each school, was yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic last winter.
But organizers made sure that wouldn’t be the case this year, as the nation rebounds — even marking the event’s rebirth with a special name change: Bennie Pollock Memorial Tournament.
“I thought it was a good chance to honor him (Pollock) because, from the start of the so many years ago, he was very instrumental in wanting to have it,” said Will Gage, athletic director and boys basketball coach at Harnett Central.
“And so, he got as much enjoyment out of it as anybody I know ... he really, really, loved basketball and he put everything into it.”
Pollock, who passed away last February, coached and taught for over 40 years within the county — most notably leading the girls basketball teams at both Western Harnett and Central.
Coincidentally, the tourney’s opening game features both squads, with the Lady Trojans returning as champs from when it was held last in 2019.
Central wing Ivanna Jones was just a sophomore on that championship group and now, as a senior, acknowledges the significance of defending that title with Pollock’s dedication being an inspirational backdrop.
“It’s a big tournament ... I know it’s gonna mean a lot to the county,” Jones said, following a recent practice.
“Everyone’s gonna be vying for that (title), especially coming off of COVID. ... Whoever goes out there and wants to win is gonna win and have those bragging rights.”
Meanwhile, first-year Triton girls basketball coach Richard Rozier still recalls participating in the tournament as a player and says he’s just as eager to lead a talented team with title aspirations.
“It’s just the spirit of Harnett County,” Rozier said following practice Tuesday. “Everybody being crowded in one gym — it’s nice to have that feeling back, have fans back, have those emotions back.
Basketball brings out the best. North Carolina is the hoop state, so we’re gonna be ready to hoop. And we can definitely win it all — we’re prepared to — I’m excited.”
Rozier’s Lady Hawks open bracket play against Overhills, who reached the championship game two years ago.
The boys side will see Triton and defending-champ Overhills play on Monday and Central tangle with Western on Tuesday.
Championship games for both brackets are set for Wednesday, Nov. 24 at Central, with trophy presentations and all-tournament ceremonies to follow.
“Especially coming off like what we had last year, I would think everybody’s just ready to play,” Gage said.
“It’s good to have a tournament format — atmosphere. I think it’s good for the kids. I think it’s good for the community. I would love nothing better than to have a packed gym.”
The admissions fee for spectators is $7 with all proceeds evenly divided among the participating schools. Masks are optional in and outside the building.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.