Each March, as the "Road to the NCAA Final Four" veers to a distant city, New York State's best high school basketball teams set off on a more familiar, down home path - "The Road to Glens Falls."
When high school basketball players go into the gym in November, the one city in the state on their minds is Glens Falls. "If we practice and play hard as a team we'll make it to Glens Falls for the State Championships!"
Twenty thousand players, coaches, parents and fans jam the city - more than doubling Glens Falls' population - during tournament weekend. At the same time, in the neighboring suburb of Queensbury, New York State's top girls high school teams compete in their state tournament.
Glens Falls, a quaint, 150-year old city crouched on the Hudson River 50 miles north of Albany, once was best known for its paper makers and insurance companies. It gained national prominence in the mid-1940's when the old Look magazine crowned it "Hometown USA." At the time, the city hosted the annual Eastern States Basketball Tourney, one of the earliest high school tournaments in the country, started in 1920 and drawing thousands of fans from around the Northeast. Now, in addition to the high school basketball tournaments, Glens Falls' Civic Center is home to the
Wildcats, USBL, of the American Hockey League.
So how come basketball - the "big city game" - has found such a comfortable home in little Glens Falls, population 17,000?
"It's the overall atmosphere," said William Higgins, chairman of the state wide Boys Basketball Committee, which has awarded Glens Falls the tournament contract through 1995. "Glens Falls is a safe, friendly community with convenient, affordable accommodations. It's centrally located, and they have a tremendous group of volunteers who see to it that everything goes off like clockwork. It's a very positive environment."
Many of the biggest names in college basketball and the NBA first earned state wide acclaim for their hardwood feats in Glens Falls. And the city is proud to serve as New York's unofficial basketball capital. City officials and business leaders have worked hard to keep the tournament in town.
"We think a high school tournament and Glens Falls are a natural match," said former Glens Falls Mayor Francis X. O'Keefe. "From the local basketball coaches and officials to the business owners, professional people, students and retirees, we have people of all ages who really get involved in this. It's a community project. It takes team work just like it does to win a state championship."
The Glens Falls-based Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce - an organization driven largely by volunteers - has historically been one of the tournament's biggest supporters.
"I can't say enough about what the tournament has done for our region" said ARCC President James A. Berg. "When New Yorkers think of the best in high school basketball, they think of Glens Falls... And that's something everyone here is very proud of."
Again this year volunteers from the Chamber's Sports Promotion Committee will run an information booth at the Civic Center, distributing information on local restaurants, stores and cultural attractions to the more than 20,000 visitors expected for the two weekends of the tourney. In the past, the ARCC Sports Promotion Committee has come through with a major fund-raising drive to ensure the future of the tournament in Glens Falls through 1995.
New York had been without a high school tournament for more than 40 years before the idea was resurrected in Rochester in the late '70's, said Doug Kenyon, who is the athletic director and assistant principal at Glens Falls High School.
In 1981, veteran Glens Falls High Athletic Director Bernard "Putt"
LaMay, a former NYSPHSAA president and then the director of the Federation Championships, led Glens Falls' bid for and received its first state tournament. Glens Falls has been awarded the three-year contracts ever since.
"To say that we are treated well by the City of Glens Falls is the understatement of the year," said Higgins. "We have heard nothing but positive comments from all the participants. Glens Falls simply knows how to run a tournament and run it well."
For kids from the inner city who have never been to a small town or kids who come from small communities who think Glens Falls is the big city, the whole city welcomes them with the hospitality that Glens Falls has displayed from all the way back to the 1920's. People from all over the state can identify Glens Falls - the home of the State High School Basketball Championships.