101 years of the Macoupin County Basketball Tournament – a look back

101 years of the Macoupin County Basketball Tournament

By Tom Emery

This month, the Macoupin County Boys’ Basketball Tournament will be played for the 101st time. It is one of the oldest continuous high school sports events in the state.

The first Macoupin County basketball tournament, in March 1919, was a five-team affair in Carlinville at the local Nathan Hall, which was owned by a local clothier. The facility, formerly located on the northeast corner of the square, then housed a 62×36 basketball court on the second story.

Benld High School captured that first tournament, which also featured Gillespie, Girard, Mt. Olive, and Carlinville. In the event’s earliest years, games were set by draw. The first tournaments were under the direction of the Macoupin Oratorical and Athletic Association, which also administered the county track meets.

By the 1923 tournament, played at the new Carlinville High School, the field had expanded to 13. Three years later, 16 teams took part, including now-defunct schools in Palmyra, Hettick, Modesto, Scottville, Chesterfield, Shipman, Medora, and Brighton. Over half the teams in the 1926 event have since either closed or consolidated.

Those smallest schools, though, provided formidable opposition. Tiny Chesterfield captured both the county basketball and track titles in 1924. The current field is seven teams.

Eventually, the tournament was hosted by the participating county schools on a rotating basis. With 22 titles coming into this week, Gillespie has won the most county championships of any school.

The Miners also hold the record for most boys’ county titles in a row – four, from 1953-56. Staunton is next with 15, followed by Southwestern with 14. In fourth place is Mt. Olive, which has won 12 county titles, though just one since 1949.

Legendary Bunker Hill coach Jim Hlafka and former Staunton coach Mike Stivers each won six boys’ county titles in their careers, more than any other coaches.

County tournament fields are often wide-open affairs. In 1993, Staunton drove all the way to the IHSA Class A state title but did not take home a county championship, as Virden took the title.

In 1980, a girls’ county tournament was added. That event has been dominated by Southwestern, with 16 titles coming into this season, including five in a row from 2003-07. Birds coach Steve Wooley has guided the school to 11 of those titles, more than any other boys’ or girls’ coach.

Despite its age, the boys’ tournament is not even the longest-running event in Macoupin County. That designation belongs to the boys’ county track meet, which dates to 1904.