"It's sort of a youth convention, with basketball going on," said Walter C. Pierce as he watched a seminfinal game Saturday at the Eighth Annual Ghetto Invitational Basketball Tournament at Gonzaga High School.
"They all get together once a year. I see a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time . . . They (the kids) see a lot of people they haven't seen since last year."
Pierce, the founder and director of the Ontario Lakers Youth Program in Adams Morgan, started the tournament to bring together teams from different parts of the Washington area who normally would not have the opportunity to play each other. In addition, he felt it would give youth teams in the area the incentive of a post-season tournament.
The three-day tournament has five divisions of compeition - boys' 10-years-old and under, boys' 12 and under, boys' 14 and under, boys' 16 and under, and girls' 15 and under. Registration fees range from $31 for 10-and-under teams to $49 for the oldest boys teams.
"We don't make any money," Pierce said. "I'm in debt from this thing. We need some group to support it so we can lower the team fees."
Pierce said about $700 is spent just on trophies, which are awarded to the first and second-place teams in each division and to each player on those squads. The most valuable player from the championship team and the outstanding player on the runner-up team also receive awards. "That's the whole thing - trophies," Pierce said. "That's where it's at. That's their trip. If they're great athletes, they want a house full of trophies to show it."
Pierce has patterened the tournament, which this year had teams from D.C. and Maryland, after the National Collegiate Athletic Association annual affair. "A single-elimination tournament like this teaches kids you have to do everything perfect to win," he said, "or if you don't, then you have to come back next year and try again.
"Most of the teams in here haven't played each other before.We need to bring them together. We need that unity. We feel the best players come from the city. We want people to know there's good in the ghetto, too."
Well-known college players from the area who played in the Ghetto Invitational are Donald (Duck) Williams of Notre Dame, Kenny Matthews of North Carolina State and Jo Jo Hunter of University of Maryland.
During the tournament, Pierce was constantly on the move, roaming the gym, attempting to catch problems before they started. The problems were minor, but ever present: children running onto the basketball court, children fighting, coaches arguing with the referees, coaches questioning the ages of their opponent players, while in the stands it was parent against parent over whose offspring was a better player.
But Pierce had a quick answer for all participants. When one coach displayed his displeasure over a referee's call, Pierce broke out a can of white paint and painted a four-foot sign in the gym lobby that said, "Winning Is Not Everything."
The chaos and disorgnization did not dampen the enthusiasm of the participants at the affair, which ended Sunday with five title games. "I think it's great. I met a lot of friends on the other teams," said 15-year-old Rhonda McMillan, of 1350 Clifton St. NW, who played for the Lincoln Recreation Center.
"It's not really a ghetto tournament," said Colleen Keegan, 14, of 5209 Upton Ter. NW, who represented Metropolitan Police Girls Club Number 8. "It's lower-class kids. It's everything mixed. It's a chance to play a big game like this in front of a lot of people that you know."
The results of SUnday's championship games were:
Boy's 10 and under: Metropolitan Police Boys Club Number 12 - 45, Oakcrest - 18.
Boys' 12 and under: Metropolitan Police Boys Club Number 6 - 50, Woodbridge Community Center - 34.
Boys' 14 and under: Woodbridge Community Center - 57, Gonzaga - 53.
Boys' 16 and under: Woodbridge Community Center - 74, Gonzaga - 64.
Girls' 15 and under: Holy Name - 36, North Brentwood - 33.