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BRUCE PLUNK Mid-America Board President

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Next month’s Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic might not have a team representing Class 6A for the first time in almost a decade, but that doesn’t mean the bracket for the state’s oldest and most prestigious girls basketball tournament won’t be loaded with big names once again.

Highly-ranked teams from Classes 5A through Class A  — including defending tournament champion Anadarko (ranked No. 6 in Class 4A), the top-ranked teams from Classes A (Calumet) and 4A (Cache), and squads ranked in the top three in 5A (Shawnee), 3A (Bethel) and A (Cyril) — will be in the field of eight when the Mid-America begins its three-day run on Monday, Dec. 27, at East Central University’s Kerr Activities Center.

“I think Cache (the defending 4A state champion) may be the best team in the state in any class, Anadarko is the defending champion, Shawnee (No. 3 in 5A) just got a girl eligible (center Caitlyn Ramirez, who transferred from Moss) who is going to make them better, Bethel (No. 2 in 3A) has a loaded squad coming back, Calumet is No. 1 in their class, and Cyril (No. 2 in Class A) would have been No. 1 in Class B if they hadn’t moved up,” Mid-America board president Bruce Plunk said last week after the bracket for this year’s tournament was released. “We’ve got a lot of quality teams.

“Wellston and Byng (the only two unranked teams in the field) are solid teams who will have some tough games because of the depth of the field, but top to bottom I think it will be really competitive,” he added. “It’s a typical Mid-America field.”

Plunk said the tournament would have included a 6A team and a team from Class B this year if Shawnee and Cyril hadn’t changed classes as a result of the offseason realignment by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association.

“We had every class covered except 5A when we sent out the invitations last year,” said Plunk, who took over from longtime tournament chairman Allen Butler in 2009. “Shawnee dropped from 6A to 5A, and Cyril moved up, so now we have teams from Class A through 5A.”

Plunk will be doing double duty this year because he recently returned to coaching as an assistant to Byng girls coach Matt Fike. He said the Mid-America’s veteran staff and board will ensure that his coaching responsibilities won’t interferece with his tournament duties.

“It won’t be a problem — it will just take good time management,” Plunk explained. “I’m usually at the gym when (Byng’s) practice is going on, anyway.”

Bertha Teague, the tournament’s namesake, was one of America’s most successful basketball coaches during more than four decades as the girls coach at Byng in which she won more than 1,100 games. Teague’s former team will making its first appearance at the Mid-America since 2005.

“Our kids at Byng are so excited about getting back to the tournament,” Plunk said. “We hope we can go out and compete hard. It’s nice to get Byng back in it, because of the tradition.”

Plunk said tradition is what sets the Mid-America apart from the other tournaments that have come along since the local event established the model more than three decades ago.

“We feel like we’re still the elite tournament,” he noted. “The others are great tournaments, but we feel like being the longest-running girl tournament that we’re the elite tournament in the state.

“People are always interested in coming and playing here,” Plunk added. “We’ve already been contacted by teams who want to come next year.”

Plunk said community involvement is a major reason the Mid-America has continued to set the gold standard for holiday tournaments over the years.

“I think the board has as much fun with this tournament as the kids who are involved,” he explained. “With Vision Bank (the Mid-America’s major corporate sponsor) and East Central involved, this is always going to be an outstanding tournament.

“We’re couldn’t do what we do without Vision Bank — they’re just super supporters of the tournament,” he added. “It’s just a community effort, and the Pontotoc County fans are the best basketball fans around. That’s what we think makes it great.”

Shawnee and Anadarko will kick off this year’s Mid-America with a marquee match-up at 3 p.m. on Dec. 27, then Bethel and Cyril will square off at 4:30 in the only opening-round game between teams ranked in the top three in their respective classes.

The tournament’s first evening session will begin at 6:30 p.m. with Byng facing Calumet and will conclude with an 8 p.m. contest between Cache and Wellston.

Loser’s bracket games will be played at 3 and 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 28, with semifinal contests at 6:30 and 8 p.m. The seventh-place game will kick off the final day’s action at 3 p.m., and the championship game is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for each day of the tournament.

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