LINCOLN — The Nebraska School Activities Association board chose not to play Scrooge to Omaha Central’s request Thursday to use part of the state’s Christmas moratorium to participate in one of the nation’s top boys basketball high school invitationals.
Central received a waiver, on an 8-0 vote, that will let the Eagles play in the City of Palms Invitational in Fort Myers, Fla., from Dec. 18 to 22. The five-day moratorium begins on Dec. 22. Central has a 50-50 chance of playing that day and its preliminary travel plan has the Eagles returning home on Dec. 23.
“If we get a chance to showcase some of our talent in a tournament like that, I like it,” said Jay Bellar, the District 3 board member from Battle Creek.
Jerry Bartee of the Omaha Public Schools, a District 2 board member and a Central graduate, said the NSAA must acknowledge that times change.
“National recognition is the fashionable thing and to get a national ranking you have to get into a national tournament,’’ Bartee said. “I’m not saying it’s our purpose, but you feel a sense of pride when one of our schools gets that recognition.”
Central coach Eric Behrens, who joined Athletic Director Darin Williams in appearing before the board, said he would be sending out text messages to his returning team members that their 2012-13 schedule just got better. Behrens said he didn’t want to get their hopes up if the NSAA would have denied the waiver.
What made the Florida offer lucrative, Behrens said, is that the tournament organizers will cover most expenses, including airfare and lodging. Central might need to raise some money, he said, to pay for some meals, ground transportation and extra persons in the travel party.
Behrens said the 16 teams in the City of Palms’ national bracket include the defending champion, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood. Also in the field are Chicago Whitney Young, Memphis Southwind, Chester (Pa.), Lone Peak (Utah) and Montverde (Fla.) Academy — which beat Central in Omaha in 2007.
Central is the first Nebraska team to be invited to the tournament, which began in 1973. The Eagles, who have a 36-game winning streak, also are set to play another national power, Oak Hill Academy (Va.), on Feb. 9 at the Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island.
Several board members said the NSAA needs to revisit its rules regarding the moratorium, but not at Central’s expense.
“I support (Central) going and playing at the highest level, but when it comes to the moratorium, I wonder how deeply we believe in those five days,’’ board member Brian Maher of Kearney said.
Board chairman Mark Norvell of Fillmore Central said an idea might be to have schools take off five days in a row from games and practices in a seven-day period, with Dec. 24 and 25 as mandatory days off.
Also Thursday, an NSAA subcommittee on redistricting agreed on recommendations for legislation that would use county lines as boundaries for the association’s six legislative districts (no schools would change districts), require the NSAA board to annually review district boundaries and, every four years, form a statewide committee to review the boundaries.
NSAA Assistant Director Jennifer Schwartz said preliminary numbers indicate a record year for attendance at the state soccer tournament of more than 23,000 paid admissions. She said the record had been about 21,800.
Contact the writer: