By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams basketball team will play in a different holiday tournament for the first time since the mid 2000s when it travels to Teutopolis in December.
“Our decision is not personal to anybody,” Mt. Vernon athletic director Doug Creel said. “It’s just Centralia is our rival. Sometimes the less we have to go in their gym, whether we’re playing them or not it’s just better for our coaches. It’s hard to understand that unless you’ve been involved in that and been involved in the Mt. Vernon-Centralia thing.”
Mt. Vernon signed a two-year contract and will play at the inaugural Teutopolis tournament in late December. The contract, which was signed earlier this month, halts a string of years competing in the Centralia Holiday Tournament.
“It’s not personal, no grudges held,” Creel said. “We just felt like at this time we just needed to distance ourselves. I think there will be some good teams in the (Teutopolis) tournament. It’s just an hour up the road, good competition.
“I’m sure there’s a possibility if Centralia wants us back sometime down the line we’ll look into that, but for right now we just felt like we needed to separate just a little bit.”
In past seasons, there was a possibility of the two rivals matching up as many as five times during the season. Last year Mt. Vernon and Centralia played three times. The last time ended in a regional final loss for the Rams.
“Centralia when coach (Rick) Moss was there, we were playing five times a year,” Creel said. “They were good. We were good. It was just good to get a separation.”
The Teutopolis tournament is expected to have a minimum of eight teams and will be a pool play format, according to Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber. Each team will compete against three other teams in pool play before advancing to a playoff round. The format guarantees each team in the tournament will play four games.
“It will be nice to get into a tournament that doesn’t have any conference schools in it, play opponents that you don’t normally play,” Gamber said. “I like the fact that we’re going to play at least four games.”
The Teutopolis tournament will be after Christmas and could span two or three days, according to Gamber.
Mt. Vernon competed in the Centralia Holiday Tournament for several decades and won the title in 1998 against Paducah Tilghman. Mt. Vernon left the tournament the following season and competed at Carbondale until 2004 before returning to Centralia until the present season when the Rams finished with a 1-2 record with both defeats coming at the buzzer. The second came against Alton on a controversial putback basket.
“They way that things ended at Centralia’s very unfortunate, and I think that it probably just shows even more why we need to get away from there,” Gamber said. “Ultimately that decision was made prior to what happened (this year).”