MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

I was told and I understood it could happen, and happen soon, but that there was a chance some adjustments could be made. Either way, the possibilities were not promising and nothing would come as a surprise. Yet when I woke up on Wednesday and checked the newsfeed first thing in the morning and it was there, I jumped out of bed and put on my pants as though I should go somewhere or do something to change what had been inevitable.

It was no longer the night before Christmas. It was the morning a treasured community and national celebration had called it a day.

All things come to an end. They just stop, sometimes unexpectedly; sometimes inevitably, neither of which as a means to failure. All things and all people just stop one day, and that day came on Wednesday after 63 years and 61 glorious and heartfelt weekends for the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament.

According to a release from ACIT chairmen Alex Brant and Andrew Farrell, the ACIT, long considered the most prestigious Catholic high school basketball tournament in the country, “has been placed on indefinite hiatus by Cumberland-based Wamba Caravan No. 89 of the International Order of Alhambra …

“After discussions over the past several months following the 2023 event, Wamba Caravan leadership made the decision because of tournament production costs, the rapidly changing landscape of high school basketball, an increasing amount of national postseason events, state athletic association regulations and school scheduling philosophies that made securing the traditional eight-team field for the ACIT difficult in recent years. While on hiatus, the Caravan will consider re-envisioning the ACIT in various formats, including as an in-season showcase event in the future.”

Is it a time for sadness? Perhaps, but more so it is a time for reflection, because it has become more and more evident that we were closer to the conclusion than we were the introduction or even the body of work. The landscape of high school basketball, nationally and internationally, indeed has become so mercurial that it became impossible to keep pace, because it changes almost daily.

Consider, the ACIT, as it is for charity, is the only invitational tournament that schools pay their own expenses to take part in. Yet, they gladly pay to be here.

As veteran Roman Catholic head coach Dennis Seddon said in 2007 during what was to be Philadelphia’s final ACIT appearance, “It really does feel like home here. Our goals as a team each year are to win the Philadelphia Catholic championship and to be invited to the ACIT.

“Roman Catholic has been around for a very long time and traditions are important to us. The people of Cumberland have become a big part of our tradition.”

Seddon then pointed to his lapel pin that had been presented to him by the Cumberland City Council and he said, “I am very, very proud to have been made an honorary citizen of Cumberland.”

St. Pete’s Gym marked the beginning, the move to Allegany High School and then Frostburg State University marked the end of the beginning and losing the Philadelphia Catholic League to the PIAA state tournament in 2007 marked the beginning of the end.

Roman Catholic did return to the 2008 ACIT on a waiver by the PIAA to defend its ACIT title, but having the Philly Catholic League, which was so instrumental in helping to build the history of the ACIT, would be no more. The losses of Chicago and New York years before stung, but the ACIT was still able to thrive, due in large part to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, the Baltimore Catholic League and teams from Canada, Utah, Virginia, New Jersey and Texas.

Yet the loss of Philly was a heartbreaker, and though it was 16 years ago, it was a harbinger of things to come nationally and for Mom and Pop tournaments such as the ACIT.

On top of that, in case you haven’t noticed, we aren’t as many as we used to be and for a variety of reasons, the volunteer force of Wamba Caravan No. 89 has thinned. Putting on the ACIT is hard work; it’s a labor of love and is essentially a year-round job. A nationally prominent event such as the ACIT, after all, isn’t thrown together in a week.

It does feel rather like a death in the family, even though it is a hiatus, because hundreds of families were involved in running it, attending it, growing up with it and growing old with it. The different players, coaches, teams, cities, gyms and eras have marked the passage of time; yet the fellowship, the kindness and generosity and always the love will remain timeless in our hearts because it will be there forever.

We care about the people who were the ACIT, the volunteers who produced the event, the players, coaches, officials and fans who came to town each year from all over the country and from Canada. And that care was returned to us, because an extended family began to form there over 60 years ago, and it continued to extend with nearly every new team, and nearly every new player, coach, official and fan to walk through the doors.

There will certainly be an absence, an emptiness that every single one of us will feel every March when we are instinctively ready for the ACIT to usher us into glorious spring.

Lifelong friendships have been formed and sustained through the ACIT with those whose paths we would never cross in any other circumstance. As Sean Franklin said so perfectly so many years ago, “They come as friends and they leave as family.”

Like home, the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament gave us security, trust, consolation and love — all the intangibles.

It is and will be a tremendous void for us, but the thoughts, the joys, the thrills and the laughter; the tears, the memories and the lifelong friendships will fill our hearts and be a blessing to us.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT