The 31st annual Rochester Rotary US Bank Holiday Classic concluded December 28, 2018. In order to have a 31st, there must have been a “First Annual”. The genesis of the First lies in the motto of Rotary, “Service Above Self”. With a look to creating a fund raising project to allow Rochester Rotarians to continue and increase their tradition of giving, a group was formed some two years before the First to explore the idea of promoting a holiday basketball tournament. The idea had surfaced at a Fireside Meeting some six months previously.
The idea was brainstormed and then discussions ensued with the then Rochester Mayo boys’ basketball coach Wally Brunswold and the then Rochester John Marshall boys’ basketball coach Al Wold. Recently retired Rochester Public School Athletic Director Kerwin Engelhart, who was to become the Mayo Civic Auditorium site manager, also joined in the early discussions. Numerous ideas were reviewed, and with the support of Mayo and JM coaches, contact was made with other schools (Hastings, Red Wing, Lake City, Winona, Rochester, Lourdes, and Waseca).  By late 1987, plans were underway to hold a tournament on December 28-30, 1988. Since students were our medium to raise funds, it was thought essential that all net proceeds be returned to young people in some form.
Holiday tournaments had sprung up in different parts of Minnesota. Rochester had a history of strong high school basketball programs, and the period between Christmas and New Years was relatively void of any special entertainment for Rochester area adults and young people. With a plethora of hotel rooms in the community, it was deemed an opportunity to create a special event that would attract not only local fans, but those from the participating area communities; it seemed almost a natural.
To make the event a success, a number of criteria were developed. In order to create a first class tournament (an unyielding assumption), a number of factors needed to be in place. They included:
  • Out of town teams would be housed as a tournament expense.
  • There would be no team entry fees.
  • Mayo Civic Auditorium needed to be the venue. It was a neutral site and was equated with tournament basketball.
  • B teams should be included even though they would not be a revenue generator.
  • Each team would play three games; there would be a “consolation” as well as championship bracket.
  • A “tournament” type atmosphere would be created.
  • Trophies and individual medallions should be awarded.
  • Special commemorative programs would be marketed and sold to fans.
  • A dance for all participants should be held on the second night of the tournament with all the free food they can eat.
As a fundraiser, it was essential that we have the support of Rotarians who would do the work of running the tournament, and corporate sponsorship to help underwrite much of the cost of sponsoring and promoting a holiday basketball tournament. Fortunately, the Rotarians responded enthusiastically. First Bank Rochester (now U.S. Bank) came forward as the tournament sponsor/underwriter, KTTC-TV along with other Rochester media provided substantial support in publicizing and promoting the tournament, and the Kahler Hotel provided generous discounts and excellent accommodations to house all of the out-of-town teams and many of their fans.
Numerous committees were organized under the umbrella of a Steering Committee. The original committee consisted of Dan Kelly and Jack Van Straaten (Rochester Rotary II); Tom Moon (Rochester Rotary Risers); and Stu Olson, Richard Hurt and Al DeBoer (Rochester Rotary Club). Wednesday, December 28, 1988 finally arrived. With considerable apprehension, there was relief when the teams actually arrived, and fans filled the stands! There were many outstanding players and teams. Friday evening, December 30th, we crowned our first champion, Winona. We had arrived! $6,522 was left over after all expenses to contribute to scholarships for Rochester high school students. The idea of a holiday tournament seemed to be viable. In 1989, the number of teams was doubled by adding a girls’ tournament. It meant about twice as much work, but resulted in a least twice as much fun!
Each year had its own uniqueness, to say nothing of some truly outstanding teams and individuals who have showcased their talents. It has been a labor of love for Rotarians working in and on the Classic. Through 31 years the Rotary Clubs of Rochester have been able to contribute over $981,335 in scholarships to youth-related organizations and groups in Rochester. This is a credit to area sponsors, participating teams, their coaches, and the wonderful basketball fans of the Rochester area.
How many more events will there be? Well, times have changed, and the Classic is now a two day showcase rather than a three day tournament. Still, Rochester teams remain interested, fans and the community continue to support the fundraiser, a corporate sponsor, now Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, is involved to help underwrite event costs, and Rotarians sustain their enthusiasm. Our history remains to be written.
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