Published March 21, 2011, 12:38 AM

26th WILD TURKEY SHOOTOUT: A wild day of basketball

WORTHINGTON — Nicholas Raymo has experienced Worthington’s Wild Turkey Shoot-out from pretty much every angle possible. As a kid he participated in the event for four years, and more recently has spent the past five years working on the organizing committee.

WORTHINGTON — Nicholas Raymo has experienced Worthington’s Wild Turkey Shoot-out from pretty much every angle possible.

As a kid he participated in the event for four years, and more recently has spent the past five years working on the organizing committee.

This year — the 26th annual holding of the event — Raymo stepped up his involvement another notch and filled the role of tournament director.

“From sixth grade through ninth grade I played in the tournament here,” Raymo said. “It’s just been a blast. My way of giving back to it is by helping run it.”

Raymo’s task to oversee the whole event definitely wasn’t a simple one.

The event is the biggest event on the calendar for the Sports and Recreation Committee of the Worthington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and is the primary fundraiser for the Sports and Recreation Committee’s community programs.

This year there were 37 teams comprising a total of over 400 players competing in the event, which is open to teams from fifth grade through ninth grade. Five different venues around Worthington were needed in order to host all of the games.

Trying to run a 37-team tournament in a single day may seem like pure madness.

However, that’s precisely what Raymo was tasked with creating.

“It basically brings a March Madness atmosphere into the Worthington community for one full day,” Raymo said. “I know there are a lot of people in the community that look forward to this event every year.”

As the years have gone by, the tournament has gradually morphed into the event that it is today.

One of the major changes came a decade back when it transitioned from a two to three day event to a single day of basketball.

“We have been a very highly respected tournament for numerous years,” Raymo said. “It used to be a two to three day tournament, depending on the teams, and then we had one big snowstorm about nine or ten years ago and it became a one-day tournament from there on.”

When the event was held over multiple days, it created a large stream of revenue for local businesses with teams lodging overnight.

Some businesses still gear up for the event — such as Center Sports, which holds its “Winter Crazy Days” to coincide with the event — but most teams make the trip in a single day now, despite some teams travelling a fair distance to compete.

Worthington had six teams in the event — including a fourth-grade team that played at the fifth grade level — but the other 31 teams came from towns as far away as Sioux Center, Iowa, to the south, Willmar to the north and Madison, S.D., to the west.

In the eighth grade A section, the championship was decided between two teams that would never usually dream of facing up against each other — a team from Estherville, Iowa, and a team from Madison.

Madison took the gold medal in the section (with the medals being specially designed by Center Sports) and Estherville took the silver medal.

“It’s good for the teams — it’s good for them to get around, especially in this type of tournament, because they’ll play teams that they don’t play very often,” said Jim Hall, who refereed the eighth grade A section at Worthington High School. “You’ve got Madison, South Dakota, playing Estherville, Iowa — that’s not going to happen very often.”

Hall has been a referee for the event since he came to town four years ago. He was first asked to referee by former tournament director Bruce Viessman, who was the tournament director for many years until Raymo took over.

Refereeing for the event is no small task in its own right.

“(Viessman) said, ‘How many games can you do?’, and I said ‘It depends on what you have,’” Hall said. “He said, ‘Can you do eight or nine in a day?’ I’ve done all the games basically every year I’ve done it, from start to end. I think eight is the fewest and I did 10 this year.”

Despite the taxing effort of spending a full day of running back and forth down the court, Hall sees the event as a good day out for a bit of exercise, and also as a great chance to help the community and help keep the kids involved with playing sports.

“I played sports all growing up, and I think it’s good to keep the kids playing sports and keep them involved,” Hall said. “It helps them out, so I can spend a day running up and down the court doing some reffing.”

Estherville is a relatively new team to the event, with this being the town’s first year having a team in the eighth grade section.

The players on Estherville’s team have all been playing together since they first picked up a basketball, and co-head coach Kyle Grems sees the tournament as a great way to strengthen bonds that will keep his players together for years to come.

“It’s important for the kids to get started at an early age and stay together throughout the years and to not lose kids,” Grems said. “It’s important to keep them motivated and keep them coming out for basketball.”

Besides the perks of playing teams from all over the area, Grems was pleased to see that the tournament was arranged so that every team got a chance to play in a full-court venue — something his kids don’t always get to do in Estherville.

“In the Estherville tournament for example we have half a court of basketball,” Grems said. “When we’re playing here, it’s full court — the kids are going to learn what they’re going to be using next year. It’s not like you’re playing 20 feet of basketball, you’re playing the full court. That’s probably one of the big things that popped out to me about the tournament is that you’re not splitting courts, and it’s really organized.”

Estherville had a seventh grade team last year and is hoping to take advantage of the tournament again next year, whether with a seventh or eighth grade team or a ninth grade team with the same kids returning that played this year.

“We’re happy to participate, and pleased to be invited,” Estherville co-head coach Jim Rosendahl said. “We hope that Estherville can send some kind of representative for next year if they have it again.”

Coming from a background where he did the same thing as a kid, Raymo is happy to see that teams continue to want to come back and play every year, with some kids coming back to the tournament every year they are eligible.

“I think it goes to show that the teams that come as fifth grade, we see a lot of them back all the way through their ninth grade year,” Raymo said. “It shows what kind of tournament the Turkey Shoot-out is, when you can have the teams keep coming back year after year after year. It’s very respectable.”

With around 70 to 75 volunteers helping to run the event — not including volunteers from other organizations that manned the concessions booths — this year’s tournament was a huge success as Raymo’s initial year in charge, with each grade level wrapping up on time.

“It was just great to see the support,” Raymo said. “For all our Worthington teams we had great crowds from the Worthington community. The volunteers, everybody was there that said they were going to be there, so it ran as smooth as I could have asked for.”

Although the event has become a well-oiled machine after years of fine-tuning, after the day was over plans were already being put in motion to fine-tune the event even more for next year.

“Last night after we got done we took all the volunteers out for pizza, and we sat down and we already started discussing things we could change for next year,” Raymo said. “We’ve already got our list going on how we’re going to change it for next year to make it just a little bit better.”

For results from each individual grade level, look in tomorrow’s paper.

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