SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A quarter of a century ago, seven junior high and high school basketball teams participated in the inaugural Great Harbor Shootout.
This year, 84 teams from nearly every corner of the state will play in Harbor House Community Service Center’s tournament that will take place from March 17-19 at six locations on Mount Desert Island and in Trenton and Ellsworth.
“From where it started with seven teams to what it has become is pretty huge,” said Diana Novella, events and community relations director at the Harbor House. “It’s a testament to how big basketball is in the state of Maine. It’s kind of all-encompassing for the whole winter season.”
More than 1,000 players and coaches from Camden to Fort Kent will participate in this year’s tournament.
“It’s huge, and it’s become one of those tournaments that so many kids look forward to,” Novella said. “It gives them a chance to play after the season is over and lets coaches take a look at what teams may look like next year.”
Because high school seniors are not allowed to play in the tournament, basketball coaches can get a feel for how teams are shaping up as new leaders step in.
Novella said that because teams from Classes A, B, C and D will play in this year’s tournament, athletes get a chance to play against teams they would not normally face in the regular school season.
“It’s a great chance for them to work on their skills since they are playing kids in a different division,” she said.
Not only is the tournament a must-see event for basketball fans, it also is a boon to the local economy.
Those 1,000 players come with parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Area hotels are booked up, and restaurants will enjoy an influx of celebrating customers.
“That’s an influx of about 5,000 people, and it’s a great economic boost for the island restaurants that are open during this in-between season,” Novella said.
Games begin on Friday, March 17, at 4 p.m. with high school girls playing at Trenton Elementary School and Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor while high school boys play at Mount Desert Elementary School and the MDI YMCA. Junior high school boys and girls will play at MDI High School.
Ellsworth Middle School will host a handful of high school preliminary games on Friday night and Saturday morning.
The middle school finals will be at MDI High School on Sunday, March 19, with the boys playing at 11:30 a.m. and girls playing at 1 p.m.
High school finals are set for the same day at Pemetic with the girls at 2:30 p.m. and the boys at 4 p.m.
For spectators, weekend passes are available for $12 for adults and $8 for seniors and students, which will allow entry into any game. Day passes are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors and are good for only one venue.
All funds will go towards Harbor House’s year-round youth sports programs, including after-school and summer camp programs.
“It helps keep our fees for youth sports programs as low as possible,” said Novella.
The Great Harbor Shootout is underwritten by The First and several area businesses have stepped up as sponsors.