The Little General Shootout at the Big House, which has grown into one of the biggest basketball events in West Virginia, is teetering on extinction.
Organizers of the three-day February hoopfest at the Charleston Civic Center, which just finished its eighth year, have been informed by Civic Center officials that one of next year’s scheduled dates (Feb. 5-7) is unavailable and that the facility can’t commit to the other two days right now.
That puts one of the organizers, George Washington boys coach Rick Greene, in a conflict, as he’s set a May 1 deadline to let schools know if they can include those games on their 2018 schedules or cancel them. Next year’s Shootout schedule has planned a total of 27 games, featuring high schools from 24 different counties in West Virginia, as well as teams from Ohio and Kentucky.
“The more we’ve talked to the Civic Center, we’ve just gotten stonewalled,” Greene said. “They weren’t going to give. It looks like it’s just going to die.”
John Robertson, general manager of the Civic Center, said ongoing construction at the facility, as well as other factors, have prompted the snag for this coming February. The popular weekend Monster Jam dirt truck series precedes the Shootout, which has lately started on a Monday, and the annual boat show immediately follows.
“We have other events — regular events as well — that may preclude us from being able to do the Coliseum dates they have been using [for basketball],”Robertson said. “The Monster Jam in the Coliseum is a significant turnaround in terms of tearing up and getting rid of dirt and the amount of labor and overtime to get the place cleaned up. It doesn’t make sense for us to be ready for Monday.
“The boat show is a significant event for us, too. These other events are fully-paid events and have to have some priority. I understand people have to make schedules, but we’re not in a position where we can make 100 percent [commitments] on a number of things in the spring season because of construction.”
The Charleston Civic Center has become a mecca for basketball fans in West Virginia, owing to its history of staging the boys and girls state high school basketball tournaments for several decades.
As Greene pointed out, schools from around the state covet the chance to play at the Civic Center in February — some because they have state tournament potential and others because they will likely never play in the state tournament and want the once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete on that court.
Greene said both the city of Charleston and the Civic Center profit from the Shootout at the Big House, as it brings hundreds if not thousands of fans to spend money in the town’s hotels, restaurants and stores, and perhaps acquaints people from less-traditional parts of the state with the Civic Center and how to get there. Some schools even use the visit as an education-based field trip to the State Capitol.
That’s why Greene recently enlisted Rod Blackstone, senior assistant to Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, to talk about the situation with the Civic Center.
“I can understand that they don’t make a lot of money on it,” Greene said, “but it has to be more than when it’s sitting empty.”
Robertson said there just isn’t a lot of wiggle room to accommodate the Shootout, which has also received a discounted rental fee in past years.
“In February this year,” he said, “we had events in the Coliseum in 25 of 28 days. In March, it was in the 20s. It’s nice to be in that position, but it comes to the point where you can only rent so many days because you’ve got to have some room to change between events.
“We offered them some options in January and December, but they aren’t interested in the dates we gave them.”
Robertson noted that Civic Center construction is set to be completed in September of 2018, and is hopeful that if the Shootout doesn’t happen this coming season, that something could be worked out for future years.
Greene said the Shootout has already moved its target dates once, as it debuted in mid-February in 2010 before shifting back to the first week of the month.
If the Shootout does dissolve, it could signal the second basketball event to leave the Civic Center. The Mountain East Conference is currently weighing proposals from other cities to host its annual men’s and women’s tournaments, which have been held there several years.