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Eastern Region tournament: Enjoy it while it lasts
Eastern Region tournament: Enjoy it while it lasts

For years, the Eastern Region boys and girls basketball tournaments have been the season's most popular ticket in Hampton Roads.

And moving games to Scope in Norfolk in 2010 has been an unqualified success, each year drawing big crowds and earning schools thousands of dollars.

But with the Virginia High School League planning drastic changes next school year, the tournaments' days - and those of fans filling Scope for nearly a week - are numbered.

"This is going to be the last year for Eastern Region basketball as we've known it," said Deep Creek athletic director Benny Polk, who has helped run the tournaments for more than a decade. "I think it is going to be a sad day when it ends."

Since 2010, the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games have been played at Scope. This year's quarterfinals are today and Thursday, followed by the semifinals Sunday and championship games Monday.

What happens next year?

"Definite answers, I can't give you any, other than that the Eastern Region basketball tournament will be done," Polk said. "A lot of it is still up in the air."

The Eastern Region - comprised of the largest public schools in South Hampton Roads and on the Peninsula - has existed nearly 50 years.

Next school year, though, the VHSL will divide the state's 316 high schools into six classifications according to enrollment.

While all 39 Eastern Region schools are now classified as Group AAA, next year they'll be spread over three classifications: Group 6A South, Group 5A South and Group 4A South.

Teams probably will continue to play their current district rivals during the regular season, but the Beach, Eastern, Southeastern and Peninsula district tournaments are likely to be eliminated, administrators have said. Instead, teams will be divided into six- to eight-team conferences for the playoffs, with every team making the postseason. That will be followed by interconference tournaments, then the state tournament.

"I love our district and it means nothing anymore," Landstown girls basketball coach Vic Rosado said. "We have 11 solid teams and the competition is great.... We lose a lot of those rivalries that help make the competition what it is."

Ocean Lakes athletic director John Williams said there has been talk of holding conference championship games at Scope.

The interconference tournaments are the equivalent of current region tournaments, but there's a striking difference: They're made up of teams from all over the state. Williams said the final rounds of those tournaments are likely to be held at a more central location such as VCU's Siegel Center in Richmond.

"I don't think the casual basketball fan is going to drive to the Siegel Center to see a regional basketball game," he said. "I think that next level is going to be taken away from the fans."

Also gone will be many traditional postseason rivalries.

Of the 16 first-round boys and girls Eastern Region tournament match-ups this season, only two would be possible beginning next season.

In girls basketball, Lake Taylor, Princess Anne and Woodside have battled consistently for supremacy in the region. But the three are headed for difference conferences and won't meet in the playoffs again after this season. Lake Taylor is headed for Class 4A, Princess Anne to Class 5A and Woodside to Class 6A.

"We'll just make new rivalries," Princess Anne coach Darnell Dozier said.

Then there is the matter of finances.

Moving to Scope has been a boon for the region tournaments. In each of their three years at Scope, they have drawn at least 12,000.

During their most successful year in 2011 - bolstered by some highly anticipated boys and girls match-ups - the four-day tournaments drew nearly 20,000 fans and netted $115,068.

Sixty-five percent of the money earned - after expenses - goes toward funding the region's 20 student activities, ranging from debate and forensics competitions to sports. The money is shared among the 39 schools.

"How will the money work out? Are we going to be able to keep up the attendance for basketball to fund all the other programs?" Williams said. "That's probably the biggest concern. We're not sure how this is going to work out. There's no way to predict it."

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