MORRIS — It's that time of year again.
For the 33rd straight year, for two days, the sports sounds of summer in Morris will be squeaking tennis shoes and dribbling basketballs rather than the crack of a bat.
The Morris Boys Shootout, the first one of its kind when it began in the 1980s, returns to Morris Community High School as 32 teams compete to capture the title. Bolingbrook won the championship last season.
Morris boys basketball coach and tournament director Joe Blumberg does his best to keep the field fresh, and the shootout will welcome newcomers Alton, Lake Park, Moline, Riverside-Brookfield, South Elgin and West Aurora. No longer in the field are Carterville, Rochelle, East Aurora, DeKalb and Rockford Auburn.
All in all, it shapes up to be a high-quality event.
"I feel like the field is the strongest we have had in my 12 years," Blumberg said. "Because of that, there is probably the biggest gap between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom."
For that reason, there is a bit of a change in the second-day format at the tournament. The first day will still consist of eight pools of four teams, each playing a round-robin format. In the past, the second day would feature one 16-team bracket with the teams and finished first and second in their pool and one for the teams that finished third and fourth. This year, there will still be a 16-team bracket for the first and second-place teams in pool play, but there will be an 8-team bracket for the third-place finishers and an 8-team bracket for the fourth-place finishers.
"We feel like, because of the gap from the top to the bottom, that this will help more teams have more competitive games on the second day," Blumberg said. "Teams still like the play, sit, play format of the first day. Because of the schedule, there will be some teams playing back-to-back on the second day, but we have built in some 15-minute gaps in order to help those teams.
"Coaches like the idea of three games in five hours. That way, they can still have the rest of the day if they need it."
Blumberg noted that, although Minooka boys coach Scott Tanaka recently resigned to take another coaching position, that the Indians will still be in the tournament.
As always, the players on the lower levels will assist Blumberg by manning the scoring tables and game clocks. There will also be more than just basketball players helping.
"We will have some help from other kids," he said. "We will take help anywhere we can get it. Some of the guys from the track team and cross country team will be helping us, too. Also, we have a great amount of parent volunteers. Because of the time of day, I sometimes overschedule people, but it's nice to know that we have so many people willing to help out."
Blumberg also pointed out that the tournament would not run without the help of the City of Morris, and that Buffalo Wild Wings will be providing food for the hospitality room for coaches and officials.
"Wings and basketball, you can't beat it," Blumberg said. "This is going to be a great tournament this year and we are excited to have it."