I was driving down East State Street in Sharon the other day, and stopped for the traffic light at Case Avenue and glanced at the beautiful new Sharon elementary school that graces the corner.
But for folks of my generation, that corner will always be the site occupied by the former Sharon High School building, which in later years was converted to an elementary school.
As the warm breeze found its way through my car windows, I couldn’t help but be a little nostalgic and think about this time of year when I was growing up – yes it was spring and the sacred celebration of Easter, but on top of that, it was time for the annual W.U. Hoyle Tournament of Champions.
One of my most fond memories of growing up a basketball junkie were all of the countless hours I spent in Sharon High’s gym during the week of the Hoyles. It seemed as though everyone went to the Hoyles – guys, girls, and most of the players and coaches from throughout the area. It was THE place to be.
The tournament was a rite of spring like no other for the hundreds like me who packed the gym from early afternoon until well into the night, waiting to get a glimpse of one of the many star-studded coaches who always stopped by to get a courtside look at the array of phenomenal high school players who suited up.
It was a time to break out short pants or khakis and penny loafers (worn without socks, of course) and get ready for days of pure joy. For a lot of us, it was far better than Christmas.
Sharon High for that week every spring was transformed into a national stage – no aspiring player wanted to miss playing in the Hoyles and most of the top coaches were right behind them. They came from across the country to play here at the mecca of high school tournaments.
My buddy and fellow Mercer County Hall of Fame director Bob Davis and I like to talk about the simple days of the Hoyle, when top players were a phone call away and jumped at the chance to join one of the locally-sponsored teams. Bob for many years had helped to coach some of the top players in the tournament.
And who can forget the player introductions by Mercer's Hugh Ringer, who could work the crowd into a frenzy with his list of accolades and accomplishments for the big-name players. Some of the introductions were minutes long -- usually ending with the familiar, "He played for the Pennsylvania All-Stars in the Roundball Classic ... " as only Hugh could say it. Hugh was special and a major factor in the popularity of the Hoyles.
When the tournament ended at night, it was time to go up State Street a couple of blocks to Rocky’s Twin Kiss for the best Italian cheeseburger on the planet. The food stops were almost as much fun as the basketball.
Other times we stopped at the former Bello’s Pizzeria on East State on the walk back to Farrell or at Tony’s Pizza on Stambaugh. When we were old enough to drive, we cruised around places like McDonald’s or the former Red Barn and A&W in Hermitage.
None of the big, expensive tournaments today comes close to the Hoyle Tournament in providing such excitement in an intimate setting like Sharon High.
It was truly a classic and a huge part of the rich athletic history of Mercer County and to this day I sorely miss it.
Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald. His column appears on Mondays.