December 15, 2009 12:27:00 PM
Sammy Smith loves a challenge.
That''s part of the reason why he and the rest of the Columbus High School basketball coaches enjoy all of the details that go into playing host to one of the state''s best holiday tournaments.
As the days wind down to the 13th annual Joe Horne Columbus Christmas Invitational, Smith hopes his players are up for the challenge, too.
Columbus (6-6) will play host to Raymond at 8:20 p.m. Friday and Marion, Ark., at 6:40 p.m. Saturday as part of the two-day, 16-game event at Columbus High.
The tournament is named in honor of former Columbus High scorekeeper Joe Horne, who was a fixture at CHS athletic events. Horne died in 2003.
Smith said work started on this year''s tournament last year, and the work has proved to be worth it. Once again, the event will feature some of the best teams in the state of Mississippi, including Meridian, Brandon, Greenville, Yazoo City, Callaway, Provine, East Oktibbeha, and Starkville on the boys side. On the girls side, Columbus, Starkville, East Oktibbeha, and Noxubee County will join Meridian, Raymond, and Greenville.
The boys and girls teams from Tuscaloosa Central, Ala., and the boys teams from Holt, Ala., and Marion, Ark., also will participate.
Action kicks off at 3 p.m. Friday with the Noxubee County girls taking on Meridian. The auxiliary gym at Columbus High also will be used to play host to four games, two each day.
"It worked out with the fine, and the field we have makes us feel real good," Smith said. "It is never hard to get good teams up here. Everybody in the state knows it is a great invitational. Everybody will play good competition, so when they''re getting ready to make their schedules out I get calls from coaches saying, ''Coach, I want to come up there and try my luck and see how good we are compared to everybody else in the state. Most of those guys are getting ready to try to win a state championship. They''re not worried about if they win or lose a ballgame. They are trying to get their teams better so they can win a state championship."
Smith hopes the Falcons can mature into a team that has that ability. After season-opening losses to William Sullivan and West Lowndes, Columbus has used solid play and leadership from Michael Hall to regroup. Smith said his players are still coming together and learning their roles, but he has been pleased with their work rate and intensity. He is anxious to see how his squad fares against some of the region''s top teams.
"I am disappointed somewhat because I would have thought we would have been a little better," Smith said. "But I know getting everybody healthy and getting all of our football guys in is going to make a difference down the stretch. They are great kids. I love coaching them. ... It is a matter of us staying disciplined and things will hopefully turn more in our favor."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.