Derek Wynn remembers Christmas time as a child involving trips to the Sand Mountain Tournament.
Later, Wynn played in the tournament for the Section boys basketball team. His junior year, the Lions were upset in the first round and the next morning his head coach, current Skyline coach Ronnie McCarver, had Wynn and his teammates on the court at 5:30 a.m. for the start of a four-hour practice.
The following year, Wynn and company hoisted the Sand Mountain Tournament championship trophy.
Eighteen years later, Wynn returns to the Sand Mountain Tournament as the head coach of his alma mater.
“I’m excited to be coaching in it,” said Wynn, whose spent the last nine years as the boys coach at Skyline (2010-12) and girls coach at Scottsboro (2013-18). “All those years I was out of it, I still kept up with the scores and came and watched games.”
The Sand Mountain Tournament is one of the state’s longest running holiday tournaments, as the boys division began in 1953 and the girls division started in 1977.
Jackson County teams have traditionally played well in the tradition-rich tournament. Pisgah (16), Section (13) and North Sand Mountain (six) have combined to win 35 of the 65 boys tournament championships. Meanwhile, Pisgah (12), NSM (six) and Section (four) have won 22 of the 41 girls titles.
Also, a Jackson County team has played in the girls championship game every year since 2003 — two Jackson County teams played one another in the girls final four times during that span — while a Jackson County team has played in seven of the last nine boys title games.
The tournament’s downside is it often pits area teams against one another, like NSM-Section boys in Round 1, or just matches teams against one another that have already played.
The Pisgah girls have already played six of the other eight teams. Eagles coach Carey Ellison says “the repetitiveness of opponents” is a drawback, but “I still like the tradition of it.”
NSM boys head coach Cole Hicks agreed.
“You’re playing a lot of the same teams, some you’ll play multiple times,” Hicks said, “but it seems to go to another level when you’re playing them in the Sand Mountain Tournament.”