The first night of the Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic beginning the day after Christmas at the Dothan Civic Center promises to be special in more ways than one.
“This year’s 2019 Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic is going to be played in honor of coach Johnny Oppert,” Dothan Department of Leisure Services director Elston Jones announced during the bracket draw on Monday at the Wiregrass Museum of Art.
Oppert, a Wiregrass coaching legend, has been the tournament director since the Hoops Classic originated 14 years ago. He spent 27 years as basketball coach at Wallace College, 12 at Houston Academy, four at Wicksburg High and two at Girard Junior High.
It was a touching moment as an emotional Oppert joined Jones for a photograph after the announcement was made.
“It’s just a great honor and I just appreciate them doing this,” Oppert said. “I’m just glad I could be a part of this tournament. It’s been good for the city of Dothan and it’s touched a lot of lives.
“I’ve been out of coaching a long time, but I spent a long time in it, too.”
Jones said the tournament committee and sponsors wanted to dedicate the tournament to a person they felt like had played a tremendous role in making the event successful.
“That person is in this room tonight,” Jones said before calling up Oppert to the podium. “On Thursday (opening) night of the 6:30 game at halftime, we will have a special dedication to recognize this person for their participation in this tournament.
“We’re going to place Dothan High School in a certain place on the bracket, because what we want to do is recognize this person at what we’re thinking is going to be one of the largest games that’s played in the tournament.”
Indeed the 6:30 p.m. game on Dec. 26 between Dothan and Carroll is the marquee match-up of the opening night of the 16-team, single-elimination boys basketball tournament. The annual event has raised $540,316 during the past 13 years which has been distributed to participating schools.
On the opening night, Dec. 26, Daleville will open against Ashford at 3:30 p.m., followed by defending champion Eufaula against Dale County at 5, Dothan and Carroll at 6:30 and Providence Christian and Houston County at 8.
On the following night, Rehobeth will meet Abbeville at 3:30 p.m., Geneva will take on Wicksburg at 5, Houston Academy plays Barbour County at 6:30 and Enterprise will play last year’s runner-up, Headland, in the finale of the first round.
The quarterfinals will be played on Saturday, Dec., 28. After taking the next day off, the semifinals will be played on Monday, Dec. 30, with the championship and consolation games scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Dothan coach Janasky Fleming knows his team will face a tough challenge in Carroll, led by hall of fame coach Raymond White. The Eagles’ coach has more than 800 wins as a head coach — spending from 1975-2000 at the former Louisville High School and then at Barbour County (2000-2017) after Louisville and Clayton were consolidated. Following a year away from the sport, White was hired at Carroll before last season.
Carroll will take the spot in the tournament that opened when Northview and Dothan consolidated before this school year.
“I’ve seen them play a couple of times and they’re long, they’re athletic — they play like his old Barbour County teams,” Fleming said of Carroll. “That will be a great game.”
While certainly appreciative that his team will receive a share of the proceeds from the tournament, Fleming says it’s about much more than the paycheck.
“Just being from Dothan it means a lot because you see how the community comes together and are galvanized by watching local kids getting the opportunity play,” Fleming said. “This is our big stage, you know? For our whole area, this is huge.”