Hardwood Classic History
The Wildcat Hardwood Classic came into existence in 1978, the brainchild of then Wheeling High School Basketball coach Ted Ecker, who served as tournament director in those formative years. It started as an 8-team, three day tournament with four games each day. The winner of that first tournament was Walther Lutheran. One of the All-Tournament selections from that championship team, Lamar Simpson, returned to the Hardwood Classic for a number of years as one of its fine referees. In the early 1980s the tournament evolved into a 4- day, 16 team, double elimination tournament, which saw each participating team guaranteed 2 games. In 1983, Wheeling became the first team to win the tournament twice (1979 and 1983) - it would again win its own tourney in 1995, making it one of the 3-time winners in tourney history. The other 3-time champs are Stevenson (1990, 1998, and 2000), Maine West (1987, 1992, and 1997), and Lake Park (1993, 2003 and 2004).
The win in 1983 by the host Wildcats broke up a string by one of the best teams in the tourney's history - St. Viator -the Lions had won the tournament in 1982, and went on to post back-to-back championships in 1984 and 1985 - a feat that has since been duplicated by Lake Park with consecutive wins in 2003 and 2004 and surpassed by Loyola with it's "Threepeat". St. Viator was also Tourney champs in 1989 and 1996, making it one of two 5-time Champs in tournament history. The other 5-time winner is Loyola Academy - adding to their championships in 1991 to 2001, the Ramblers tripled up with wins in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
By the mid 1980s other changes had taken place. Jim Wendler had come to Wheeling H.S. and taken over tournament director responsibilities. By soliciting corporate sponsorship, Jim was able to expand the tournament to a 4 day, 8 games per day tournament where each team was guaranteed 4 games (assuming they showed up for those games!). 1987 also saw the crowning of the first "Consolation Bracket Champ", Schaumburg . Under Wendler's leadership the tournament ran smoothly like a well-oiled machine. After Wendler retired, Neal Weiner stepped in as tournament director and continues to co-run the tournament along with Steve May.
The Hardwood Classic has come a long way from its beginnings. We may never again see the "Shirts/Skins" games played one year by McHenry and another year by Rolling Meadows when their opponents failed to show up. But those present will never forget the 8-Overtime championship game in the 1981 tournament that saw North Chicago defeat Maine West in a game that started one day and ended the next; and that includes Dave Matkovic who played for Maine West in that game, coached his Alma Mater at the Hardwood Classic, and has seen his son play basketball in the same gym. There have been any number of powerful teams that have competed at the classic, including "Elite Eight" qualifiers Maine West (1997) and Stevenson (1990 & 2006) , but power at the Hardwood has occasionally been an issue. During the 1999 tournament, Prospect defeated Maine West in a game that started in the main gym, and when the power went out in the buidling, finished in the field house by light from the skylights; the next game that day between Libertyville and Wheeling was postponed and finally played 2 weeks later. Fortunately the power came back on the and the remainder of the tournament was played on scheduled.
The Hardwood Classic has evolved into a very competitive basketball tournament. One of the constants over the years has been its outstanding Hospitality Room. Since the tournament began, The Wheeling Spur Club (Athletic Booster Club) has provided a wonderful variety of food and drink for officials, coaches, workers and friends of the tournament. We hope you enjoy this year's tournament and will support the sponsors who make this tournament possible.