An annual basketball tournament that was organized to honour the memory of a great family man and coach has grown in just three years to become the largest hoops tourney in the province.
The Keith Keating Memorial Tournament is also a major charity event with some $21,000 raised by the 28 teams participating in the event this year. That brings the total amount raised for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Treatment centre to some $50,000 since the tournament was started by Keating's wife Eileen and sons Adam and Alex.
The November tournament has grown so big it has to be played across four gymnasiums, including O'Donel High, and has become as large as the annual Sweet 16 high school tournament organized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association.
"It was perfect," Adam Keating, 21, said of this year's event. "We actually had to turn down seven teams, just because of logistics. All the games went super smoothly, it was a huge fundraiser and just a really great experience."
The first time the family staged the tournament was in the middle of Dark NL, when most of the province lost its electricity because of a failure of Nalcor to properly maintain and back up its transmission system and some of its generating assets. "It was a very testing time," Keating admitted.
But Keating and his brother Alex, now 19, and his mom Eileen persevered and managed to keep the tournament going. Keating said organizing it has given him an appreciation for all the work his late dad did. Keith Keating, an engineer by profession, was a highly regarded volunteer in Mount Pearl and Newfoundland minor basketball circles, playing major roles with teams from St. Peter's Junior High, O'Donel High and provincial squads. He handled everything from coaching to and opening gyms for practices at odd hours, to running the score clock when nobody else was available. Even after a cancer diagnosis in 2009, Keating continued coaching for the next three years.
"Behind the scenes he did all, so you didn't know all the planning that went into it,” Adam said. “So it's kind of funny, when I'm doing all this stuff now I'm thinking, 'This is the stuff that Dad used to do.' And when I first did it I actually found a list that he had in one of his clipboards that had all his notes of what he used to do for tournaments. Three years later it's still going on. I've got my own ritual now, but it stems from what he was doing. It's a good way of kind of connecting with him. This is what he liked, he liked having games. The donation part I'm sure he would appreciate, but he liked the basketball part, getting teams out and the kids playing. That's what he was biggest into, just giving kids a chance to play. If he could have scheduled a tournament every weekend, he would have done it. That's the kind of guy he was. He loved basketball and baseball and just being around the gym and setting stuff up and giving kids a chance to play."
Both Keating and his brother are engineering students at Memorial University and this year’s tournament fell right around the critical end of semester study and exam preparation time. Keating said the tournament wouldn't be possible without the help and support of many people, including the cooperation and interest of the many teams that participate.
"My mom spent a few pretty late nights (working on it) as we got close to the tournament to get stuff done," Keating said. "And we had a good volunteer staff. I think in total we had 50 or 60 volunteers, a dozen sponsors, 20 volunteer referees. I had kids from Gonzaga, O'Donel, and Waterford Valley High stick around after school each day and help set up the gyms and do the score clock and all that stuff. In total the number of people who made this happen was a pretty substantial number and it's pretty cool to see it all come together like that."
Keating admitted part of the draw for the teams, especially the first year, was his dad’s connection to the other coaches. This year, Keating even managed to recruit a dozen or so teams for a girls division. "If I can get more gym time or figure out a way to get the system to work out, it might be even bigger next year," he ventured. "There's pretty good support."
There is even a team of "alumni" players, whom Keating's dad coached. They approached Keating before the first tournament asking to put together a squad. A game between the alumni and an all-star team picked from the various high school rosters participating in the tourney has become a tradition.
The objective of the tournament, said Keating, is to give high school students a basketball game and an opportunity to have fun.
"I'd just like to give a super ‘Thank You’ to all the volunteers and sponsors," Keating said. "There are so many people with me doing all that work and making it happen and it's just as much theirs as it is anyone else's.”