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Klassical Gas: CCBA Hoop Tourney Continues to Thrive

Karp's Klassic tournament director Paul Karp of Lebanon, N.H., poses at the Carter Community Building Association's Witherell Recreation Center in Lebanon while CCBA after-school program participant Cameron Davio, 9, of Lebanon, waits to be picked up on March 12, 2014. The 35th Annual Karp's Klassic youth/adult basketball tournament is in its 35th year, and the money raised from the tournament goes to youth programming at CCBA. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Karp's Klassic tournament director Paul Karp of Lebanon, N.H., poses at the Carter Community Building Association's Witherell Recreation Center in Lebanon while CCBA after-school program participant Cameron Davio, 9, of Lebanon, waits to be picked up on March 12, 2014. The 35th Annual Karp's Klassic youth/adult basketball tournament is in its 35th year, and the money raised from the tournament goes to youth programming at CCBA. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

The longer the Karp’s Klassic basketball tournament goes on, the larger it gets.

Celebrating its 35th edition this month at the Carter Community Building Association’s Witherell Center, the tourney run by Lebanon hoops maven Paul Karp is at its largest capacity yet, drawing 1,500 youth, high school and adult athletes.

Karp’s Klassic, which is expanding to four weeks from Feb. 28 to March 26, has built a reputation as one of the Twin States’ most competitive amateur tournaments. It started in 1979, when Karp first staged it at Hanover High while volunteering with the Hanover Recreation Department. Modeled after a similar tournament organized by longtime Hanover recreation director Hank Tenney, Karp’s Klassic drew 33 men’s league teams — 330 athletes — its first year and has continued to grow since.

In 1987, it was moved to the then-brand new Witherell Center, eventually adding youth teams for grades 3-8 and later “town teams,” for high schoolers who play for their town recreation departments, but no school-based organized hoops.

Now 63, Karp hasn’t played for his own team, Karpies Klubhouse, in a few years, but continues to organize the event with his wife, Sue, co-directors Rich Tobin, Larry Chiasson and Kevin Talcott and numerous additional friends and volunteers.

Karp remains impressed with the talent pool of the tourney, which men’s league teams around New England look forward to annually as a competitive barometer, he said.

“Everybody knows, if you come to Karp’s Klassic, you better bring the best (players) you have available,” Karp said in a phone interview. “It’s a great way for people to come together and see each other, but the teams are playing to win.”

Boys’ and girls’ youth teams are split in two divisions, inserted in the “A” or “B” pool at the discretion coaches and organizers. Occasionally teams are bumped higher or lower as Karp and company try to balance out a huge youth base that this year drew 86 teams and 1,200 athletes.

“Every once in awhile, it’s a matter of ‘Why is this team in the B division?’ ” Karp said. “Sometimes we end up sliding teams around to make sure every team is where it belongs.”

The town teams were added in 1998 at the bequest of a Lebanon High student who played hoops at the CCBA, but not for the jayvee or varsity team at school.

This year’s tournament is drawing seven town teams, including participants from Franklin, N.H., and the Newfound Lake region.

“It’s gives kids who play in their town rec leagues a chance to have their own state tournament at the end of the year,” Karp said. “I think it’s something a lot of them look forward to.”

The bread-and-butter of the tournament continues to be the men’s-league brackets, which now features three divisions of either single- or double-elimination play, depending on the number of teams.

This year’s talent pool includes 2,000-point scorer Pavin Parrish of Rochester (Vt.) High and former Thetford Academy 1,000-point scorer and Lyndon State College forward Jason Gray, along with a pair of starting forwards from Plymouth State University.

Men’s league play begins Sunday.

“We’ve had a lot of great players come through,” Karp said. “A lot of players with good size who went on to play for college programs. We’ve had former high school All-Americans play, guys who went on to play at (Boston College), a lot of really good players.”

It’s the camaraderie and community that keeps most of the organizers coming back. Tobin has been part of the program since before it moved to Lebanon in 1987 and has grown to enjoy the youth tournament the most.

“You see the kids smile, you see them loving the whole tournament, getting to know other kids, that’s what keeps me coming back,” Tobin said. “There’s a lot of volunteerism going on, a lot of people coming together to make it happen. It’s good stuff.”

Co-director Larry Chiasson, 61, hasn’t played in a few years — “too many body bruises,” he said — but continues to help run the tournament every year. He’s also been part of the event since it was held in Hanover.

“It’s time-consuming and exhausting,” he admitted. “You’re there from 7 in the morning until 10 at night every weekend for a month. But it feels good to see everyone playing.”

The cause is also a big motivator, with all proceeds benefiting CCBA scholarship programs.

Karp is grateful for all of the help he’s had over the years.

“If I were doing it all myself, I probably would have been six feet in the ground 10 years ago,” he said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.