The city of Monroe is now in the business of high school basketball.
The first-ever Monroe Basketball Tournament is set for today through Saturday at the Monroe Civic Center. The tournament will feature 19 games during the weekend and include some of the best teams in northeastern Louisiana as well as two teams from Dallas.
Carroll, Richwood, Ouachita, Farmerville, Rayville, Lake Providence and Hillcrest High School from Dallas will all play in the boys tournament.
The girls tournament will include Rayville, Lake Providence, Carroll, Farmerville, Bastrop and Wilmer Hutchens High School from Dallas.
"I think this is something the area needs," said tournament director and former Carroll head coach Jimmy Jones. "In Ouachita Parish, we're rich in tradition, and we want to put that on display."
The city is rolling out the red carpet, or in this case, a new court for the event. Monroe bought a newly refurbished court, which once belonged to Northwestern State University. The court cost the city $37,500, according to Rod Washington, media coordinator for the Monroe mayor's office.
Washington said in an email that city officials hope the tournament will become a new tradition worth investing in to bring crowds and celebrate basketball for years to come, building on previous traditions where basketball at the civic center was common.
"It was a great component of our local quality of life," Washington's email said. "Our city, parish and region has a rich history and tradition for exciting championship quality high school and college basketball. That great family tradition is something our Community Affairs department wants to restore."
Jones said he hopes the tournament will create a Top 28 atmosphere with high energy and enthusiastic crowds. He said bands and cheerleaders will be able to perform at halftimes.
Some of Ouachita Parish's traditional powerhouses will play in the tournament. Ouachita, Carroll and Richwood have all won state titles in the last few years and are on pace to be competitive again this season.
Carroll head coach Jesse Burnette said his players are excited to play against tough competition in an electric atmosphere.
"Anytime you can play in a facility like the civic center where anybody can watch, we're excited about that," Burnette said. "We have some talented teams in Monroe, and we're proud city is taking an interest. The atmosphere is going to be great."
Tournament play opens with Carroll and Farmerville girls squaring off at 3 p.m. today. The Rayville and Lake Providence girls play at 5:30 p.m. The winner of the Carroll-Farmerville game will face Bastrop at 4 p.m. Friday, and the Rayville-Lake Providence winner will play at 7 p.m. Friday.
The girls championship game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.
On the boys bracket, Richwood and Rayville open play at 4:15 p.m. today. Carroll and Lake Providence will play at 6:45 p.m. today. Ouachita and Farmerville will close the night at 8 p.m.
The winner of the Carroll-Lake Providence game will play Hillcrest at 5:45 p.m. Friday. The winners of Ouachita-Farmerville and Richwood-Rayville will play at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
The boys championship game will be at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Both girls and boys tournaments will have consolation games throughout the day Saturday. Consolation games begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with the first girls consolation game.
Tickets are $8 in advance and can be purchased from participating schools. Tickets can also be bought at the door for $10. A ticket is good for the day. Tickets for kids age three and under will cost $5.
Jones said he is already receiving interest about next year's tournament. He said he hopes in the future the event will become the basketball version of the Bayou Jamb, the high school football jamboree held annually at ULM.
Burnette echoed Jones' dream because of how meaningful basketball is to communities throughout Monroe.
"We sometimes think this area is football country, but basketball is big to a lot of people, too," Burnette said. "I see nothing but good things for this tournament."