High school basketball holiday tournament coming back to Durham

Southern Durham’s David Noel talks Durham Holiday Classic

David Noel, the men’s basketball coach at Southern Durham, says the Durham Holiday Classic, aka the "Battle of the Bull," will be all about bragging rights in Durham.
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David Noel, the men’s basketball coach at Southern Durham, says the Durham Holiday Classic, aka the "Battle of the Bull," will be all about bragging rights in Durham.

When David Noel was coming up, there was one sure way to find out the best basketball team in Durham.

Noel played for Southern Durham, and the Spartans would play Hillside, Riverside, Jordan and Northern, so at the end of the basketball campaign there was no question who ran the Bull City. When Noel, who won a National Championship at North Carolina in 2005 before playing professionally overseas, would return in the off season, he quickly realized that was no longer the case in his hometown.

“When I got back it was like we only played Hillside now, we might play Jordan,” Noel, now the coach at Southern Durham, said. “I was like, wait a minute, I remember all of the Durham teams battling it out every single year for bragging rights so to speak.”

So Noel sat down with Durham Public Schools Athletic Director Larry McDonald and decided to find a way to make sure all Durham teams played each other on the hardwood.

After “shaking the bushes” they came up with the Durham Holiday Classic, or ‘The Battle For The Bull.’ The tournament will feature boys and girls teams from each Durham school: Southern Durham, Northern Durham, Hillside, Riverside, Jordan, Voyager Academy, Durham Academy and Durham School of the Arts.

The event will take place Dec. 27-29 at the Durham School of the Arts Arena.

A holiday tournament in Durham dates back to the ‘80s, but they all but disappeared when the old Herald-Sun Classic folded. For many years McDonald remembers getting in his car and riding all over the state -- Raleigh, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Creedmoor -- to support Durham-based schools. Like Noel and others involved, he quickly realized how ridiculous it was that a city with eight schools couldn’t support their local programs without driving at least 30 minutes, sometimes longer.

“We talked about bringing some of that glory back,” McDonald said. “What we want to do is give the people a great tournament, a place to go and see kids that grew up in this community participate and have fun.”

Phil Ford

UNC legend Phil Ford spoke at the press conference for the event, held Tuesday at the Bullpen in downtown Durham, and the former Rocky Mount High School star remembers the excitement that comes from playing in holiday tournaments.

Ford recalled playing in the very first Raleigh Times Tournament, back when it was just four teams, calling it a “special time.” When he returned to the area after his professional career, he would check out the holiday tournament at the old Durham High. When Ford was approached to get involved with this event, he called it a “no-brainer.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Durham Public Schools, along with Voyager and Durham Academy,” Ford said. “It’s exposure during a time when a lot of families will be back in town to see the young men and young women play. That’s a good thing, it’s not only for the guys, but it’s for the women, too.”

Back-to-back games

The format of the tournament, at least on the first day, McDonald explained, would allow fans to see their boys and girls teams play in back-to-back games. That way they can buy one ticket and not worry about having to sit around and wait until the second team from their school played. Another benefit of the tournament is that all proceeds from the event go back to the participating schools.

“We’re hoping to have sellouts every night,” Ford said. “We are hoping to reward the schools. This is something that is going to be yearly, not just a one-time thing. I look forward to it.”

There is a 20-pound Bull statue that will go to the winner, and the MVP of the event will be named after Durham native Rodney Rogers, who played college basketball at Wake Forest before a 12-year NBA career. The three-day event will be part basketball tournament, part city of Durham reunion.

“That’s what this tournament is about,” McDonald said. “It will give you an opportunity to see some of the people that you played with, see some of the people that you grew up with, and have fun.”

And of course, bragging rights. When Noel was playing, fans always wanted to know who was the best team in Durham and feels this tournament is a great time to prove that. Once they got all the teams on board, Noel and the other coaches looked around and almost asked themselves, what took so long?

“It kind of was,” Noel said. “We have so many great teams right here in Durham who can easily go and compete with a lot of the teams in the country and across the state. (We felt) like if we all got together and brought something special back to Durham, which I felt like this tournament would do, it would bring such much more to the city and the schools as well.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.