PANAMA CITY BEACH — Arnold High School again will be the site of Bay County’s largest holiday basketball tournament.
The Marlin Christmas Classic will welcome eight boys and eight girls teams to the gymnasium for three days of competition Thursday through Saturday. The festivities begin with a skills competition on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and games begin early at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday with eight contests each day. This is the eighth year for the boys’ tournament and the third field for the girls.
Host Arnold’s teams are young and looking to find footing heading into the second half of the season. Both will find competitive draws in their endeavors to improve.
The boys bracket features former Marlin Classic champions Niceville and Marshall County, Ky., which are matched in the opening round. The teams have combined for four title game appearances and three championships, with Niceville picking up titles in 2007 and 2009 and Marshall County in 2008.
The field also includes Faith Academy of Mobile, Ala., which played in its state semifinal last season. Other respective playoff teams include Meade County, Ky., Wren of South Carolina and Franklin Road of Tennessee. Starr’s Mill of Georgia fills out the draw and has appeared in the last three Marlin Classics.
Arnold boys coach Bobby Britton said the array of talent and diverse styles will benefit the Marlins.
“This is good for us because it’s another home stretch,” Britton said. “It will help us gain more confidence and that’s the biggest thing for our team right now, confidence.
“You get to see different skills and different types of basketball from other parts of the country. It’s a great showcase of basketball for our area.”
It also will feature an upgrade in the quality of girls basketball for the area with perennial state contenders Lake Mary and Briarcrest Christian of Tennessee. Defending Marlin Classic champion Starr’s Mill returns and can be considered one of the favorites along with the aforementioned group. Wren, Graves County, Ky., Crystal River and Cookeville of Tennessee round out the contenders.
Arnold is the only area school in the Marlin Classic. That was by design, as area teams surprisingly have not drawn well in recent years. Many of the current tournament teams, including Marshall County, have a solid fan base and bringing boys and girls squads from the same school should provide an economic boost for the area.
“We wanted to invite teams that travel well and are of good caliber,” Britton said. “Teams that will not only help the quality of basketball, but the community on the business side of things.”
The Marlin Classic has partnered with the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, with its sports arm headed by Richard Sanders. The aim is to highlight not only the Arnold tournament but Bay County as well. The Marlin Classic has grown to a 16-team event and Britton hopes to increase the scope in the future.
“We want to keep it going and make it bigger,” Britton said. “We want to show people that we’re trying to take a step forward as far as basketball in this area.”
Admission for the tournament is $7 daily, $6 for students and children 4 and under admitted free. Tournament passes will not be sold.
There is no admission to the skills competition on Wednesday evening.