By Madison Boboltz, Staff Writer
In 1952, Dr. Otho Polk established an all-women’s basketball tournament which Hardin-Simmons University has hosted every year since. It has the unique legacy of being the longest running girls only basketball tournament in the State of Texas.
This year the tournament will take place on Oct. 21-23. There is a public charge, but entrance is free for all HSU faculty, staff and students who are interested in enjoying basketball games.
Dr. Ronald Rainwater, HSU professor of kinesiology, explained that Dr. Polk believed everyone graduating with a degree from the School of Kinesiology, Health and Recreation should have some hands-on experience running a tournament, so he created it as a lab requirement.
“We take about two weeks to show the students what all the moving parts looks like, what goes into making it happen, showing them where they will fill in and explaining to them their role, so that by the time the tournament starts, everybody has had some training,” Dr. Rainwater said.
This is important for those interested in working as coaches, athletic trainers, therapists, etc. In addition, Dr. Polk saw a need for a women’s basketball tournament.
“Men’s tournaments had been around for a long time. Dr. Polk seemed to be a pioneer, before Title IX even existed, in making sure that there was opportunity and an equal balance between men and women to compete in their sport. I don’t know if he would accept that kind of credit, but to be around in the fifties and to have that vision is very neat,” Dr. Rainwater said.
Dr. Rainwater joined HSU faculty years later in 1985, and since 1987 he has acted as either director or assistant director of the tournament. In 1987, he met with Craig Farris, the athletic director for Abilene ISD at the time. Together, they decided to merge the Polk Tournament with Abilene ISD’s Key City Invitational, therefore creating the Polk-Key City Basketball Tournament.
“It was a match made in heaven. I don’t know if there’s another tournament in Texas where there is a joint partnership between a school district and a university. It is not common to see private schools or universities working with public school districts, but this tournament shows that collaboration between the two is possible,” Dr. Rainwater said.
Seventeen teams will compete in the tournament, and 19 games will take place—seven on Thursday, seven on Friday and five on Saturday. Each team is guaranteed at least four games, and Dr. Rainwater tries to design the bracket so that each team gets to play at least once at HSU; this provides players the opportunity to spend time on a college campus. Dr. Rainwater also sees this as a unique service and ministry opportunity in which he and students in the class can integrate athletics with the university’s mission.
“I spent time in prayer asking for divine direction. How can the experience of the teams coming be enlightened by faith? I hope that just being on campus, they will see what Christ-like activity looks like,” Dr. Rainwater said.
Interestingly, Polk’s family is still involved in the tournament. His daughter and son-in-law contribute to the trophies. His grandson came to HSU, got a degree and worked in the tournament. Now he is an assistant coach for Abilene High School’s team. Furthermore, Polk’s great grand-daughter is in the department and will work the tournament this year.
Dr. Rainwater said that he hopes in future years, the tournament will develop relationships with successful females at high levels in their respective fields who could participate in the tournament in multiple capacities. For example, perhaps some could sponsor a shared meal between all the teams. That would be one less meal a school district would have to pay for, and it would be meaningful to have an inspirational speaker, such as a present or former WNBA player, to impart some wisdom to the young women.