The Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament has been a staple of the Pekin community for more than half of a century.
The annual event returns to Pekin Tuesday through Thursday at Pekin Community High School for the 52nd installment of the Christmas classic.
Close to 90 teams have ventured to Pekin over the course of the 52 seasons. The result has been a diverse brand of basketball.
“We normally have a fairly decent representation of teams across the state,” tournament manager Rick Kestner said. “... That allows teams to play somebody they wouldn’t normally see. That’s what some teams look for.”
What fans look for is a strong pool of basketball talent. The tournament has welcomed in more than 70 NCAA Division I athletes and eight players who made it to the National Basketball Association.
Notable alums include former Pekin standout Nathan Taphorn, Washington’s Alec Peters, Springfield Lanphier’s Andre Iguodala and Chicago Mt. Carmel’s Tracy Abrams.
This season’s class brings more Division I players such as Tray Buchanan from United Township, who signed with the University of North Dakota, along with other players on the Division I radar.
“We’ll have a handful of Division I kids when it shakes all out. It might be more. We’re proud of that,” Kestner said. “There’s a lot of kids who will play Division II, Division III and NAIA.”
Every team from last season’s tournament returns this season, with the exception of Rockford Boylan, which is replaced by Champaign Centennial.
Eight of the 16 teams in this year’s field have played in the tournament for 20 consecutive seasons — Arlington Heights Hersey, Limestone, Freeport, Lake Zurich, Morton, Washington, Lanphier and Normal West.
Having a long-standing pool to play in the tournament speaks to the success of the tournament.
“It says that they’re happy with the tournament and the experience they have,” Kestner said. “We work hard at trying to run as good a tournament as possible. Obviously winning and losing isn’t something we have control over. A lot of teams like to get out of town and stay overnight and do a little team bonding and play different opponents. Hopefully we serve all of those needs.”
Full tournament passes can be purchased at the gate for $25 for adults and $15 for high school students and seniors.
Kestner said there has been a trend toward buying single-session passes, but there is still a market for full tournament passes.
“Maybe they’re following their team and obviously their team doesn’t play all day,” Kestner said of single-session purchasers. “There are other people who want to see different teams and come with no vested interest in one team or another and want to see 12 hours of high school basketball, which is fine, too.”