PEKIN — It was minus-6 degrees outside Pekin Community High School about 8:15 Wednesday morning. But it was considerably warmer inside Dawson Hawkins Gymnasium.
As far as Rick Shore is concerned, that's all that matters.
"It's nice in here right now, better than it was walking up here," Shore said as he sat in the bleachers about a half-hour before the opening game of the Pekin Insurance Holiday basketball tournament.
"I knew it was going to be cold, anyway," said Shore, a retiree from Pekin. "It's wintertime. It's supposed to be."
If it's the week between Christmas and New Year's days, it's also supposed to be time for high school hoops. And plenty of it.
All over Illinois, holiday tournaments for boys and girls teams are taking place this week. The tradition dates to at least the late 1920s, with the Pontiac and Princeville tournaments claiming to be among the oldest.
The Pekin tournament is in its 53rd edition, which runs through Friday night. It brings together 16 boys teams from the Chicago, Peoria, Quad Cities and Rockford areas, among other places.
As is true of other, major holiday tournaments statewide, games at Pekin can begin at 9 a.m. or earlier and end at 11 p.m. or later each day. For those who might not be hoopheads, that can be a bug.
For the devoted, such a schedule is this week's feature.
"I was telling a guy, 'I love this week of Christmas, because we'll go someplace every day and watch ballgames,'" said former longtime Farmington boys coach Tom Wierzba, who was among the faithful at Pekin.
Shore usually sticks to Hawkins Gym this week. The 1963 Pekin graduate said he's been coming to the tournament for at least the past six years.
A portable chair attached to the wooden bleachers provided a measure of comfort for Shore, who stays in the gym all day. And days.
Dennis Urish, who sat a few rows behind Shore, was in the same mood and time frame. Some 40 minutes before Normal West and Limestone tipped off in the opener, the Pekin retiree was the sole occupant of the massive seating section across the court from the team benches.
"At this tournament, you get to see a lot of kids," Urish said.
The primary kid Urish and Shore were there to see first thing Wednesday morning was 6-foot-9 Normal West junior Francis Okoro. He also attracted the attention of Purdue University coach Matt Painter, who in the first half sat behind the Normal West basket.
Purdue is among at least nine major colleges that have offered Okoro a scholarship, according to ESPN.com. Others include Indiana, Kansas and Missouri.
"I saw him last year and wanted to see how much he improved," Shore said before Okoro had 14 points and seven rebounds in a 59-51 Normal West victory.
Okoro was not all Shore wanted to see. The tournament serves as a mini-reunion for him and three or four friends who enjoy watching children at least a half-century younger participate in an Illinois rite of winter.
Despite the weather and the early hour, there were plenty of other onlookers. The presence of Okoro and Limestone, located just across the Illinois River from Pekin, resulted in a nice crowd — perhaps 800 or so in the 4,000-plus-seat gym.
As the eight-game schedule Wednesday progressed, attendance was likely to grow. Shore didn't seem surprised.
"This is where everybody shows up," he said.