HANNAHVILLE — Not too many high school conferences in Michigan have their own basketball tournament.
The Northern Lights League in the Upper Peninsula, however, is one of the exceptions to the rule.
Each year the league’s eight schools meet at Hannahville for their annual tourney.
“This is such a great tournament for our conference,” said Maplewood Baptist boys coach Steve May. “What an opportunity for small schools. These are the types of things these kids will never forget. This is their chance to shine. They get to experience March Madness, although it comes a little early.”
The tournament, traditionally held in late February, showcases all the talent these schools have to offer.
This year’s girls tourney featured the league’s first all-U.P. player in senior Hannah May, a second-team selection a year ago.
“This is really a nice tournament,” Hannah said. “All the small schools come together and make some new friendships. This is the highlight of the year. This gives us something to shoot for.”
Hannah May showed why she’s all-U.P. in the championship game Feb. 20, sinking a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumpshot from the right wing to force overtime in Maplewood’s 79-70 triumph over Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh.
She scored 35 points, and classmate Harmony Bailey added 24.
“We enjoy this tournament,” said Maplewood girls assistant coach Caroline May. “We look forward to it every year.”
Senior Selena Williams, looking to play ball at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood next season, led Hannahville with 26 points. Sophomore Cecilia Beaver added 23.
“I love our team,” said Beaver. “We all get along. We’re also real good friends with Maplewood Baptist, and we get along with the other teams. We’ve developed a lot of friendships.”
The Maplewood Baptist boys also captured the league tourney crown in a 73-54 conquest of Hannahville.
Senior Patrick Gomes scored 19 points for the Kinross-based school, which placed four in double-digits. Senior Cody Meshigaud paced the defending champs with 24.
The tournament provides plenty of opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie among all the teams.
“I like it and the kids enjoy it,” said Ojibwe Charter girls coach Ashley Bishop. “You see the upsets and victories. It’s nice to see all the teams get together. All the schools are very small, and I think the kids make better friends this way. At the motel we stayed at in Escanaba, we had kids and coaches from 4-5 schools hanging out together.”
Ojibwe boys coach Brandon Kerfoot believes the tournament is part of the learning process for a team with no seniors.
“I think being able to end the season with schools about our size is a big stepping stone for the kids,” he said. “It’s a different game once you hit the tournaments. Anything can happen once you reach this point.”
The Ojibwe boys started two juniors and a sophomore, freshman and eighth-grader in a 69-46 semifinal loss to Maplewood Baptist.
Ojibwe’s girls started two juniors, two sophomores and an eighth-grader in a 56-34 loss to Hannahville in the semifinals.
PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Kinross Maplewood Baptist defenders surround a Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh player bringing the ball upcourt during the Northern Lights League Tournament. (Middle) A Maplewood defender works to wall off a Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter guard. (Photos by Paul Gerard.)