In its 38th year, the Governor’s Challenge basketball tournament is coming back to Wicomico County December 26-29th, 2018.
The Governor’s Challenge was once a friendly basketball competition between Maryland and Delaware, with Gov. Martin O’Malley wagering a Maryland Smith Island Cake to Gov. Jack Markell’s Delaware Peach Pie.
It all began when Wicomico High School (WiHi) Head Coach Butch Waller – who marked his 52nd year of coaching in the 2017-18 season – wanted his team to play some new competition. In 1981, Waller gathered WiHi and three other schools to come together at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center to play a doubleheader, and the holiday classic began. Those teams included WiHi and Crisfield from the Eastern Shore and legendary coaches and programs from the D.C. area: Morgan Wootten of DeMatha and Joe Gallagher of St. John’s.
“We wanted to play someone new,” Waller said. “I had befriended DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten; I had gone to his clinics and even spoke at his clinics and invited them to come play over the holiday break. At the time, I thought I had a pretty good basketball team, and then we played DeMatha. They had former University of Maryland star and NBA Champion Adrian Branch and beat us by about 17 points and changed my mind. Crisfield and St. John’s finished out the doubleheader here at the Civic Center and I thought we had a pretty good thing going.”
“It only took two years, but I quickly figured out that if this event was going to grow, it wouldn’t be me by myself,” Waller said.
In 2010, under the direction of Wicomico County Recreation, Parks & Tourism and Maryland Sports, the event was rebranded and the Governor’s Challenge was born. “We were looking back at the records and trying to figure out how long this tournament has been going on and I was shocked to see that it has been 37 years,” Waller said. “It is special to me since I had something to do with getting it started and it is special to see how far it has come. It has become a major event and is starting to really make a name for itself around the country.”
Over 12,000 people will be in attendance for this year’s event. The Governor’s Challenge features hundreds of women’s and men’s high school basketball teams nationwide taking over Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, JM Bennett High School, Wicomico High School, Parkside High School and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“This year, the Governor’s Challenge is going to an entirely new level for basketball on the Eastern Shore,” said Tournament Director James Simmons. “We legitimately have top talent from all across the country coming to town. The event is truly recognized nationwide, bringing great exposure to our local athletes.”
Recently, the Governor’s Challenge received an award by Sports Destination Management for the 2018 Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism. This event brings in more than 120 teams from over 15 states (from as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida) during a commonly quiet period in December. This is a homegrown event and following a rebranding in 2012, it has grown year over year, with annual increases continuing to be anticipated. It has also earned publicity from national media platforms. The Governor’s Challenge generates over 1,700 room nights as well as having a total economic impact of over $2.8 million.
To learn more about this year’s event, click here for more information.
*Photos c/o Earl Campbell Photography*