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State Farm Classic basketball tournament is back

After Illinois' pandemic mitigation guidelines and restrictions were put in place by the state and the IHSA, the State Farm Holiday Classic was forced to take an involuntary break. Today, organizers for the annual holiday tournament announced its plans to host the 42nd installment later this year on December 27, 28, 29 & 30.

Last year was the first time since 1989 the Holiday Classic was not played.

Nolan Grindley
Nolan Grindley dribbles the ball down the court during second half action against Teutopolis last month. This December, the Spartans will face tough competition at the State Farm Holiday Basketball Classic.
PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks
The 2021 tournament field will include 15 new teams. Fourteen of the 64 teams slated to play are ranked in the final Associated Press polls for the 2021 season.

East Dubuque and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin will be joining the boys small school division competition in the state's largest co-ed high school holiday tournament.

Along with these two new programs, St. Joseph-Ogden, led Ty Pence, will face stiff competition from the likes of Annawan, Aurora Christian, Bloomington Central Catholic, Chicago Providence St. Mel, Downs Tri-Valley, El Paso-Gridley, Kankakee Bishop McNamara, Quincy Notre Dame, Rock Falls, Stanford Olympia and Winnebago. Pence, who will be a junior, is ranked #27 in the Class of 2023 recruiting class.

The Spartans finished in sixth place with at 2-2 tournament record in 2019 putting up wins over Annawan in the opener and Bloomington Central Catholic in the championship bracket.

The SJO girls squad, who will be underrated and under the radar going into the 2021-2022 season, will see familiar opponents with Annawan, fellow Illini Prairie Conference mates Bloomington Central Catholic, Camp Point Central/Augusta Southeastern, El Paso-Gridley, Kankakee Bishop McNamara, Normal U-High, Rockford Lutheran, Rock Falls and Sherrard.

New in their division are teams from Aurora Christian, Winnebago, and Stanford Olympia, who were set to join the tournament last winter. They will also be joined Port Byron Riverdale, who will make their tournament debut in December, and the returning Sacred Heart-Griffin program.

In their last appearance, veteran head coach Kevin Taylor's #4 seeded team kicked off the tournament in 2019 with a 46-42 overtime win over Bishop McNamara. The upset victory put the Spartans up against the eventual championship team from Normal University High. The Lady Pioneers prevailed, but that didn't stop SJO from winning their last two contests to finish in 5th place.

The State Farm Classic has awarded $67,000 in scholarships to graduating student-athletes who participated in the tournament. The 2021 scholarship award winners will be announced next month. The tournament has also donated over $70,000 in the recent past to participating high school basketball programs.

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