RICHTON PARK | George Egofske sat at the top of the south bleachers Monday at Rich South High School at the McDipper XXXIX, watched the game in front of him and just observed the packed house.
The retired Rich South athletic director and his son Jim were shoehorned in with the rest of the fans.
Egofske can remember when it all started — when it was The Big Dipper at the then-new Rich South High School. He founded this baby and helped it grow, along with his successors, Ron Ray and current South athletic director Mark Hopman.
This was a tournament born out of showcasing his new school and south suburban basketball as much as an alternative.
"We used to go to Streator, and, well, the players, cheerleaders, they were up running around the hotel," Egofske said. "One year, I think the coaches had a midnight workout.
"I figured we are not going to put up with that, so I started a tournament."
At first, there were some small schools such as Wilmington, Peotone, Watskea and Bishop McNamara. The tourney took on a life of its own thanks to Egofske and the community's hard work. So much, that local McDonald's owner Melvin Buckley provided corporate sponsorship last year.
"I wanted this to be a good tournament to showcase the schools, and, with us being a new school, it was hard to get into holiday tourneys," Egofske said. "I figured it was a good thing for the community, and we got the community involved."
The McDipper has become one of the top tournaments with top talent. Don't forget in 1973, there was the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, which is now in its 51st year, and the big tourneys were downstate in Pontiac, Danville and Centralia. This was something for the local schools to travel and go home at night and sleep in their own beds. While gas was not $3 per gallon back then, remember there was an OPEC oil embargo under President Richard Nixon. You had to buy gas on odd or even days, depending on your license plate number.
All of his sons worked the tourney as did community volunteers and teachers.
"We started at 7 in the morning once," Jim said. "We had people lined up to work. I think everyone who came through Rich South was involved in the Dipper."
The senior Egofske said he used college students home on break and paid them.
"We made money and always had a coffer," Egofske said. "To see how it is still here and how great the basketball is makes me happy."
Putting in a lot of sweat and getting people to get involved with the tourney helped get an unknown at a new school off the ground. Ray took it up a notch when he went after some big names such as Thornton.
Egofske's start of something small turned out to be something pretty big.
The opinions are the writer's. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.