High School basketball: Clark County Holiday Invitational set for Fort Vancouver and Prairie

Fort Vancouver teacher Ben Jatos came up with the concept of a local high school basketball tournament a few years ago, and now the tournament has expanded into three brackets (two boys and one girls) and will also use Prairie High School.

Former Vancouver Public Schools administrator Albert Alcantar, now working in Las Vegas, is bringing his school to the tournament that Fort Vancouver teacher Ben Jatos has been running for a few years

There is the state tournament, and then there is tournament season in high school basketball.

The state tournament is, well, exactly that, the culminating event of high school basketball. In Washington, it is the first week in March.

The tournament season, though, is going on right now and will hit full stride next week. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is annually the time for teams to get away, find competition throughout the Northwest or even outside the region.

Arizona sounds nice this time of year, right?

Still, basketball fans in Clark County want in on some of the action, right?

That was the thinking when Ben Jatos came up with an idea for a tournament right here in Clark County.

A teacher at Fort Vancouver High School, Jatos started the Trapper Invitational in 2018. The tournament made some adjustments in 2019. There was no tournament in 2020. 

This year, the tournament is back, with a new name, two host schools, and a total of 24 teams — 16 boys and eight girls squads. 

The Clark County Holiday Invitational is set for Dec. 27 through 29 at Fort Vancouver and Prairie. Teams from Washington, Oregon, and one from Las Vegas — with a friendly face coming home — are scheduled to attend.

Scheduled, that is. But nothing is certain.

While wrestling has been shut down in Clark County for a couple of weeks after the state’s Department of Health announced that wrestling had spreader events in early December, basketball, too, has been hit with a series of COVID postponements. Just last week in one night, a half-dozen or so basketball games featuring Southwest Washington teams were called off.

As of today, though, the plan is to hold the Clark County Holiday Invitational.

Well, if it does not snow too much.

Yep, it seems like Jatos can’t catch a break.

Truly, though, Jatos has brought a special event to Clark County.

“I’ve always thought there was a void in the area,” Jatos said. “The county could really use a tournament.”

Plus, he wanted to showcase his school. Fort Vancouver battles some PR problems, Jatos said, but he loves showing off what Fort Vancouver has to offer. Bringing in teams from throughout the Northwest and giving them a fun experience will mean those players go home with positive memories associated with the school.

Then there was the personal angle.

“I coached sports for more than 20 years,” Jatos said. “I retired from coaching a few years back, and I miss it.”

The tournament’s website (https://clarkcountyhooptourney.weebly.com/) has an FAQ section. One of the questions: What makes this tournament so appealing?

“We try to put on a classy event each year,” is the answer. 

The tourney gives Player of the Game awards after each game, trophies to the champions, a hospitality room, plus passes and invitations to every college program in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In the past two tournaments, more than 20 college coaches have shown up to watch teams play in the event.

“We don’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the bigger tournaments, but we try to do things right,” the website reads.

This year, Prairie will host an eight-team boys bracket, which also includes local teams Heritage and Woodland. Fort Vancouver will host an eight-team bracket. With consolation games, every team is guaranteed three games. There will be champions crowned in each bracket. In the future, Jatos hopes to have a four-game, 16-team bracket. 

The eight-team girls bracket this year will be played at both sites. Fort Vancouver and Mountain View are the two local times. Check the tournament’s website for schedules. 

There are some quality boys teams in the brackets, teams that are ranked high in their classifications.

In the girls tournament, Jatos said his goal was to find teams that won one, two, or just a handful of games the previous season, to give these programs competition and opportunity.

“With eight of them, seven are going to win at least a game. One is going to go 3-0 and bring home a trophy. That’s pretty cool and a good experience for those kids,” he said.

As far as the boys bracket, Jatos found an old friend — and a former Vancouver Public Schools administrator — to bring his new team to the tournament.

Albert Alcantar, who worked in Vancouver schools as a coach, security, teacher, and then administrator for more than 25 years, is now the athletic administrator for Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas. Alcantar resigned from Vancouver Public Schools to join his wife, who had an excellent career opportunity in Nevada.

“My coach is Freddie Banks. He played for UNLV back in the day. Great guy. He was looking for a tournament,” Alcantar said.

About that time, Alcantar got an email from Jatos, inviting his team to Clark County.

“Let’s go to the Northwest,” Alcantar said.

“I’m just looking forward to watching our kids play and coming back and seeing people,” Alcantar said. “Meeting up with friends and saying hi to everybody.”

Canyon Springs is traveling to Vancouver this weekend. 

First game is scheduled for Monday.

Coaches have been asked to have some flexibility. If a school drops out, there is a possibility of getting a nearby team to fill in at the last minute, Jatos said.

No one can do anything about the weather, but if the tournament happens, Jatos said he and his colleagues will do everything they can to make sure each team gets three games.

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