Sports Editor

Varsity boys basketball played outdoors is coming back to the Austin-Tindall Sports Complex later this winter.

Basketball Tournament Illustration

The Hardwood Court Classic, a pair of games to be played inside the park’s football stadium, will be played Feb. 2 — the Saturday before the Super Bowl, like last year’s inaugural event.

Tohopekaliga will leave its new home gym less than a mile away to play Cypress Creek at noon. At 2:30, Harmony, making a return Hardwood Classic engagement, will take on Freedom.

St. Cloud outlasted the Longhorns, 41-38, in last year’s classic. Like last year, admission will be $4 for adults and $2 for children. Austin-Tindall Facility Manager Jeff Kuenzli said premium court-side seating may also be available this year, since the football stadium configuration may make that possible.

Park officials said last year that game was the first official game played outdoors on a regulation wood floor. Only four National Basketball Association games have ever been played outdoors.

“From an operations standpoint, I thought it worked out great,” Kuenzli said. “The coaches and players raved about it, and aside from some cloudy and breezy weather the fans said some great things.

“The court passed with flying colors, no issues at all. Everything went smooth, no dead spots on the court, and we gave these gave these players an opportunity to do something done for the first time ever and make some lasting memories.”

In that game, St. Cloud Jeff Bean wore sunglasses during the game, and players had to take into account things like the wind — and being distracted by incoming jets to Orlando International Airport.

Outdoor basketball game

Harmony High School and St. Cloud High School met up for a unique basketball game at Austin Tindall Park in Kissimmee last year in what is believed to be the first time ever that two high school teams played outdoors on a regulation wood court.

Harmony Coach Ben Bartlett will be a part of the classic for the second year. Tohopekaliga Coach Jesus Merced is a native New Yorker and said he’s excited to be a part of something that will have a public park feel to it.

“I'm excited because I grew up in New York and many of the leagues I played were in the summers outside,” he said. “The outside leagues like the Rucker park and Dyckman park were, and are, still so popular and I wanted to give my team the opportunity to experience playing a real game outdoors.  This kind of opportunity does not come very often. I think it will give our players a new experience.”