Basketball, Hospitality-Secret to ACIT's Success"
(As printed in the 2001 A.C.I.T. program)
It was Saturday, January 29, 1983 and an hour or so after watching his North Carolina State Wolfpack teammates loose to the Maryland Terrapins, 86-81, Dereck Whittenburg leaned on one of his crutches while talking to family and friends in the lower front corridor of the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.
For Whittenburg, who had played his high school basketball at DeMatha Catholic High School in nearby Hyattsville, the chat was a busy one. After all, the hometown Washington Redskins would be playing the Miami Dolphins the next day in Super Bowl XVII. And then there was the matter of Whittenburg's health. At the time, he was missing a stretch of games with a broken foot.
Whittenburg assured his visitors he would be back in coach Jim Valvano's lineup that season, as soon as the foot mended. That, he said, he knew for a fact. What he nor anybody else knew, however, was upon his return, the Wolfpack would begin their shocking run at the most unlikely, yet most endearing national championship many of us can remember.
One Visitor, however, had something else on his mind when it came to Whittenburg. This particular visitor had grown up watching countless stars play in one of the best high school basketball tournaments in the country, the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament in Cumberland, Md., and Whittenburg was one of those players when he played for DeMatha.
The visitor wondered if this view of the ACIT being one of the best high school tournaments in the country was merely a parochial view, shared by the proud folks of Allegany County, or was it a view shared by the many players from around the country who had passed through the Western Maryland mountains every third weekend of March?
"The ACIT is not one of the best tournament," Whittenburg told his visitor. "We always thought it was the best tournament in the country. And remember, DeMatha plays in some great tournaments every year. Our season was made by our trip to Cumberland every year."
"'Wow' is right," Whittenburg continued. "I've played in alot of places and I've played in the ACC Tournament, but I've never been treated better than the way I was treated at the ACIT. The Basketball alone is enough to make the weekend great. But the way you're treated and the friendships you make there make it the best."
Actually, the great basketball that is played here every March and the hospitality that exists feed off each other to make ACIT Weekend one of the great weekends of any year. Players from all over the United States and Canada, who their biggest marks here as high school players are routinely seen on national television playing for major colleges in the years that follow. Players, coaches and fans from all over the United States and Canada, who may have made their first ACIT visit 30 years ago, are routinely seen returning to Allegany County every third weekend of March.
This ACIT thing is a deep-rooted thing. Jim Yerkovich, the head basketball coach at Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City, Utah, has made returning here his team's stated goal before each season. For the guys from Philadelphia, the ACIT is the same sort of pilgrimage Notre Dame Subway Alumni embark upon with their annual fall trips to South Bend, Ind. The Baltimore Catholic League coaches will attend the ACIT every year. Every one of them. And the DeMatha players once voted down a trip to Ireland so they could return to Allegany County for yet another ACIT.
The Stags, of course, of head coach Morgan Wootten, have embraced this tournament as if it were their own. And, once the games begin...well, it nearly has been.
In 31 visits, DeMatha has won a landslide record of 17 ACIT championships, their most recent one coming last year with a 67-55 victory over Archbishop Spalding. It was the Stags' third straight title here and overall they carry a 77-16 ACIT record
Philadelphia's Roman Catholic Cahillites are second to DeMatha's run of titles with five, and carry a 42-21 career mark.
Twenty-one former ACIT players have made it to the NBA and with the likes of Eddie Griffin (Roman Catholic), Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Archbishop Carroll, D.C.), Juan Dixon (Calvert Hall), Joe Forte and Keith Bogans (DeMatha) currently making big names for themselves at college basketball powers Seton Hall, Georgetown, Maryland, North Carolina and Kentucky, that number will soon increase. Of course, there is no such thing as a sure thing, but it is likely a future NBA player is in this year's ACIT field.
The most famous players to play in the ACIT were Austin Carr (Mackin) and Adrian Dantley (DeMatha), both of whom enjoyed All-American careers at Notre Dame and long, distinguished careers in the NBA. Would it be possible to list all of the big names who were ACIT players before they were known nationally? Of Course. And the entire list fills two pages in this program.
Aside from Wootten, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the winningest basketball coach in history, some of the most famous coaching names to pass through the ACIT on their way to national prominence include Frank Layden, the architect of the Utah Jazz' sustained run of NBA excellence; former Roman Catholic head coach Speedy Morris, the current head coach of La Salle University; Sidney Lowe, Whittenburg's former teammate at DeMatha and N.C. State, head coach of the NBA Vancouver Grizzlies; and former DeMatha assistant coaches Perry Clark, University of Miami head coach; Eddie Fogler, South Carolina head coach; and Mike Brey, the first-year head coach at Notre Dame.
The ACIT was born in Cumberland's tiny SS. Peter & Paul gymnasium, grew into and out of the Allegany High School gym just up the street, and now has made the turn toward its golden years at Frostburg State University's Bobcat Arena. The tournament has been copied throughout the country, but never topped because, as Dereck Whittenburg said, visiting players, coaches and fans are treated no better than they are in Allegany County at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament.
The teams from all over North America, in turn, annually express their appreciation for the hospitality with the finest high school basketball seen anywhere.
index ACIT_about ACIT_past ACIT_contact