Proviso West sets the holiday standard

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Proviso West sets the holiday standard

Joe Spagnolo is a familiar face around the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in Hillside, as familiar as a basketball. He has been affiliated with the state's premier event in one management position or another since 1981 and currently serves as the tournament director.

A Proviso West graduate of 1980, Spagnolo attended his first Proviso West tournament as a student in 1976. "I got hooked on high school basketball at a young age," he said.

He wasn't around for the first one, however. Walt Sawosko, then athletic director at Proviso West, was the visionary. He organized the first tournament in 1961. He started with eight teams, then expanded to 16 the following year. Next year, Spagnolo will oversee the first 32-team event.

"(Sowasko) wanted a local tournament so Chicago schools could be home during the holidays and didn't have to travel," Spagnolo said. "There was a great expansion of new schools at that time and it was easy to get new or older schools to fill the field."

At that time, the only "local" tournament was De Kalb. To compete during the holidays, schools went to Centralia or Carbondale or Pontiac. After Proviso West made its mark in the 1960s, several other tournaments were launched in the Chicago area.

"(Sowasko) was a pioneer," Spagnolo said. "He got a big bump in 1967, 1968 and 1969 when Evanston (with Bob Lackey), Proviso East (with Jim Brewer) and La Grange (with Owen Brown and Marcus Washington) won the tournament and went on to win the state title. That put Proviso West on the map."

Proviso West got another big bump in 1977, 1978 and 1979 with the presence of St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas, Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre and Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers. The future college and NBA stars were consecutive tournament MVPs and attracted huge crowds.

"The ThomasRivers game in 1978 was probably, along with the LackeyBrewer game of 1967, the two biggest crowds we've ever had at Proviso West," Spagnolo said. "The fire marshals locked the doors but some people broke down a door and let 500 people in. The capacity of the gym was 3,860 at the time and it was estimated that 4,700 people saw the game."

Two other landmark games that also attracted huge crowds were the Kevin GarnettRonnie Fields games in 1994, which marked future All-Pro Kevin Garnett's first appearance on a big stage in Chicago, and Jon Scheyer's spectacular performance in 2005 when the Glenbrook North star scored 21 points in 75 seconds with future coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke watching.

"(Scheyer) was the modern highlight," Spagnolo said. "That was voted as the No. 1 moment in the 50-year celebration of the tournament. He went on to become the tournament's all-time leading scorer.

"But what nobody remembers is that Proviso West won the game. Glenbrook North was the defending champion, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state but Proviso West won the quarterfinal game 85-79."

Proviso West's success spawned other holiday tournaments. Elgin left in the early 1970s to form its own event. York left in 1972 to launch its own tournament. And Rich Central left to help form the Big Dipper tournament at Rich South.

Some people never leave, however. Bill Heimann, a Proviso graduate, attended the first tournament and still buys a season ticket. He sits next to Tom Clancy, who one-time resident of Wood River near St. Louis, who has been attending the event since 1970.

Timer Steve Busa, a Proviso West graduate of 1976, is in his 29th year at the scoring table. And public address announcer Dick Clish, a Morton graduate and former Proviso West principal, has been working since 1985.

"Our mission is to promote high school basketball," Spagnolo said. "We say: 'Proviso West is where basketball is best.' We want everyone to enjoy what we have, paying customers or referees or participants. We think it is a special event and more people want to get involved in it."

It is a big undertaking, like a little city for four days. More than 100 workers are employed. It is the only tournament that has officials who work only one game. Spagnolo handpicks 84 different officials, the biggest corps of officials for any tournament in the nation. Peter King started in 1983 and has worked the most consecutive years. Jim Bernardi started in 1978 and still is working. John Dacey, who started in 1984, has worked more games than anyone else.

"We have had 88 different officials who worked our tournament and also worked the state finals," Spagnolo said. "Rich Weiler worked the 1962 Proviso West final and the NCAA final in 1980."

But Proviso West no longer is the only game in town. It spawned competition. Attendance is down across the board. Proviso West has had only one sellout since 2007. And the capacity of the main gym has been reduced to 2,990 with the construction of new seats in 2007.

"There are a lot more things for people to do, more tournaments to see," Spagnolo said. "Years ago, you had to go to a game to see it. Now you can see it on TV or the Internet or Twitter or e-mail. There are so many ways to get information."

For example, this year's Proviso West tournament can be seen on the Internet on Proviso West's website, pwhoops.com. CN100, Comcast Sports Net Chicago's suburban outlet, will tape delay the third place and championship games for re-telecast on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

The 51st tournament will be Dec. 27-30. Opening-round pairings will pit Morgan Park vs. Hinsdale Central, Glenbrook North vs. St. Patrick, New Trier vs. Fenwick, Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Von Steuben in the upper bracket and Hillcrest vs. Morton, Rockford Auburn vs. Proviso West, Proviso East vs. Brooks and St. Joseph vs. Benet in the lower bracket.

Proviso West's all-time tournament team? Spagnolo admits it is hard to argue with a starting five of Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett, Mark Aguirre, Glenn "Doc" Rivers and Jon Scheyer.

"I agree with the first four. I always had Isiah, Rivers and Aguirre on my top team. And Garnett is a no-brainer. The fifth was up for debate. Before Scheyer, I voted for Jim Brewer and Marcus Liberty. But after what Scheyer did, there is no doubt that he gets the fifth spot. Now he is part of folklore."

Just like the tournament itself.

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

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Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

ATLANTA (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a reasonable lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches blocking his path to the 17th green. Neither seemed like a problem until he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a double bogey Saturday in the Tour Championship.

It was an example of how one hole can change everything at East Lake.

And it's why the final round of the PGA Tour season suddenly has more scenarios than Johnson cares to consider.

Johnson recovered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Chappell (68) going into the last round that will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there's a chance it might not be the same player.

"There's a lot of scenarios that could happen," Johnson said. "But yeah, I'm still going to go out and try to shoot as low a score as possible."

Johnson only has to win or finish second alone to claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Rory McIlroy, who has gone 28 holes without a bogey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. If he were to win the Tour Championship and Johnson finished in a two-way tie for second or worse, McIlroy would claim the FedEx Cup.

"It would just be great to try to win the Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it," McIlroy said.

The winner of the Tour Championship has won the FedEx Cup every year since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the tournament and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

Johnson led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he really didn't do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fairway by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even Johnson and his power couldn't advance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that reshaped the tournament.

Johnson tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leaving him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey.

Chappell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and suddenly had the lead, only for Johnson to catch him with the final birdie.

They were at 8-under 202.

Chappell, a runner-up three times this season who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bogey in 54 holes this week, a show of consistency, discipline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fairway.

His next chance at a breakthrough victory is to face golf's best player at the moment (Johnson), with McIlroy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots behind.

"I've always kind of been the underdog, so it's a role I'm comfortable in," Chappell said.

Moore went out in 31 until he was slowed by a pair of bogeys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mystery is whether anything he does on Sunday - even if that means a victory - is enough for Davis Love III to use his last captain's pick on Moore for the Ryder Cup.

"I came here this week to win a golf tournament, and I'm 100 percent focused on that," Moore said, adding that the Ryder Cup is "completely out of my control."

And that's how the last day is shaping up for everyone - post a score and see where it leads.

Johnson, for a moment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the season-ender when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The putter cooled off, however, and Chappell stayed in range.

Chappell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots behind, and then he quickly closed the gap when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys, only to respond with a 4-iron over the water to a peninsula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed everything.

"I thought about just trying to hit it in the front bunker, which I probably should have done - probably would have made 4 if I'd have done that," Johnson said. "But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead going into tomorrow. I like my position."

And he doesn't need a degree in math to figure out the easiest scenario - just win.

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