The first Eltham Tournament was conducted in January 1974 at the then brand new Bulleen Basketball Centre in Sheahans Rd. It was a small start to what was to become a huge enterprise, with sections only in Under 12, 14 + 16 boys.
At that stage the only models for tournaments were at Devonport, Tasmania (May vacation) and Nunawading (Easter) which commenced a few years earlier.
Ian Loxton, then Manager of Bulleen venue, generously permitted for the venue to be used so Eltham set about attracting teams. Right from the start interstate visitors were to be important, with Albury attending the first tournament
From the beginning, the tradition of giving participants lots of games was established. The programme for 1975 showed teams were given five games plus finals, in competitions which had now expanded to include Under 17 boys. There were 6 teams in Under 17, 10 in Under 16, 10 in Under 14 and 5 in Under 12. Participants included Ballarat Saints, Maroondah, Watsonia Heights, North Box Hill, Bendigo, Bulleen-Templestowe, Albury, Koonung, St.Kilda PCYC and Footscray Y.C . Altogether there were 31 teams.
By 1977 there were 60 teams and there was a girls section for the first time. The Macleod YMCA venue was used as well as Bulleen-Templestowe.
Hosting visitors became a tradition, and that often meant billeting. In 1980 there were teams from Swan Hill, Moss Vale, Queanbeyan, Woolongong, Illawara, Lithgow and Morwell. Later partnerships were established with Devonport, Wodonga, Sale and Norwood, producing a long period of supporting each others’ tournaments. New South Wales Metro also sent teams on a regular basis.
Of course, providing referees was a major enterprise. At first, Eltham referees were volunteers while other referees were paid $1 a game! The first referees’ appointments’ officer argued that it was impossible to provide enough referees if entries exceeded one hundred and resigned when that limit was not accepted.
Volunteer participation was vital and in the days of pioneering and then consolidating the tournament the efforts of David Hickman, Albert Clark, Jan Richie, Myra Heaslip, Ted Begg, Stephen Courtnay, Janet Clarke, David Bogle,, Judy Finlay and then later Lorraine Harris, Peter Cesari, David Price, Peter Thomson, Chris Lamb, David Weston, Angela Bearzatto, Brian Skelley, Geoff Lord and Cathy Cukier many other were invaluable.
1981 was the first year that the tournament was run from Eltham, with the Eltham Leisure Centre opened, but by then numbers were large enough to continue to use Bulleen as well.
Features of the expanding tournament in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the introduction of new grades, monster barbecues and food tents, an increasing range of venues used, and the increasing use by metropolitan associations of the tournament as preparation for the year ahead.
Dandenong Association also had a history of running tournaments. For a number of years they ran a tournament at the old Dandenong Market venue on Queens Birthday Weekend.
When the Classic moved to this weekend, key association organizer Hammy Webster, who was also deeply involved in the Boys Victorian Junior Championship Committee, agreed to take the Dandenong Tournament away from this weekend.
Arising from this the Dandenong Association approached the Eltham Association in 1995 to make the January Tournament a joint venture. The first combined tournament was held in 1996. The basis for the agreement was simple – sharing of costs, common rules (with a few minor exceptions), each association running its own B+C grades and joining together to ensure a high standard A grade. The combination not only guaranteed large numbers but also quality, so teams in the Victorian Junior Championships knew they would be tested at the appropriate level.
By 1998 over 610 teams were using 17 venues and 50 courts and Basketball Victoria gave a special award to the two associations for the organisation of such a well-run tournament.
Recent years has witnessed continuing growth and refinement of organisation, with increasing use of the internet for notification of results. In 2005 at the annual Basketball Victoria Awards night the Manhire and Meehan families from Dandenong and Eltham respectively were honored for their contribution to the tournament as well as other basketball involvements.