Ask those that have played in the WOBM Christmas Classic about what they like most about the tournament and you’ll likely get an answer that has nothing to do with basketball. 

(L-R) Toms River Schools Superintendent David Healey, guest speaker Lee Rubin and Kevin Williams at the WOBM Christmas Classic Kickoff Breakfast (Townsquare Media NJ)

Many will tell you it’s the annual breakfast that is held at the Clarion Hotel in Toms River where student-athletes once again put on a championship eating display yesterday. Never mind seconds, quite a few boys and girls made three or four trips to the buffet line under the watchful eye of Clarion General Manager Bob Van Bochove, who has hosted the breakfast since the early 90’s and each year expresses amazement at just how much food some of the players put away. I’m sure most of that got burned off in practice later in the day.

Monday’s event was in some ways the official tip off to the 31st annual holiday basketball tournament, the largest of its kind in New Jersey.  The highlight for the players and coaches was the announcement of the official pairings and seeds which I managed to save for the very end. 

Dr. Fechisin, Dr. Chopra, Dr. Haynes from Seaview Orthopaedic & Medical Associates at the WOBM Christmas Classic Kickoff Breakfast (Townsquare Media NJ)

Before that the 275 or so in attendance listened to welcoming remarks from Toms River Schools Superintendent David Healey and Dr. Joel Fechisin of Seaview Orthopaedic & Medical Associates, the official team doctors of the WOBM Classic.  Former Southern Regional Coach Jim Ruhnke, who helped create and run the event in its early days was on hand to present an award in his name we give out each year to a special contributor. This year’s shocked recipient was Joe Arminio, the District Athletic Director for Toms River Schools and my longtime assistant in running the tournament.

I also announced that thanks to the generosity of our presenting sponsor Barnabas Health we would once again present $500 to eight college freshman who played in the tournament last year and were selected for their academic performance.  The elite eight will receive their scholarship awards at halftime of the championship games on December 30th

Manasquan head coaches Andrew Bilodeau and Lisa Kukoda at the WOBM Christmas Classic Kickoff Breakfast (Townsquare Media NJ)

Clearly though the highlight of yesterday’s event was our guest speaker. Lee Rubin was an all-state football player at Manalapan and later a captain and three-year starter at Penn State.  He spoke about leadership and challenged the student-athletes in the room to understand and accept the influence they have on teammates and to do so in a positive manner.  One can only hope that some will carry that message back to the locker room and basketball court.

By the way both the Boys and Girls teams from Manasquan received the top seeds in the tournament which opens this weekend at the Pine Belt Arena…the girls play their first round games Saturday and the boys hit the court Sunday.