For many years, the Brett McClendon Memorial Baseball Classic was one of the big highlights of the youth baseball season in the area.
The Brett McClendon Tournament, which was started to honor the name Brett McClendon who died in a farming accident on June of 2000 at age 13 in Beulah, has raised over $120,000 in its history to go to an endowment fund at Delta State University as well as provide funds for new equipment at the Cleveland Park Commission along upgrades to the ballparks in Cleveland.
The first tournament, which took place at Bear Par Park Aug. 10-12 in 2001, had eight teams.
In the years after its inaugural season, the tournament grew and had as many as 39 teams from different towns in the event in 2007. The tournament remained a huge draw as the consistent turnout for the event remained at around 30 teams for the next few years.
Jim Salley, who has been a Co-Coordinator of the Tournament with Marty Bray since 2009, said Dixie Youth Baseball was big when the tournament first started.
“The very first one was after Dixie Youth All-Stars was over,” Salley said. “For the next few years, it wasn’t hard scheduling it or getting teams at all because it was used as a Dixie Youth warm-up tournament. There were Dixie Youth teams within a 100-mile radius coming in playing and it didn’t become a problem filling it up.”
There were only 23 teams in 2013 but the numbers went back up to 29 teams in 2014. After 2014, the numbers were on a steady decline. There were 22 teams in 2015 and 18 teams in 2016. The event was rained out last year but only 13 teams were signed up.
Over the years, more teams have been competing in travel ball in organizations such as the United States Specialty Sports Association as well as Grand Slam Tournaments. Cleveland, Leland and Belzoni are the only cities in the district that compete in Dixie Youth. Clarksdale and Indianola are competing in Dizzy Dean and Greenville is USSSA.
“As the travel ball grew with USSSA, you started having a conflict with the travel ball teams but it really didn’t cut into it for a couple of more years after that,” Salley said. “Then, USSSA changed the weekend they were going to have their state tournament and it fell on the same weekend as the Brett McClendon. After about two years of that, they changed it and it fell on the weekend after the Brett McClendon.
“We had a lower participation of all-star teams, but there was a group of travel teams that wanted to play also. In some age groups, we might have eight to ten teams but some of them might play in an all-star division and then others might play in a travel ball division. That went good for a while.”
Salley said when Grand Slam Tournaments and Dizzy Dean came into play that’s when the participation really dropped off.
“Now, you’ve got people playing Grand Slam Baseball and USSSA baseball and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re playing every weekend and earning points to be seated high in their state tournament. You might have the Brett McClendon but there might also be a Grand Slam Tournament or USSSA Tournament that weekend that’s a point qualifier that the travel teams started going to just trying to get more points to get a high seeding when they go to their state tournament.
“Then, towns around us started going to Dizzy Dean baseball and they’re playing their Dizzy Dean warm-up tournaments before their Dizzy Dean State Tournaments. It got harder every year. If you don’t have four teams or more per age group in each division, it’s really not profitable to have a tournament.”
Salley, who coached a travel team called the Bandits for four years, said the local travels teams have supported the tournament well over the years.
“I’ve got no complaints and I’ve got no complaints about them wanting to go play and get ready for the state tournaments in their travel ball division,” Salley said. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
There won’t be a baseball tournament in McClendon’s name this year, but the event won’t go extinct.
In January, there will be a Brett McClendon Basketball Tournament that will take place at the Willard R. Samuels Gymnasium.
“That’s when the peewee basketball season for the surrounding towns’ schools start,” Salley said. “They go through every weekend in January and the first weekend or two in February, and we’re going to be first on the docket when that rolls around. We’ll have a full day of basketball for that. I think that’s something we can keep going and that thing kind of sells itself. Cleveland’s got the gym and there are probably five or six schools that are used to coming to Cleveland several times for that anyway. I feel good about that.”
The Cleveland Park Commission, Bayou Academy and Presbyterian Day School have been hosting elementary basketball tournaments at the Willard R. Samuels Gymnasium for well over a decade.
Cleveland Park Commission Director Stephen Glorioso said these tournaments draw a lot of fans and make a lot of money.
“January is always a good month for the elementary basketball tournament,” Glorioso said. “We have teams from Senatobia, Indianola, Greenwood, Greenville and anywhere in between. It packs the gym.”
Salley said there might be a soccer tournament in the future as well as a possible football jamboree. He also added that he and Bray would plan to bring the baseball tournament back.
Salley said him and Bray don’t plan to let the tournament die.
“I’m going to do my part and Marty will do his part to keep the name going, but we’ll be stepping away from it real soon,” Salley said.
Year-by-Year Team Total for Brett McClendon Classic
2001: 8 teams
2002: 13 teams
2003: 21 teams
2004: 25 teams
2005: 30 teams
2006: 30 teams
2007: 39 teams
2008: 38 teams
2009: 30 teams
2010: 30 teams
2011: 30 teams
2012: 26 teams
2013: 23 teams
2014: 29 teams
2015: 22 teams
2016: 18 teams
2017: 13 teams (rained out)