The basketball world's top teen talent is still a few days away from focusing on North Augusta, with the Nike Peach Jam set to run July 10-14, but the 2019 tournament has been on its organizers' minds for months.
The top-flight basketball tournament is familiar territory for several municipal employees, in the assessment of Rick Meyer, the director of parks, recreation and tourism.
"This is the 24th Peach Jam, and a lot of our staff has been here long enough and it's almost on automatic pilot," Meyer said, citing Jeremy Jiunnies as probably the top authority on the subject. Meyer cited examples from his own department.
"For instance, Jeff Williamson handles our valet parking crew in the back. He knows exactly what he needs to know and he knows when he needs to get his crew together, and what he has to put in place," he said.
Williamson confirmed he has a core group with plenty of experience, and plans come into place about a month in advance, in terms of who will be working. "We've had a few bumps in the road, but other than that, everybody appreciates what we do," he said, confirming that valet parking is a hugely popular service offered to the teams.
"We enjoy it. We meet a bunch of new people ... and we've made bonds and relationships over the years with so many different people, and when they show up, they know who this guy is and they know who that guy is," Williamson added.
Meyer noted Mike Chavous and his mom, Muriel, lead the hospitality effort, bolstered by volunteers from First Baptist Church of North Augusta and TrueNorth Church.
Muriel Chavous confirmed that plans are in place for the near future. "We're getting groups gather to work different nights ... and after church, Sunday, we're going to peel all the peaches," she said, referring to a massive fruit donation made by Titan Farms, in Ridge Spring.
She said the focus on Monday and Tuesday will be on "getting everything together down where we feed them," and then the volunteers will be in high gear Wednesday at Riverview Park Activities Center, playing host to the evening banquet for all the teams.
Meyer said he and his cohorts know whom to approach for service as scorekeepers, shot-clock operators and gym managers for the other sites, with thousands of basketball players descending on both Augusta and North Augusta for the massive event.
This year's tournament, he said, will include 56 teams, including 24 in the 17-and-under level, 16 at 16U and 16 at 15U – more teams than in the past.
Results will include a major transformation of Riverview Park Activities Center's basement, starting Monday. Regular gym users will need to make other plans for a few days.
"We will clear the weight equipment out of the basement, use the entire basement floor of the building as a dining hall, and we have to put our members out for a week, and they don't complain too much, because they understand the value of the tournament and the economic impact of the Peach Jam."
He also noted that while Riverview Park Activities Center is the focal point for the week, the CSRA as a whole plays host to teams at a variety of sites.
"All these teams that don't qualify for the Peach Jam, and other teams that aren't sponsored by Nike show up to play basketball in satellite tournaments," he said, citing such examples as the Peach Invitational Tournament, which will have more than 100 teams on board, with play sites such as Grace United Methodist Church, Paul Knox Middle School, North Augusta Middle schools and several schools in Augusta – miles from Riverview Park.
"There's a lot more than just what goes in in this building, and then you have the 14-and-under tournament that's played at the Augusta Convention Center, by the Marriott ... All in all, there'll be over 350 basketball teams in the CSRA the week of July 8-14, and that produces tons of economic impact to the area."
That impact, he said, is second only to that of the Masters, the massive golf tournament that attracts the game's top talent and tens of thousands of golf enthusiasts from around the world each April.
Meyer offered "a tip of that hat, again," to the First Baptist and TrueNorth volunteers for their efforts in feeding not only the 56 basketball teams but also the dozens of coaches who come to watch the action.
"We couldn't do it without all those volunteers. That'll total probably 150 to 200 volunteers, right there, between the two churches that come in and the folks who do not necessarily show up to work the tournament, but they provide brownies and Rice-Krispie treats and all for these kids."
He added, "I tell people all the time that Riverview Park Activities Center ... is a big draw and a big reason that Nike is here, but more important, we've been able to keep them here because of the people and the Southern hospitality, and the little things that you do make a big difference with these folks."