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Esko alumni return for charity games

Esko High School basketball stars of the past will soon don jerseys and take the court again in a tournament to benefit needy families. Members of four exceptional teams from1996, 2003, 2008 and 2014 will compete in an all-day basketball extravag...

Esko High School basketball stars of the past will soon don jerseys and take the court again in a tournament to benefit needy families.

Members of four exceptional teams from1996, 2003, 2008 and 2014 will compete in an all-day basketball extravaganza as part of the first Esko Alumni Charity Basketball Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 23.

Proceeds from sponsors and donors will be shared by two nonprofits: Best Christmas Ever, which annually surprises families confronting hardship with gifts and necessities on Christmas Eve, and the Esko Hoops Club, which supports youth basketball programs.

Co-chairmen Don Liimatainen, cofounder of Best Christmas Ever, and Todd Rengo, Hoops Club past president, are the primary organizers.

Liimatainen and Rengo said that in addition to semifinals and championship rounds in the main tournament, another 20 or more three-member teams will compete in 20-minute games. Registration is still open for the three-on-three matchups, open to residents of any area community.

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"High school basketball in small towns has always been about community, about bringing people of all walks of life together," Liimatainen, a 2003 graduate, said. "We hope this novel event will kindle memories for Esko fans while also generating support for worthy causes."

In the first round, the 1996 team, which reached the section finals, will go up against the 2003 team, which finished fourth in the state. The other bracket will pit the 2008 team, mostly undefeated in league play for two consecutive seasons, against the 2014 squad, which won Esko's first state basketball championship.

Best Christmas Ever was founded in 2011 by Liimatainen and former Esko teammate Jason Kunz. In the first year, one area family was selected as the unexpected recipient of conventional Christmas gifts and much-needed medical equipment.

Since then, it has grown into a program that will see nearly 100 families throughout the Upper Midwest this year get knocks on their doors on Christmas Eve, followed by Best Christmas volunteers entering with merchandise and services worth at least $5,000.

The Esko Hoops Club organizes and promotes basketball programs for boys and girls from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The tournament's first game starts at 9 a.m. and the second game starts at 11 a.m., followed by a consolation game at 3 p.m. and the championship round at 5 p.m.

The five-man games will be played in the main Esko gym, and the three-on-threes will be in the nearby "blue gym."

Admission will be free for students while adults may make donations as they deem appropriate; Liimatainen said the goal is for adults to contribute $10 or more.

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Team jerseys will carry the names of corporate sponsors contributing $500 or more. As of Dec. 1, the principal sponsors were Northstar Heating and Cooling, Ablaze Clean, Thrivent Financial and Everest Construction Group.

For more information about sponsorships, contact Don Liimatainen at 218-310-5055.

To register players, contact Todd Rengo at 218-348-8467 or visit eskohoops.org.

For more information about Best Christmas Ever, visit bce.movement.org.

Related Topics: ESKO
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