The Haines Women took first place in a Whitehorse tournament recently. (Krista Kielsmeier)

The Haines Women took first place in a Whitehorse tournament recently. (Krista Kielsmeier)

The Dick Hotch Memorial Basketball Tournament will feature an official women’s bracket for what organizers say is the first time in the Haines tournament’s history. Six men’s teams and four women’s team will battle for cash prizes and glory this weekend.

Organizer Stuart DeWitt says the Dick Hotch Tournament is just one example of how much Southeast loves basketball.

“Everybody’s a basketball junkie in Southeast Alaska,” DeWitt said. “They don’t care if it’s good basketball, bad basketball, four-year-olds playing, forty-year-old men playing, people just love to watch. They don’t really care who they’re watching, they just love to watch basketball.”

For more than 30 years, Haines and Klukwan residents have watched men from around the region face off in the tournament, which is named after a beloved Klukwan coach. This year, women will have a major presence on the court for the first time ever, DeWitt says.

“I think it’s one of those things where, can it get any better than last year?” said Krista Kielsmeier, who helped start the league just last year, to great success. The brand new team won first place at the 2016 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau.

The women had a more informal presence at Dick Hotch last year. A few players from Juneau came up to compete. But this year, there is an official women’s bracket with four teams. Two from Haines, one from Juneau and one from Whitehorse. Kielsmeier says some of the Haines women remember playing the Juneau team members in high school.

“I’m really happy that Whitehorse came, and having these more well-known players come from Juneau, my team is really excited to play against these people,” Kielsmeier said. “So, it’s just kind of amazing that it all came together.”

DeWitt says, considering the women’s league’s hard work and success, it made sense to make room for them at Dick Hotch.

“They put out the effort, so I figured I should put out the effort too, to include them in the tournament.”

Originally, seven men’s teams were signed up, and DeWitt says the schedule was looking pretty crowded. But a team from Hoonah backed out at the last minute, which made a little more space. The men’s teams include two from Haines, one from Klukwan, two from Whitehorse and one from Juneau. DeWitt says the teams are fairly similar to those that competed last year.

There are cash prizes for the victors: $2,500 for the men’s division and $1,000 for the women’s. DeWitt hopes to increase prizes in coming years to draw more teams to the tournament.

“It used to be real competitive, like in the 90s, Dick Hotch, guys would come in from all over the place,” DeWitt said. “It seemed like in the 2000s it struggled. I’m hoping that at some point in the future, to get like two Haines teams and six out of town teams, would be my ideal. Some different players that people haven’t seen play.”

For now, the Haines High School gym will be plenty busy with 10 teams competing. Games start at 6 p.m. Thursday and continue through the weekend. The women’s championship is Sunday at 11:30 a.m. with the men’s championship follows at 1 p.m.