Gunn-column-logo-1Back in the 90s, when I first covered high school girls basketball, it was played in the fall.

The girls and the coaches loved it, because they had the whole stage to themselves.

Of course they played the same time of year as varsity football, and no prep sport gets as much attention as football.

But the football games were only on Fridays, leaving Tuesdays and Thursdays wide open for the girls to hit the court and show off their talents.

If you read the local sports section on a regular basis back then, chances are you knew the good girls teams from the bad ones, even if you weren’t particularly interested. The basketball teams got a lot of ink because it was the only basketball going on.

But that all changed in 2007-08, following a nine-year legal battle between the Michigan High School Athletic Association and a Grand Rapids-based group called Communities for Equity.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of parents who claimed their daughters’ chances for athletic scholarships were hurt because most states played high school volleyball in the fall and girls basketball in the winter, and Michigan was out of sync.

Several courts agreed with the plaintiffs, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. So girls basketball was suddenly a winter sport, going head-to-head with boys basketball for gym space and media attention.

I had been out of the local sports loop for several years by that time, and I’m just now catching up, so I really have no idea how girls basketball has fared in terms of popularity in recent years. But it can’t be easy for the teams.

At Local Sports Journal, we officially cover about 29 area high schools and they all have boys and girls basketball teams. That means there about 58 varsity prep teams playing the same sport, quite often on the same nights, from December through February.

There are at Least a few games just about every night, and Tuesdays and Fridays are chucked so full of girls and boys basketball matchups that the average fan could get dizzy trying to follow it all.

That’s too bad, because I know from previous experience that there are a lot of great athletes and very good teams in girls basketball. They don’t deserve to be lost in the crowd.

It just so happens that five of the better girls teams in the area – with some of the better individual players – will participate in the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic basketball tournament this Thursday and Friday at Mona Shores High School.

If you love basketball and you’re looking for something inexpensive to do, which is probably the case for many people after weeks of Christmas shopping, the tournament would be a pretty good bet.

There are three games scheduled for each day.

Oakridge and Muskegon will face off Thursday at 4 p.m., followed by Reeths-Puffer and Ludington at 5:45 p.m. and Spring Lake and Mona Shores at 7:30 p.m.

On Friday it will be Muskegon-Spring Lake at 4 p.m., Ludington-Mona Shores at 5:45 p.m. and Oakridge-Reeths-Puffer at 7:30 p.m.

Muskegon, the defending O-K Black Conference champion, returns all five starters from last year’s team, including Jade Paige and Mardrieka Cook, who averaged 15 and 14 points, respectively, last season.

Mona Shores, which finished second to Muskegon in the conference last year, has three returning starters, including senior guard Jasmyn Walker, who was honorable mention All-State last winter.

Reeths-Puffer appears ready to challenge Muskegon and Mona Shores this year with the return of the Williams cousins – Kalisa Williams, an  offensive force who averaged nearly 16 points per game as a freshman last season, and Camaryia Williams, one of the most intense defensive players in the area.

Oakridge, the defending West Michigan Conference champion, also returns three starters, including senior guard Morgan Giddings, who averaged 17 points per game as a junior.

Ludington, the defending Lakes 8 Conference champion, only has two starters returning, but has a load of talent up from last year’s 18-0 junior varsity team.

Spring Lake is rebuilding after losing four starters to graduation, but has several outstanding players, including junior forward Kelsee Zuidema.

The area boys basketball schedule is fairly light this weekend, particularly on Thursday, and there aren’t very many marquee matchups. So this would be a very good weekend to support the girls and watch some of the top players in the area go head-to-head before the holiday break.

If you haven’t seen the girls on the court in a while, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.