CAPE GIRARDEAU -- With a field of teams ranging from the smallest to the largest classes, it's always interesting to see who will rise, who will fall and who will fit Cinderella's slipper at the annual seMissourian Christmas Tournament.
The 61st edition of Southeast Missouri's premier holiday tournament tips off Monday with 16 teams vying for area bragging rights at the Show-Me Center.
Two-time defending champion Jackson, a Class 5 school, seeks its third straight Christmas Tournament trophy.
A perennial topic of discussion surrounding the tourney argues the perceived domination of larger schools.
But, before one leaps to that assumption, it should be noted that small and mid-range schools have always, throughout tournament history, held their own.
The Class 3 Charleston Bluejays top the list with an all-time high of 15 titles while little Scott County Central, a Class 1 school, has four championships under its belt, the latest in 1990. Scott City, a Class 3 school, won the '99 title and Class 2 Advance stunned the field with a championship in 2000.
Last season, it was the seventh-seeded Class 3 Kelly Hawks, who surprised with upset victories over No. 1-seed Charleston and No. 3 Scott City on the way to a second-place finish and a scare to No. 1 Jackson in a thrilling 63-61 tournament final.
Seven of this year's 16 participants come in with winning records, 11 are at .500 or better.
Charleston (7-2) is the No. 1 seed while Jackson (9-1), the defending champion, is a close second. Other tournament seeds are: Bell City (6-1) No. 3, Cape Central (5-3) No. 4, Notre Dame (7-1) No. 5, Advance (3-3) No. 6, Scott City (2-3) No. 7, Scott County Central (3-3) No. 8, Kelly (5-2) No. 9, Meadow Heights (6-1) No. 10, Leopold (2-4) No. 11, Delta (4-3) No. 12, Woodland (2-4) No. 13, Oran (2-3) No. 14, Chaffee (3-3) No. 15 and Oak Ridge (0-7) No. 16.
"We've been the No. 1 seed so many times that we don't even think that," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer, who guided the Bluejays to their last Christmas Tournament titles in 2001 and 2002. "We haven't won it in so long that we don't have time to think about the seeds. We're just going to come to play."
Charleston, a fifth-place finisher in 2004, will be without starting forward Josh Thompson and point guard Shawn Sherrell is still hobbled, although Farmer expects he may be ready for the semifinals, should the Bluejays advance that far.
Said Farmer, "We've learned a lot, gained a lot of experience since last year. Even with the injuries, this team has played well. Jamarcus (junior post Williams) and Justin (junior forward Clark) have come to play every night. It's been a joy. We look forward to every game.
Williams, an all-stater as a sophomore, and Clark, a tremendous outside shooter, top the team in scoring and rebounding and are its on-court leaders. Coach Brian Brandtner and the Bell City Cubs have gotten off to a hot start, including an Oran Tournament championship.
If the seeds hold, Bell City would meet Jackson in a semifinal matchup, but Brandtner is cautious about looking ahead.
"That's kind of scary to look too far ahead," he said. "We've played Oran and Advance already (Bell City wins) and, when you beat a team, that scares you the next time you play them. They have motivation.
"I'm worried about Oran (Bell City's first-round game) right now. They're playing pretty good ball and getting better. They're well coached and they play hard, so we look for them to have a good game."
However, for the sake of speculation, should the Cubs and Jackson survive to the semifinal in their bracket, an intriguing sidelight would be the battle between two of the area's biggest players, Bell City's Will Bogan and Jackson's Aaron Redecker, both 6-foot-10 postmen.
"That would be a marquee matchup between the two of them," admitted Brandtner. "I hope we're fortunate enough to get there (semifinal)."
Brandtner, in his first season at Bell City, emphasizes that his team is not a one-man show.
"We won the Oran Tournament without the big man (foul trouble)," he said. "We're a pretty good team. If we're in a game with somebody, I like the fight these kids have. If we're in a close game, I just have the feeling that we're going to win it.
"It's my job to get us in position late in the game and, if we're in that position, I feel pretty good about our chances."
Charleston's Farmer singles out Bell City and Jackson as two of the top teams, but expects a tough contest against the Cape Central-Notre Dame winner, should the Bluejays advance to the semifinal.
The fourth-seed Cape Central Tigers, with Derek McCord at the helm, own the second-most tournament championships with 10, their last in '96. Notre Dame, the fifth seed, hopes to make its presence felt under second-
year coach Paul Hale, one of the area's best.
The Bulldogs have not won a Christmas Tournament championship in 19 years (1986).
As for darkhorses, No. 7 Scott City, under coach Lance Amick, has been battle tested with a tough early-season schedule and No. 8 Scott Central, under coach David Heeb, is young and improving.