In 1980, the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) held their first basketball tournament at Fort Bluff Camp on Dayton Mountain. Eight teams competed for the title.
Fast forward to 2017.
During the next two weeks, Rhea County will see an explosion of over 100 boys and girls high school teams in the area – each vying for a national title in their respective division.
In it’s 37 years of existence, NACA has continued to build on their success year after year, attracting some of the nation’s top teams and talent.
“It’s always a special time to have teams of this caliber come to our camp in Dayton,” states NACA Executive Director Dave Sekura.
Teams to Watch
For local basketball enthusiasts, it’s an annual treat. And this year, fans can expect the same national powerhouse programs they’ve come to expect such as West Oaks (FL), Our Savior (NY), Riverdale (MD), and Potters House (FL) just to name a few.
But it’s the meteoric rise of Chattanooga’s Hamilton Heights who appears to be the team to beat. The Hawks’ boy’s team is currently ranked 20 in USA Today’s Super 25 Expert rankings, while their girl’s team is ranked 10 with a 21-1 record.
But as long-time NACA fans know, upsets are bound to happen and often do when you unplug these high caliber teams and bring them to a legendary gym nestled on the edge of an East Tennessee mountain.
Pursuing the Ultimate Prize
While the opportunity to compete against nation’s best is certainly a draw, it’s the unique atmosphere of Fort Bluff Camp and NACA’s ministry that keeps teams coming back year after year.
Teams battle to advance in the brackets by day, but at night, these young student-athletes are encouraged by the Word of God shared by sports motivational speakers and entertainers.
Champions Forever’s Bruce and Diane Crevier and along with their family of 12 children who have become a top halftime show for NBA games will perform Wednesday. Crevier is a “Four Time Guinness World Record Holder” for basketball spinning and has spun as many as 21 basketballs at the same time.
Tony Eubanks will share his story of faith Thursday night. Eubanks has been a chaplain for both the University of Georgia and the University of Clemson.
NACA organizes national championship tournaments in an array of sports including soccer, volleyball, baseball, football, cross country and golf.
But basketball has always been their bread and butter.
“I’m a basketball guy. It’s in my blood,” admits Sekura, who had a prolific college career under NCCAA Hall of Fame Coach Keith Champion. Consequently, Champion has since joined Sekura’s team. He currently plays a major role in both NACA and Fort Bluff Camp operations as Assistant Executive Director.
“Using basketball to minister to young people is good as it gets,” declares Sekura.
But organizing a tournament of this magnitude is not a simple feat. Yet Sekura, his staff, and the many volunteers find a way to pull it off year after year.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” notes Sekura. “One of the reasons coaches come here is that it’s a real organized event.”
While featured games and championship games are played and live-streamed from NACA’s home gym at Fort Bluff Camp, teams will criss-cross throughout the county as they navigate their destiny in the tourney brackets. Spring City Middle, Rhea Middle, Bryan College, RC3, and Sale Creek gyms will all see action over the course of the next two weeks.
From food to lodging, the teams definitely make their mark on the local economy.
“We love what NACA does for the community,” insists Nathaniel Eastwood of Dayton’s Sleep Inn & Suites.
“It’s an awesome event that helps out a lot of businesses and a lot of people here in town. It’s one of our favorite times of the year.”
Eastwood says he has guests from across the southeast and beyond for the tournament.
Don’t Miss the Action
For locals who want to enjoy the action, you’re welcome and encouraged to come see what what all the buzz is about first hand.
You’re invited to all games, but we recommend Championship Friday at Fort Bluff Camp (370 Fort Bluff Camp Road, Dayton, TN) as National Champions will be crowned throughout the day. Be sure to hang around for the “2017 Slam Dunk Contest” and the “2017 3-Point Shootout” which are saved for last.