The Nebraska School Activities Association board voted 8-0 on Thursday for a waiver of its Christmas moratorium rules to let Omaha Central’s boys basketball team play in the City of Palms Invitational in Fort Myers, Fla., from Dec. 18 to 22.
The five-day moratorium begins on Dec. 22. Central has a 50-50 chance of playing that day and its preliminary travel plan has the Eagles returning home on the 23rd.
“If we get a chance to showcase some of our talent in a tournament like that, I like it,” said Jay Bellar, the District 3 board member from Battle Creek.
Jerry Bartee of the Omaha Public Schools, a District 2 board member and a Central graduate, said the NSAA must acknowledge that times change.
“National recognition is the fashionable thing and to get a national ranking you have to get into a national tournament,’’ Bartee said. “I’m not saying it’s our purpose, but you feel a sense of pride when one of our schools gets that recognition.”
Central coach Eric Behrens, who joined Athletic Director Darin Williams in making the waiver request in person, said he would be sending out text messages to his returning team members that their 2012-13 schedule just got better. Behrens said he didn’t want to get their hopes up if the NSAA would have denied the waiver.
What made the Florida offer lucrative, Behrens said, is that the tournament organizers will cover most expenses, including airfare and lodging. Central might need to raise some money, he said, to pay for some meals, ground transportation and extra persons in the travel party.
Behrens said the 16 teams in the City of Palms’ national bracket include the defending champion, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood. Also in the field are Chicago Whitney Young, Memphis Southwind, Chester (Pa.), Lone Peak (Utah) and Montverde (Fla.) Academy — which beat Central in Omaha in 2007.
Central is the first Nebraska team to be invited to the tournament, which began in 1973. The Eagles, who have a 36-game winning streak, also are set to play another national power, Oak Hill Academy (Va.), on Feb. 9 at the Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island.