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Principia to benefit group that helps veterans with its first Honor Flight Classic boys basketball tournament

By: Warren Mayes

Principia team picture at the Honor Flight Classic

It’s a combination that’s hard to beat – competitive high school boys basketball and promoting a patriotic cause.

That is the combination that is the Principia Honor Flight Classic.

The tournament began Tuesday, Dec. 5, and runs through Friday at Principia High School.

The cost to watch a session of play is $4 for adults, $3 for students, and $2 for kids 12 and under. A fan also can buy a tournament pass for $10.

All veterans and active military personnel get in free, and all proceeds from the tournament will be donated to the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight.

The Mission of Greater St. Louis Honor Flight is to recognize veterans – most urgently the area’s World War II veterans – with a day of honor, remembrance and celebration. The group does this with a one-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial, built to honor their service and sacrifice.

“It is a fantastic group and a wonderful thing they do for veterans,” Principia coach Kyle Johnson said. “They are a first-class organization with amazing volunteers. They make each trip very special. They value the sacrifice and dedication veterans have made over the years and they give them a proper ‘welcome home’ when they arrive back in St. Louis from the trip. If you have never been to a welcome home event at the airport, I would highly recommend it.”

There will be members there to answer questions about the organization.

“Throughout the three days of the tournament, we will have volunteers from the St. Louis Honor Flight in attendance,” Johnson said. “They will be available to answer any questions about the Honor Flight and talk to people about how to get a veteran signed up to take part in this amazing trip.”

To raise more money, a souvenir will be available.

“We will be selling cool tournament T-shirts at the gate for $10,” Johnson said. “The money raised at the tournament will be used to send as many veterans on the Honor Flight as possible.”

Johnson has a connection to the group. But, he said, so do many others at the school.

“There are many people at Principia who support and have participated in the Honor Flight,” Johnson said. “Personally, I had the opportunity to go on the Honor Flight two years ago with my grandpa, Vince Boemer. He is a WWII veteran and Purple Heart recipient. I witnessed first hand what an awesome job the Honor Flight crew does to make this a special day for the veterans.

“The veterans are surrounded by love and support at every stop. They get the opportunity to see all the monuments and memorials in Washington. D.C., while sharing their memories with other veterans. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime.”

This tournament is a rarity for Principia.

“This is the first tournament Principia has hosted in a long time,” said Johnson, who is is in his second year as the Panthers’ head coach. “We wanted to host a competitive tournament for small schools. Our kids are very passionate about serving their community. I loved the idea of using this tournament as a vehicle to help promote the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight organization.

“The guys are extremely excited to host a tournament. They love playing in front of their home crowd. We are expecting strong fan support throughout the tournament.”

Principia is the No. 1 seed in the tourney.

The action resumes Thursday with games at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

The final four games will be played Friday for the trophies. The championship game is set for 6:30 p.m.

“We have teams from all over in the tournament,” Johnson said. “Many of the teams do not play each other in the regular season, so it’s fun to play against some new competition. We have received tremendous feedback already from all the teams about the inclusion of the Honor Flight organization in the tournament.

“During halftime of the games, we will be honoring family members and friends of each team who have served our country. They will serve as our ‘Veteran of the Game.’ ”

The Panthers are off to a 3-1 start.

“We have a veteran squad with nine seniors,” Johnson said. “I love the team chemistry. We have guys who put the team first. They are an extremely competitive group. I love coaching these guys.”

Johnson will be looking at several things he wants his team to do in the tournament.

“I want to see us continue to improve each game. I want them to compete hard,” Johnson said. “I want them to honor the veterans that will be attending our games and remember all the freedoms we enjoy because of them. I hope to come out of the tournament with the first-place trophy.”

Johnson said fans will want to be on hand Friday for the festivities. The championship game will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Carey Fieldhouse on the campus of Principia.

“We have the Patriot Guard Riders coming to greet fans outside the gym,” Johnson said. “They will also be presenting the colors before the game.”

It is hoped this can become an annual tournament.

“I hope this tournament continues long into the future,” Johnson said. “Working with the St. Louis Honor Flight organization has been so rewarding. The men and women who volunteer to make this a trip of a lifetime happen for these veterans are incredible.”

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