Go Forward Pine Bluff launched the King Cotton Holiday Classic basketball tournament’s website on Friday while also announcing the bracket for the eight teams that will be playing later this month at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

All round one games will tip off on Thursday, Dec. 27.

The first game between the Gulliver Prep Raiders, a number three seed out of Miami, Fla., and the Columbus Falcons, a number six seed out of Columbus, Miss., will begin at 4:30 p.m.

The second game between the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits, a number four seed out of Long Beach, Calif., and the Landry-Walker Charging Buccaneers, a number five seed out of New Orleans, begins at 5:45 p.m.

The third game between the Park School Pioneers, a number two seed out of Buffalo, New York, and the host team, the Pine Bluff Zebras, a number seven seed, will tip off at 7:25 p.m.

The final first-round game between the Sam Houston Tigers, a number one seed out of Houston, Texas, and the Jacksonville, Arkansas, Titans, a number eight seed, will begin at 8:45 p.m.

Second round games will be played on Friday, Dec. 28, followed by the tournament championship game on Saturday, Dec. 29.

Ticket prices range from $8 to $40 and can be pre-purchased at https://kingcottonclassic.org/ or by calling (800) 965-9324.

Columbus High School, ranked No. 35 in the nation by MaxPreps.com, has the highest national ranking among the teams in this year’s King Cotton Classic. Most of the rest of the teams are ranked among the top 10 in their respective states.

HISTORY

The King Cotton Holiday Classic was a nationally acclaimed high school basketball tournament that debuted in 1983 and served as a rallying point for the Jefferson County city during the 1980s and 1990s.

“With its return, we continue the restoration of pride and quality of life in Pine Bluff,” said Ryan Watley, chief executive officer for Go Forward Pine Bluff.

The King Cotton is an example of the types of events Go Forward Pine Bluff is counting on to help lift the city out of its economic morass, but pulling off the resurrection of the King Cotton event won’t be easy.

Everyone agrees that the city must rally around the tournament for it to be a success, but even that won’t guarantee that organizers can drum up the same kind of interest that put the King Cotton Classic — and more importantly Pine Bluff — on the map in the 1980s.

Organizers recall the days when the King Cotton Classic was booming as a time of prosperity for Pine Bluff.

“When King Cotton came along, the city was continuing progressing, progressing, progressing, progressing, and then we hit a stop,” said Samuel Glover, the tournament’s director.

As Pine Bluff began to struggle, so did the King Cotton, said Travis Creed, the tournament’s founder. Creed built the event around community support, relying on businesses to pay for the participants’ stays during the tournament, a big selling point among participating teams.

When businesses began pulling out of Pine Bluff, support for the tournament dwindled.

TOURNAMENT'S RETURN 

The idea to revive the tournament came out of a Go Forward Pine Bluff planning session. The group also came up with ideas for festivals, concerts and park renovations to try to make the city a travel destination.

Residents passed a sales tax that is projected to generate almost $32 million in seven years, Watley said. Go Forward Pine Bluff is using the tax money and additional money from grants to push its initiatives, which in addition to the King Cotton Classic include Pop Up in the Bluff and the Mistletoe Magic, Believe in Magic Holiday Celebration.

Officials anticipate the King Cotton Classic adding about $255,000 to the city’s economy over its three-day run, Glover said.

Simmons Bank has donated $20,000. MK Distributors Inc., Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Go Forward Pine Bluff and the city have donated $10,000 each. Others, such as Hampton Inn & Suites and radio station KABZ, 103.7-FM, The Buzz, are donating services.

The convention center is undergoing $540,000 in renovations to accommodate the tournament, with the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency paying for the renovations, Glover said.

“The King Cotton Holiday Classic is the best example I know of for what can happen in a community when everybody gets on the same page, when all the leaders in all of the community get together and say we’re going to make this work,” Creed said.

Early in its run, the King Cotton event was among the nation’s most prestigious high school basketball tournaments. ESPN broadcast the tournament in 1987, making it the first nationally televised high school basketball event. The tournament also drew top-notch teams with top-notch talent, featuring eventual NBA players such as Corliss Williamson, Jason Kidd and Bobby Hurley, among others.

The basketball landscape has changed significantly since those days. Similar tournaments are held all across the country now, and social media allows interested fans to keep up with top prospects on a daily basis no matter where they are playing.

Creed understands that the King Cotton Classic faces more challenges today than it did during its heyday. He and Glover have worked to meld the event’s tradition with innovations that they hope will make it relevant again, but even Creed will admit that the tournament doesn’t carry the same weight it once did.

“If they’re not 50 years old, they don’t know much about King Cotton,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.