The 21st edition of the Wellington Wolves March Madness Basketball Tournament, presented by Florida US Amateur Basketball, was truly bigger and better than ever. During the weekend of March 4-5, 120 youth travel basketball teams from Florida descended upon Wellington and other parts of Palm Beach County to play in this annual event.
According to tournament director Chris Fratalia, the 120 teams — 90 boys and 30 girls teams — was a record, eclipsing the 108 teams that played in the tournament last year. In addition to a number of teams from Palm Beach County, teams from Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Lake City and Tallahassee came to play. Each team was guaranteed at least three games during the two-day event. In all, 228 games were played over the two days.
To conduct a basketball tournament of this magnitude required access to a number of gyms in the area.
“We used 18 floors at 15 facilities in Wellington, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Greenacres, Lake Worth Beach, Lantana and Palm Springs,” said Fratalia, who has been the tournament director for the last 15 March Madness events.
The main facility used was Wellington’s Village Park, which has three basketball courts. Besides Village Park, other gyms in Wellington used were Wellington High School, Palm Beach Central High School, the Boys & Girls Club and Emerald Cove Middle School.
To have that many teams required more than 70 referees, who came from Palm Beach County, Broward County and the Treasure Coast. The game officials were coordinated by Jose Feliberty, a member of the East Coast Basketball Officials Association.
In addition to the work of Fratalia and the many game officials, the event relied upon the support of more than 150 volunteers who sold concessions, collected money for tickets and accepted the final paperwork for each team competing in the tournament.
The youngest teams were the third-grade boys bracket and the oldest teams were the high school varsity girls division and the 11th-grade boys bracket. There were 22 age-group divisions overall. The two most popular brackets were the eighth-grade boys with 17 teams and the seventh-grade boys with 14 teams. Some of more creative team names were the Untouchable Young Kings, Ballerdemics, Hoop Dynasty, Bball Masters and Out Work Who Elite.
One of the highlights of the event was the annual appearance at Village Park on Sunday, March 5 by the Miami Heat cheerleaders and Burnie, the Miami Heat’s mascot.
On Saturday, March 4, more than 2,400 new and slightly used pairs of shoes were collected at Village Park for the charity In Jacob’s Shoes, which collects shoes for needy children across South Florida.
Of all the many great games by the hundreds of young players in the tournament, three of the standout performances were by Reggie Reinhardt, Hannah Merzius and Melissa Nieves.
Reinhardt led his Wellington Wolves select team to the championship title of the boys 11th-grade Division 1 bracket. Reinhardt scored 29 points in the semifinal game and 18 points in the final. He was named the MVP of the division.
In the final of the seventh-grade girls bracket between the Wellington Wolves and the Miami Impact, Merzius converted a three-point play with less than a second in the game to give the Wolves a dramatic come-from-behind 59-58 win in the championship game.
Nieves, who plays for the Miami Impact’s eighth-grade girls team, was sensational in her team’s win on Saturday, March 4 against the Jupiter Jaguars, Nieves made seven-of-eight three-point attempts and one two-point shot for 23 points. That Miami Impact team, coached by former Wellington resident and ex-Wellington Wolves player Emily May, won its division title by defeating the Wellington Wolves eighth-grade team, 59-48, in its championship final on Sunday, March 5 in a game played at Woodlands Middle School.
Of the 22 competitive brackets, teams from the Wellington Wolves won five of them: the seventh-grade girls, the ninth-grade boys Division 1, the 10th-grade boys Division 1, the varsity girls and 11th-grade boys Division 1.