City of Palms Classic canceled for the first time in its 48-year history

Officials for the Culligan City of Palms Classic have canceled the 2020 high school basketball tournament, which was scheduled to be played Dec. 18-23 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College.

According to a press release, the decision is based on continuing health and safety concerns.

Tournament organizers had been preparing several contingency plans, all with the safety and well-being of players, fans and officials in mind. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers decided this week that the best plan of action was to cancel the tournament for 2020 and look toward 2021.

This marks the first time in its 48-year history that the tournament will not be played.

Coaches and players alike were disappointed to hear the news. Players are upset that they won’t get the chance to showcase their skills for scouts.

Many NBA players got their start in the City of Palms Classic.

Organizers of the tournament say it was a difficult decision to make but for the safety of the fans, staff and athletes they felt they needed to cancel.

But there is something to look forward to, as officials have already set the dates for the 2021 tournament. Next year’s Culligan City of Palms Classic is scheduled for Dec. 17-22 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.

“This was without a doubt the toughest decision we have ever had to make regarding the nation’s top high school basketball tournament,” executive director John Naylor said. “With the health of the teams and fans our number one priority, we had to make this decision. We know how much people across the nation– and especially in Lee County– look forward to this great event each year, and we know the 2021 version will be viewed with high anticipation.”

Many area businesses are also dismayed at the cancellation for this year, since it brings people to Southwest Florida from all over the U.S. Many of those businesses are already struggling due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Sports bars such as Buckett’s Wings & More say they rely on customers visiting to watch sports, so owner Ainslie Walter looks forward to the annual City of Palms tournament.

“You got people from all over the country coming down for this tournament,” Walter said. “Before and after games, we are crowded with the fans. You get the entire teams in here for business.”

With the tournament set to be canceled, Walter expects to lose the foot traffic her business would normally receive from the event, adding to an already tough year.

“We had three to four months without sports really, and we’re kind of getting back to normal,” Walter said. “It’s terrible for small businesses. I mean that’s a great event for Fort Myers.”

Buckett’s is not the only small business that will miss out on a boost with the loss of the sporting event. Carl Rao has owned Mastello Ristorante for years. No tournament means another hit for his restaurant, which is already down a quarter of a million dollars this year.

“I never seen something like this in my life before,” Rao said. “The tournament would have helped. I’m not sure how much, but it would have helped.”

While the Head Coach of Lehigh basketball is saddened to see the tournament not being held for the first time ever, he’s optimistic about the 2021 edition.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s such a great event it’s something that a lot of people in this community look forward to,” said Coach Greg Coleman, who’s been involved with City of Palms for 16 years. “In the grand scheme of things, yes, it’s disappointing but we do have bigger goals in front of us.”

He also adds that they will try to schedule other games for the athletes in place of the tournament.

Visit cityofpalmsclassic.com for updates on the 2021 Culligan City of Palms Classic.

Executive Director of the tournament John Naylor said they’re working very hard on the 2021 classic and even harder for 2022, as that will be the 50th Anniversary.

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Drew Hill
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