GRANITEVILLE — The Aiken County Challenge Christmas Tournament’s returning to Midland Valley High School for the second year. The high school boys’ basketball tournament was successful in its inaugural run last winter in bringing a competitive event to the Aiken area during the holiday season.

This year’s tournament, which will tip-off today at 4 p.m. with the first of four games, will be similar to last year’s event. There will four games a day for the next three days, and the Aiken County Challenge will include eight high school boys’ basketball teams. The field includes five Aiken-area schools – Midland Valley, South Aiken, Silver Bluff, Strom Thurmond and Wagener-Salley. One major difference between this year and the first run is the exclusion of teams outside of the CSRA.

“We’ve got more local teams this time,” said Mark Snelgrove, the Midland Valley head coach and tournament organizer. “We’ve got two teams from Georgia (Hepzibah and Lakeside), as well as Batesburg-Leesville. We’re hoping by keeping it local, that it will affect the gate.”

Last year’s tournament was primarily composed of area teams, as well as Charlotte-based Olympic High School, which had a roster that included three Division-I college recruits and went on to win the tournament.

“They were an excellent team. All you had to do was watch Olympic, and you could see they would win,” said Snelgrove, who considered inviting teams from Florida and Tennessee to this year’s Aiken County Challenge before deciding to stick closer to home because of one flaw with the talented visitors. “They didn’t bring anybody, so this year we went to Georgia.”

Making money by selling tickets to spectators is a big deal and one of the main goals of the tournament. Snelgrove said part of his desire to host such an event was to do all of the program’s fundraising in one fell swoop. It didn’t work out that way last year because all of the extra costs involved in running a tournament caused Midland Valley to break even. Snelgrove is optimistic about a greater return this time.

One major reason is because of the help he’s received. Specifically, area organizations have donated their services – or money – to reduce the amount of money Midland Valley has to spend on things like trophies as well as meals and hospitality. He’s also gotten help from the referees who will officiate the tournament and the security who will work the event, with both groups willing to reduce their fees to help the Midland Valley basketball program.

“This year, we’ve managed to reduce costs,” said Snelgrove, who has even bigger goals for the Aiken County Challenge.

“I’d like to see the thing grow, get more sponsorship and hopefully create interest in Aiken County schools. … I’d like to see this where scholarships are awarded. Not a huge amount, but a little something to help somebody.”

The other part of Snelgrove’s vision is to make this a benchmark event for Aiken area basketball teams that will be something they’ll want to participate in and something fans will want to watch. He said it could be successful in broadening basketball’s profile in the area.

And if nothing else, Snelgrove said he hopes it prepares his team for the rigors of the season.

“I would like to see – as we play three games in a row – better execution, take steps forward and be the best we can be when we start region,” Snelgrove said of his Mustang squad, which will play in today’s first game against Batesburg-Leesville. “We’ll see different styles of play, different defenses and different matchups.”

Today’s other games include a matchup between Wagener-Salley and Hepzibah, South Aiken and Strom Thurmond as well as Silver Bluff going against Lakeside.

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.

Tournament Schedule

(All games at Midland Valley High School)

Today’s Games

Game 1

• Midland Valley vs. Batesburg-Leesville, 4 p.m.

Game 2

• Wagener-Salley vs. Hepzibah, 5:30 p.m.

Game 3

• South Aiken vs. Strom Thurmond, 7 p.m.

Game 4

• Silver Bluff vs. Lakeside, 8:30 p.m.

Friday’s Games

Game 5

• Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser, 4 p.m.

Game 6

• Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser, 5:30 p.m.

Game 7

• Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner, 7 p.m.

Game 8

• Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday’s Games

Seventh-Place Game

• Game 5 Loser vs. Game 6 Loser, Noon

Fifth-Place Game

• Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 1:30 p.m.

Consolation Game

• Game 7 Loser vs. Game 8 Loser, 3 p.m.

Championship Game

• Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 4:30 p.m.