Football isn’t the only sport with a strong Thanksgiving tradition in Wichita Falls.
Basketball holds its own special place in the hearts of many Wichitans with many opting to work off their Turkey Day excesses by taking in the Fantasy of Lights Basketball Tournament in gyms across the city.
But that tradition has come to an abrupt end.
The Fantasy of Lights has ceased operations after executive director Carmen Lozipone opted to discontinue the tournament due to the rising cost of renting gyms, finding people to work the tournament and other factors.
“They priced me out of it,” Lozipone said. “Midwestern State was raising the rent on me for this year, and I finally decided that was the last straw. I couldn’t get people to work the clock and keep the book. I could have made it where the home team had to provide the clock keeper, but I always wanted our tournament to be full service.
“There just hasn’t been enough interest from the city of Wichita Falls. We were losing too much money every year.”
Lozipone took over the tournament in 2003 when the Retired Teachers Association no longer wanted to host it. The Fantasy of Lights was started in 1981 by John Seddon, who used it as a fundraiser for the Southwest Kiwanis Club until it disbanded and then was taken on by the Retired Teachers Association.
The tournament often featured several of the area’s top basketball with each Wichita Falls ISD team typically among the field. At its height, the Fantasy of Lights boasted a 92-team field with 155 games played in two days at 11 gyms across Wichita Falls.
The tournament had scaled back in recent years, opting for quality over quantity, and several state championship squads, particularly in the girls brackets, had competed and won the tournament.
But the absence of several local programs from the tournament field, namely Burkburnett, has also been notable.
Lozipone doesn’t envision the return of the tournament, at least not with him at the helm of it.
“It breaks my heart,” Lozipone said, “but I felt it was something I had to do. I wasn’t getting the support I needed to keep it going. I was part of the tournament for 26 years. It absolutely breaks my heart for it to end.”