In the fall of 1988 Michael Kelleher, a Gonzaga parent, proposed that Gonzaga host a holiday basketball tournament in Washington, DC. He enlisted the support of the Gonzaga Fathers’ Club, formed a committee of interested Gonzaga fathers, and began work in earnest. On December 20, 1989, the Gonzaga DC Classic made its debut. While the inaugural teams were only four in number, they were some of the best in Washington and Baltimore: Gonzaga, DeMatha, Coolidge and Dunbar Baltimore. Future college stars Robert Churchwell, Duane Simpkins, Vaughn Jones, Donta Bright and Keith Boothe played in that first tournament.
Through dedication and hard work Mike and his first committee laid the groundwork for the future success of the tournament. Their efforts have been richly rewarded. The tournament has grown to a field of eight teams playing twelve games over three days. Numerous nationally ranked teams and high school All Americans have played in the tournament. College coaches and scouts from around the country come to see the games and players. It has increased in stature and popularity to the point where it is one of the most widely known and prestigious holiday tournaments in the country.
Mike took great pleasure in seeing high school players from a multitude of teams visit our Nation’s Capitol and enjoy the competition and fun of the tournament. He was proud of what the tournament stood for and its accomplishments. It was his firm belief that we of the Tournament Committee should, through the tournament, promote the Jesuit ideal of being “men for others.”
Mike’s sudden death in 1996, while a tremendous loss to Gonzaga, caused us to rededicate ourselves to the tournament and to its purposes.
The proceeds of the tournament have always been used to support any number of local charities such as Children’s Hospital and the McKenna Center. Additionally, during the past ten years, proceeds have been used to fund all of the service projects in which Gonzaga students are involved. These projects are local, national and international in scope. Gonzaga students have volunteered in the Washington metropolitan area, Camden, Philadelphia, Florida, Appalachia, Puerto Rico, Mexico and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Last summer students traveled to Santiago in the Dominican Republic to work with Haitian refugees and Dominicans. Through such opportunities students learn that service to those in need should be an integral part of their lives.
The Tournament Committee is deeply grateful to the many friends and sponsors who have so generously supported the tournament over these past years. Without their kindness and generosity this tournament could not have succeeded.