The seventh annual Scottish Islands Basketball Tournament takes place in Orkney today (Friday). This is the first time that this marvellously ambitious event, introduced by Skye PE teacher Bill Edgar, has moved outside the Western Isles.
Edgar organised the first four tournaments at Portree High with teams coming from Barra, Benbecula, Islay, Lewis and Harris, Mull and Bute before the first switch of venue to the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway in 1994, when Alastair Dunlop acted as host.
Orkney hoped to be represented that year but was isolated by heavy snow on the mainland.
Hopes were high last week that the move to Orkney, where Adrian Askew has taken on the daunting task of organiser, would encourage participation for the first time from Shetland. Whether the Shetlanders get there or not, both Kirkwall Grammar and Stromness Academy, the latter making their debut, are competing in the open boys and open girls events, as are the Nicolson Institute and Portree High.
Turning adversity into opportunity, Castlebay Community High from Barra have decided to attend with their girls team after they were unexpectedly knocked out of the schoolgirls open cup by Grangemouth High in the semi-finals.
A number of the more southerly teams will not be going, however, daunted by distance and costs: the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness costs Pounds 22 per pupil, with vehicles extra.
Edgar reckons that the trip will cost almost Pounds 600 for his teams even though Orkney has arranged free accommodation. "The pupils pay something, we have done a lot of fund-raising and we have had a grant from the local sports council," he says. "It is a shame that some teams won't be there this year but it is encouraging that other new ones have come in."
Barra coach John McCallum had hoped to be taking his team to the schools finals which take place this weekend at Meadowbank Sports Centre in Edinburgh. Instead there will be another six-hour ferry journey, followed by a five-hour drive and a further two-hour ferry crossing and another drive.
McCallum has had several marathon journeys this winter and has ensured that teams do not lose out on school work by organising classes on board ship. Even a heavy swell is no excuse for absence.
Alastair Dunlop from the Nicolson Institute is bravely supporting both this weekend's tournaments, the under-15 girls having reached the final of the new Scottish schools competition. He will send girls and boys teams to Orkney.
It is hard to imagine teams from central Scotland showing such dedication, although in fairness Portobello High did travel to Stornoway earlier this season for a girls cup tie.
Perhaps it would be too much to expect that the Scottish finals can be held just once at a venue slightly more convenient for the outlying areas, but at least the Four Countries under-18 mens championships are being held in Inverness on April 13-14, the first time a British basketball championship has been held in the Highlands.
An introductory schools clinic will be held for children from primaries 6-7 and S1-S2. Further information is available from Alistair MacKinley at Tain Royal Academy.