The holiday cookouts would have to wait. Hundreds of families spent the bulk of their Memorial Day weekend in gymnasiums across Valencia County, as athletes competed in the fifth annual Kenny Thomas I-25 Showcase Basketball Tournament.

Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Youth teams from New Mexico and neighboring states competed in the I-25 Kenny Thomas Showcase Basketball Tournament.

More than 200 teams from around New Mexico, nearby states and Mexico, took part in the three-day event, with an estimated 1,600 youngsters hitting the hardwood.

What about spending so much time in the gym?

“I think we’re used to it,” Marta Pereira said with a laugh. “It’s exciting to see the kids play and enjoy themselves. It’s been friendly,” Periera added as she watched her son compete for an Albuquerque fourth-grade team.

Thomas, the University of New Mexico great who played 11 seasons in the NBA, became associated with the Showcase three years ago. The partnership with the city of Belen started after a suggestion by the late Kelvin Scarborough, who starred at UNM in the 1980s.

Former UNM and NBA player Kenny Thomas was a popular ambassador at the I-25 Showcase.

“That’s exactly how it happened,” Thomas recalled. “It was at one of my basketball clinics that Scar ran.”

Scarborough recommended Thomas connect with Joshua Kerns, Belen’s parks and recreation director.

“It was nice because there’s a lot of different things that we both bring to the table,” Thomas said.

The Showcase started in 2018.

“It had 55 teams the first year,” Kerns recalled. “I remember, people did not think a tournament could happen in Belen, that teams wouldn’t come to Belen.”

The relationship has led to several other youth tournaments around New Mexico, including in the Santa Fe area and Hobbs, with a focus on future events in Las Cruces and Albuquerque.

“The nice thing about it is it’s for boys and girls,” Thomas said, while highlighting the exposure it gives older players. “It goes all the way down to little kids and it goes all the way up to high school.”

Among those benefiting are Valencia County businesses, the city of Belen, local scholarship recipients and school athletic programs, which oversee gyms and concessions.

“We have shifts. We work at the games and clean around the school,” said Jordi Calderon, who played for the Valencia High School junior varsity during the tournament. “The weekend has been really fun and exciting.”

Thomas was swarmed by parents and kids as he toured the 18 gyms, signing autographs and taking selfies.

“It brings a big ‘wow’ factor to this tournament, especially with the younger kids,” Kerns said about Thomas’ celebrity.

Thomas seems to enjoy it.

“You have to start with our youth first and the way I was raised you have to give back to receive more blessings,” he said.

Recent Los Lunas High School graduate Adrianna Gaerlan is the recipient of the first $500 Kenny Thomas Legacy I-25 scholarship.

Champions were crowned in 16 divisions. The Grinders from Los Lunas captured the girls’ sixth-grade title, while Belen Elite won the C team girls’ division.

Kenny Thomas I-25 Showcase Basketball Tournament team champions

Third-grade boys: Thrive-El Paso

Fourth-grade boys: Flight Force-Albuquerque

Fourth and fifth-grade girls: Lady Rumble-El Paso

Fifth-grade boys: FFA-Albuquerque

Sixth-grade boys: GS Ballerz-Amarillo

Sixth-grade girls: Grinders-Los Lunas

Seventh-grade boys: Viggo-Chihuahua, Mexico

Seventh-grade girls: Texas Lady Armor-El Paso

Eighth-grade boys: ABC Spotlight-Albuquerque

Eighth-grade girls: Enchantment-Albuquerque

C team boys: FFA-Albuquerque

C team girls: Belen Elite-Belen

JV boys: Konfidential Elite-Clovis

JV girls: FFA-Albuquerque

Varsity boys: SAHQ-Albuquerque

Varsity girls: FFA-Albuquerque

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.