Oxford’s Tyler thankful for trip to Nation’s Capital
A trip of a lifetime that will challenge his program is how Oxford High boys basketball coach Drew Tyler looks at his post-Christmas tournament this year.
The Chargers will travel to Washington, D.C., from Dec. 26-30 to play two games against St. John’s College High and Bishop O’Connell. St. John’s is located in Washington, while Bishop O’Connell is located in nearby Arlington, Va.
“Their athletic programs (are) known for state championships, not just within basketball, but a lot like what we’ve done at Oxford with our All-Sports awards in our state,” Tyler said. “St. John’s Catholic in the D.C. area is known for their basketball program. Bishop O’Connell Catholic is a great program. Those will be two great games for us where we will be representing our team, our school, our town and our state.”
Oxford has routinely traveled to an out-of-town tournament under Tyler, who took the team to Missouri last year. The Chargers actually have the ability to go out of state two times this year —just before Thanksgiving for the Florida-Mississippi Challenge — and then up to the nation’s capital.
That scenario has been made possible thanks to Jon Desler, the owner of The Library Sports Bar, who attended St. John’s before playing football at Ole Miss.
“I had the idea for this the past four years,” Desler said. “My really good friend from growing up is the athletics director now, and that’s how it all got setup this year. I’m going into the Hall of Fame at St. John’s this year, and so it was all kind of good timing. Drew’s team is also going to be really, really good. It just all kind of fell together.”
Desler said that he and others from the community were working on collecting donations for the trip. He added that he had a connection with a limousine service that would bus the team around, while his connections with Marriott would help garner rooms for the team.
Desler said he keeps up with the Chargers through Tyler and through Oxford High athletics director Johnny Hill, whose son, Walt, played football with Desler at Ole Miss.
“I also have four kids, and they’re going to start getting into the system so I might as well start now, right?” said Desler, who was hoping that the Chargers won both games. “I told Drew that this was a great experience for the kids, especially if they go on to play later in college. They can just learn to prepare from it, plus see a lot of great places in D.C.”
The high level of competition just before the start of region play was the biggest pro Tyler saw with the extended trip.
“I look at 5A basketball in the state of Mississippi as some of the best basketball in the country,” Tyler said. “When you look at the 5A rosters during the school year in Mississippi and then you look at the AAU rosters, those same kids are showing up on all those AAU rosters in all these big-time summer tournaments.”
Callaway, the program that has won the last three Class 5A state titles, is playing in one of the nation’s top tournaments during the 2014-15 season.
“As far as the travel and what they’re getting to experience, I think our kids will experience those type perks on our D.C. trip. I really do,” Tyler said. “From the team being on the court, to off the court, to flying from one airport to the other. The team bonding that will take place, and has taken place in past years on all of our out-of-state tournaments, has been great. This will be the first time that Oxford boys basketball gets to experience flying as a team and going to the D.C. area and representing our school.”
Tyler showed great thanks to Desler for helping get the trip up and going, and to Pat Ward, Desler’s friend, for formally inviting the Chargers up for the two games.
“Jon loves sports, and he’s really anchored himself in this community. He has really helped our program out, and he is all-Blue and Gold as far as this trip is concerned,” Tyler said. “He’s shouldering the load for the financial responsibilities. We are already fundraising inside our basketball program for a pre-Thanksgiving tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. This tournament is coming at the right time because we have so many kids returning, and we’re senior-based. We have a lot of talent in-house.”
Tyler added that, because money is currently being raised for the new turf at Bobby Holcomb Field, having Desler and others contribute funds gives relief to the community from adding another request on.
“This takes a little fundraising off our program to where we can really concentrate on the things that we need right here, like putting weights in our weight room and taking advantage of our new weight room in our new gym,” Tyler said. “We can also focus on fundraising for that Fort Walton trip, so this is huge for our basketball program. I just don’t think you can take a big break at Christmas time. It’s always been a part of our routine. It’s in the middle of our season, and we’ve got to get ready for division play. And what better way to do it against a 12-month program?”