Kenyon: Karp’s Klassic youth basketball tournament resumes in new location

The New London Outing Club girls third- and fourth-grade basketball team celebrates their close win at the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Players Piper Cote, Ryleigh Turcotte and Addie Stone react with assistant Beth Hansen. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The New London Outing Club girls third- and fourth-grade basketball team celebrates their close win at the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Players Piper Cote, Ryleigh Turcotte and Addie Stone react with assistant Beth Hansen. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Before the start of their game, Lyme players Joe Simpson, left, and Jack Thompson watch from the bleachers during the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Simpson had just put on his new pair of sneakers for their game. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Before the start of their game, Lyme players Joe Simpson, left, and Jack Thompson watch from the bleachers during the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Simpson had just put on his new pair of sneakers for their game. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Jeremy Chiasson, left, and Paul Karp watch a basketball game on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Chiasson is one of the directors of Karp’s Klassic, an end-of-the-season recreational basketball tournament which Karp founded. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jeremy Chiasson, left, and Paul Karp watch a basketball game on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. Chiasson is one of the directors of Karp’s Klassic, an end-of-the-season recreational basketball tournament which Karp founded. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Sanborton's Emma Patsfield, left, and New London Outing Club's Skylin Parthum chase after a loose ball during the girls third- and fourth-grade basketball game during the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Sanborton's Emma Patsfield, left, and New London Outing Club's Skylin Parthum chase after a loose ball during the girls third- and fourth-grade basketball game during the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Paul Karp records the results of a girls third- and fourth-grade basketball game at the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Paul Karp records the results of a girls third- and fourth-grade basketball game at the Karp’s Klassic on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 03-19-2024 4:45 PM

It’s mud season and Paul Karp is back where he belongs: In the far corner of a basketball gym with his “bible,” watching hundreds of kids play in the end-of-winter recreational tournament that bears his name.

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s debacle with the Carter Community Building Association, the Karp’s Klassic returned last week and runs through March 31 at its new venue.

The 41st edition of the tournament — the Upper Valley’s version of March Madness with 50-something games spread over 18 days — is being played at Lebanon High School’s Lang Metcalf Gymnasium and next door at Hanover Street School.

More than 40 youth teams, some of which travel more than an hour to Lebanon, have entered the tournament for grades 3-8.

After a three-year layoff, “I thought for sure it wouldn’t work out,” Karp told me.

“It was a struggle, but we got it back,” added Larry Chiasson, who has been helping Karp with the tournament since it began in 1979 at Hanover High School.

With pandemic restrictions loosened, the plan was to restart the tournament last March at the Witherell Recreation Center in downtown Lebanon. The crown jewel of the nonprofit CCBA, the Witherell Center had hosted the tournament since the building opened in 1987.

Karp, who grew up in Lebanon, and the CCBA had always worked on a handshake agreement. He’d get use of the second-floor gym on weekends and a few weeknights for much of March. In exchange, the tournament’s proceeds would go to the CCBA’s youth scholarship fund.

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The Karp’s Classic raised more than $150,000 for the CCBA over the years. The money paid for kids to attend summer camps, take swim lessons and participate in other CCBA activities that some families couldn’t afford without help.

But before the 2023 tournament could be scheduled, the CCBA insisted on a more formal agreement, starting with Karp purchasing liability insurance, which he’d never had to do before under the organization’s old management.

“It got frustrating working with the other entity,” said Rich Tobin, another longtime Karp’s Klassic volunteer.

As you can see, people involved with the Karp’s Klassic avoid even mentioning the CCBA by name. “The kids are playing, that’s all that matters,” Chiasson said.

I asked Kerry Artman, the CCBA’s executive director since 2020, how the organization planned to make up the $5,000 to $7,000 the Karp’s Klassic contributed annually to the scholarship fund and why the relationship had soured.

“We were happy to hear they found a new space to continue,” Artman wrote in a one-sentence reply.

The CCBA’s loss is the Lebanon School District’s gain. This year’s proceeds will benefit the district’s youth programs. With this year’s tournament being a slimmed down version (no adult teams), Karpy, as he’s known around the community, isn’t sure if the event can reach that mark but it won’t be for lack of trying.

The school district has been an enthusiastic partner. It agreed not to charge a rental fee for the two gyms, requiring Karp to only pay for custodians.

“All I had to do was mention it was for the Karp’s Klassic,” said volunteer Ralph Horak, who ran point on working out details with school officials.

Lebanon High Principal Ian Smith coached his children’s teams in the tournament so he knew its history.

“This is a selfless effort on the part of Karpy and his crew to do something good for kids and the community,” Smith told me. “There’s no financial interest in it for them.”

To sort through the issue of liability insurance, Karp turned to Gary Mayo, former owner of A.B. Gile insurance agency who remains in the business. Mayo, who has arranged insurance for the annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl high school all-star game for decades, found coverage for Karp.

“The Karp’s Klassic is an institution, and it needed to continue,” Mayo said.

Karp, who turns 74 next month, is lining up a younger generation of volunteers, headed by Jeremy and Alissa Chiasson, of Lebanon, to solidify the tournament’s future.

Jeremy grew up watching his father, Larry, and mother, Nancy, serve among the army of volunteers. He understands what the tournament means to Lebanon’s old guard. The most valuable player, sportsmanship, unsung player awards — and a bevy of others — handed out at tournament’s end not only honor kids for their achievements, they also pay tribute to the names on the trophies. Metcalf, the legendary Lebanon High boys’ basketball coach, Fred Legere, a longtime basketball and football referee, and Jim Wechsler, a fixture in youth sports, are among those who shouldn’t be forgotten.

The “team player award” is named after Margaret Karp, who made sure her son and his volunteers didn’t go hungry on game nights.

The names are all in the bible — a three-ring binder filled with pages of tournament history, rules and schedules — that Karp carries into the gym and keeps on a table in “Karpy’s Corner.”

On Saturday, as afternoon was turning to evening, Sue Karp took a break from selling $2 admission tickets at the door to check on her husband at his corner table.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

“A water would be great, thank you,” he said.

That morning, Karp had arrived at the gym before 8 and wouldn’t leave until after dark. He’d put in another 12-hour day on Sunday.

“We have a cot out back for Karpy,” joked referee Blake Colter, who oversees more than a dozen state certified officials who work the games.

“It’ s not just me,” Karp said. “I started the tournament, but a lot of people have put a lot of time into making it a success.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.