LYNN — If there’s one thing Bill Booras is passionate about in his role as director of the Harry Agganis National Hellenic Invitational Basketball Tournament, it’s preserving the Agganis legacy.
Booras, who has served as the tournament’s director since 1981, has made it a priority to use the tournament as a way to keep the Agganis memory alive in the Greek community.
“Harry used to play basketball for the Greek church,” Booras, a Lynn native, said. “It was a small church league. The local churches used to play. So they started the basketball tournament. It started with local churches; Woburn, Lowell, Lynn, Haverhill, Peabody. The idea was to keep us together. We’re a small group of people, there aren’t many Greeks in the country. We’re using basketball as a vehicle.”
The tournament has run since 1956, the year after Agganis died at the age of 26. Booras has vivid memories of watching Agganis play on TV for the Red Sox. He remembers Agganis as both a gifted and humble athlete.
“He packed Manning Bowl,” Booras said. “In 1952-1953, 20,000 people used to come watch him play football with the Lynn Classical team at Manning Bowl. That was a big deal. Harry was a natural. And he happened to be a nice guy.
“When Harry graduated from Boston University, 50 teams were looking for him,” Booras said. “Baseball teams, football teams, he could’ve gone anywhere. He could have replaced the famous Otto Graham from the Cleveland Browns. But he said ‘I have to stay home, near my mother.’ So he chose to play for the Red Sox.”
This past weekend, the tournament saw its 63rd running. Games were played at St. Mary’s, Fecteau-Leary and at the memorial gymnasium named for him at St. George Greek Orthodox Church Community Center.
Since its first year, the tournament has expanded to include teams from all over the country.
“We’ve been doing this for 63 years,” Booras said. “Good years, great years, some not so great years. But we’ve been able to do it every year. Somewhere down the line it expanded and we were able to bring in teams from Denver, Philadelphia, New York. This year we have three teams from New York and one from Chicago.”
For the past 14 years, the tournament has honored a participant with the George K. Mazareas Recognition Award. Mazareas, who’s fighting a battle against ALS, is a former member of the Lynn School Committee and played in multiple Agganis Tournaments.
This year’s award was presented to Kirk Vidas, from Chicago. Vidas attended Gordon Tech High where he was a 2-year starter for NBA coach Bob Ociepka. After graduating high school, Vidas earned a basketball scholarship to Upper Iowa University, where he scored more than 1,500 points. He was inducted into Upper Iowa’s athletics hall of fame in 1994.
“Kirk’s very worthy of the award,” Booras said. “Every year we put together a list of names. We check in with Mr. Mazareas himself.”
Vidas, who made the trip from Chicago to play in this year’s tournament, participated in a handful of past Agganis Tournaments and competed against Mazareas. The two have held a friendship for over 35 years.
“I’m deeply honored,” Vidas said. “The fact that I would be chosen to represent someone with such a will to live is just incredible. I feel honored and humbled. I hope I can encourage people to strive to be the best they can be.”
Booras hopes the tournament’s participants will draw inspiration from Agganis.
“Harry’s one of our patron kids,” Booras said. “That’s why we have a big picture of him on our wall. What you hope is that every once in a while a kid will look at that, get inspired and maybe reach for heights too. That’s the idea.”