Many of the athletes competing in this year's Neosho Holiday Classic basketball tournament may have been far from home, but that didn't mean they had to go without a hot, home-cooked meal come dinnertime.
Several local churches made sure the players were well fed while in town for the tournament, and brought in homemade meals Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Racine Christian Church, Rocketdyne Road Church of Christ, Abundant Life, Northside Baptist, and First Baptist Church each contributed to or brought in entire meals to keep the players' hospitality room filled with food in the evenings.
"It makes it nice for the kids to have something home-cooked," said Miranda Oxendine, a Branco Enterprises staff member who spent the week working in the hospitality room.
Robin Enslow, also a volunteer in the hospitality room, said they had been feeding around 150 players per night, at least.
"They all come in at least once," Enslow said, noting that the players seem appreciative of the home-cooked meals. "You hear 'Oh, that looks good!' a lot."
The nighttime meals had themes, with a potluck night, Italian night, soups and chili night and the week capped off with a Mexican food night.
Joshua Babb, marketing coordinator at Branco, said tournament organizers began partnering with local churches about three years ago, to cut down on tournament expenses, as well as to provide a more welcoming environment for the players.
"We want to be good stewards of this tournament as tournament sponsors," Babb said. "We've really been dedicated to not upping the ticket prices. We've had pretty steady ticket prices for at least four years, probably longer. So, we're trying to find ways to cut costs and make this tournament efficient and that was one of the ideas we generated a few years ago."
Babb said the extra help from area churches not only impacts the ticket prices, but is also a hit among the players who participate in the Neosho Holiday Classic.
"It has been a great success," Babb said. "Not only does it help with the cost of the tournament but the players love having hot, home cooked meals. It's again that hospitality that we're trying to put out there with this tournament. It just makes it feel like a more cozy, homey, feel-good tournament."
Tournament organizers also offered a hospitality room for coaches, which was kept stocked by local donations, and tournament sponsors.
The 58th annual Neosho Holiday Classic kicked off on Wednesday, Dec. 26 and ran through Saturday, Dec. 29.
The tournament drew a total of 14 boys' teams and 12 girls' teams from across the state, as well as from Arkansas, Tennessee and Kansas.