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Watch now: The Decatur Turkey Tournament begins another half century after year away

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DECATUR — Although the Decatur Turkey Tournament didn’t get to tip off in 2020 due to COVID-19, the long-time Soy City tradition begins the 2021 edition on Tuesday with a strong financial backing and unusual roster of teams.

“Nobody anticipated planning a public event during a pandemic and things that in the past were an easy automatic check that box and now that box might not be checked the next day,” Turkey Tournament director Mel Roustio said. “I was happy that our corporate and business leaders and sponsors through the years responded beautifully and didn’t miss a beat. They helped us as if nothing had happened. We are grateful for that.”

RJ Walker

During the 2019 Decatur Turkey Tournament, Eisenhower's RJ Walker heads to the basket against a Peoria High defender. The 2021 edition of the tournament begins on Tuesday. 

Caterpillar returns as the tournament’s presenting sponsor for the second time after it took the place of long-time sponsor Team Soy Capital, who ended its sponsorship after merging with First Mid Bank in 2018.

Along with an increase in security at this year’s Turkey Tournament, fans and players will need to be wearing masks while inside Stephen Decatur Middle School.

“Coming off of the unfortunate decisions that we had to make to cancel the tournament last year, we knew that we would have to deal with changing and fluid CDC protocols and we would have to negotiate those hurdles as we went along,” Roustio said.

But COVID-19 is still affecting the tournament. Champaign Central had to pull out of the tournament last week because of positive cases among the players. Bolingbrook will bring its junior varsity team that will serve as a replacement team for Central and they will face MacArthur in the opening round game on Wed. at 7:30 p.m.

Roustio_Mel 11.27.19.JPG

Turkey Tournament coordinator Mel Roustio watches MacArthur's game with and Springfield Southeast in 2019 at Stephen Decatur Middle School. Roustio has been the coordinator of the tournament since 2001.

The increased tournament security measures had been discussed previously but were not implemented until this year.

“As you look around the nation, I think the time has come to respond to circumstances. I think there have been calls for us to be more proactive,” Roustio said. “I think it begins with wanding everyone that enters the contest to make people feel comfortable and safe. We also have great security there and we think this is an added tool.”

The theme of security will also be seen in the selection of the tournament grand marshals — former Macon County Sheriff Tony Brown and former Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz.

“We try to take the Turkey Tournament to another level in highlighting special people over the years. This year is no different and we will lift up law enforcement,” Roustio said.

Brown and Getz will be recognized Tuesday. On Wednesday, Amber Oberheim, the wife of slain Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim, and her four daughters will be honored. Chris Oberheim’s partner Jeffrey Creel will also be honored.

Also being recognized during the tournament are retired Decatur police officer Doug Allen and Calvin Carson, who began Decatur’s Big Kings basketball program.

The tournament begins Tuesday with opening round games continuing on Wednesday. Championship and consolation semifinals take place on Friday with the championship game tipping off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten


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