Simeon has been playing in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament since 1995.

Simeon has been playing in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament since 1995. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / December 29, 2012)

PONTIAC, Ill. — Jim Drengwitz remembers the phone that didn't ring.

It was fall 2006, and Drengwitz, the director of what is touted as the nation's oldest holiday basketball tournament, assumed he'd have to find a replacement for Pontiac's biggest draw.

"When Derrick Rose was a senior I was waiting for a phone call from those guys saying they had an opportunity to go to Palm Springs or Portland for a big shootout, or somewhere else," Drengwitz said.

"Peoria Manual has been coming here forever, but when they had Sergio McClain, Frank Williams and Marcus Griffin they went to the King Cotton one year and came back.

"But I never got a call from (Simeon coach) Robert Smith. When they showed up the first day I told him how much I appreciated it because I knew he could have gone anywhere. He said, '(Former Simeon coach) Bob Hambric always taught me to take care of the people who take care of you.' They have been loyal to us."

Simeon has been going to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament since 1995, and every new year invitations arrive from far more glamorous places than the home of Illinois' Route 66 museum.

Drengwitz said he offers Simeon the same profit-sharing percentage — zero — as the other 15 schools that participate.

The Wolverines could go to Florida, South Carolina, California — even Hawaii.

"That one was tough to pass up," Smith said.

Not as tough as leaving Pontiac.

"I listened to other people's phone calls, but deep down this is the place I want to be," Smith said. "The environment is a hotbed right now. Kids enjoy watching us play, and not just Simeon. They enjoy basketball. It is just different."

'The greatest spectacle in basketball'

What this quiet Central Illinois town of about 12,000 lacks in excitement or weather it makes up for in basketball history.

It is fitting that Simeon's drive to join Peoria Manual as the only schools to win four consecutive Illinois high school state championships includes a stop here.

Peoria Manual and the great Quincy teams led by Michael Payne and Keith and Bruce Douglas are the only programs to win this tournament five straight times.

Aside from Simeon, which won three straight here during the Rose era and was playing for its third straight Saturday, Centralia is the only other school to take home the Century Bowl Trophy for winning three consecutive championships.

"They call the Indianapolis 500 the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing," said Frank Arnolts, who planned to take a front-row seat for his 53rd consecutive championship game Saturday night. "I call this tournament the greatest spectacle in basketball.

"Our whole town gets behind this. It takes a community effort to make this happen. We do the little stuff to make our tournament better. It is a small-town atmosphere, and I think everyone likes that."

Favorite moments

Arnolts remembers an awful lot, including the afro.