The bonding experience is great. The chance to play with some of the best girls and boys senior basketball players is memorable.
But when it comes right down to it, the winners of the annual Optimist All-Star games come away just a little more satisfied.
Tonight at Center High School, the North girls prevailed over the South 95-90 in a marvelously entertaining game in front of a good crowd considering the charity event was going head-to-head with the NCAA men's basketball Final Four.
We're also not sure if it's a first - the girls put more points on the scoreboard than the boys as the South boys defeated the North 97-87 in the nightcap.
The girls game had a little bit of everything. Rallies and runs. Astute coaching moves. Athletic plays from the renowned and the unsung.
"It was awesome practicing and playing with these girls," said North MVP Crystal Sewell of Del Oro, who led her team with 17 points. "It was a great experience and winning makes it even better."
Said South MVP Briana Charles of St. Francis who had a game-high 26 points: "I wanted to win so bad tonight, but it was a good game. We came back twice, which showed our chemistry."
It twice looked as if the North was going to run the South out of the gym. The North jumped to an early 13-point lead and led throughout the first half until Charles scored on a layup just before the buzzer to put the South ahead 42-41.
The North opened the second half with a 15-0 run as the South missed its first 18 shots.
But the South, behind some sizzling three-point shooting (eight in the second half) rallied to go ahead 66-65 with 9:38 to play on two Jolise Limcaco (St. Francis) free throws.
The teams traded leads until a Jordie Smith (Bradshaw Christian) layup with two minutes to play put the North ahead to stay 88-87. Antelope's Taylor Hawkins then secured the win by hitting three consecutive baskets, a layup on a no-look pass from Rio Linda's Sariah Louden, a putback of a teammate's miss and another layup from a Sewell assist.
The 6-foot-3 Hawkins finished with 14 points and Del Oro's Madeline Campbell added 12 points for the North.
For the South, Vista del Lago's Amara Wainwright added 15 points and Davis' Malika and Khaliya Wilkins combined for 21 points.
After the game, North coach Mike Takayama was inducted into the Optimist Hall of Fame for his 25 years of coaching at Del Oro. This season his Golden Eagles, his best team, went 27-5 and finished as Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF Northern Regional championship runners-up to nationally ranked St. Mary's of Stockton.
Takayama also got to coach is trio of stars - Campbell, Sewell and Belle Obert - for one last time.
"They had to carry me for one more game, and they definitely did their job," Takayama said. "It was a nice way to end the season for us. It was a special year."
Charles, who helped keep her team in the game, especially from the foul line where she made 12 of 15 shots, said playing in the Optimist Game was special.
"You hear about these girls and you read about them in the paper," Charles said. "I just think it's neat that the best of the best are able to get together and test each other's strengths."
In the boys game, the test for the North players was how they would deal with the South's 6-11 Robert Garrett of Sacramento High.
It didn't go so well.
The Santa Clara-bound post muscled his way for 21 points, blocked shots and rebounded with authority in earning the South team's MVP honors. Woodcreek's John Peska received the North team's MVP award with a team-high 18 points, including five three-pointers.
The South dominated from the start, although the North did close to 66-64 on two J.T. Adenrele (Oakmont) free throws with 9:42 to play.
But a Garrett dunk and layup sandwiched between a Darrell Polee Jr. layup and free throw ended the North's threat.
Polee, from tiny Global Youth Charter in Antelope, had 14 points and Franklin's Chuks Iroegbu 11 for the South.
Granite Bay's Robert Duncan and Jonathan Davis had 16 and 12 points, respectively, for the North.
- Bill Paterson