ELDORADO – Martin Duffy of New Haven can tell you where he's been this time of year for the past 51 years.
That's because Duffy has been to every Eldorado Holiday Tournament game since the first year in 1965, when it was a four-team blind draw tournament between Eldorado, Norris City, Ridgway and Carrier Mills.
To say that first championship game had an effect on a 10-year-old boy from Gallatin County is an understatement.
"I came with Ron 'Moose' Stallings' family, and I remember when Terry Thompson got 42 in that game," Duffy said Wednesday evening as he watched a consolation bracket contest between West Frankfort and Union County, Ky. "He made a half-court jump shot right before the half. I remember it like it was yesterday."
Since the first game of that first tournament, he hasn't missed.
There are a lot of games in 52 years of basketball tournaments, but Duffy remembers them all. Some of those memories are a little stronger, though. He was a senior on the Ridgway Eagles team when they won the 1972 tournament.
"I can tell you, it was a last-second tip-in by Dennis Pierce that won the game," he said. "It came off a missed shot by Brent Browning."
Being on the winning team that year was a little more special than usual, Duffy said.
"That year, we won the tournament on my birthday," he said. "My birthday's on the 29th (of December) and that and this tournament make it my favorite week of the year."
The Illinois High School Association inducted Duffy into its Hall of Fame as a Friend of Basketball earlier this year for his dedication to the sport, an honor that he said humbled him. A significant part of that decision was his history with the EHT.
"What can I say? I've seen'em all," he said with a grin.
Tuesday evening, as he continued to watch the consolation semi-final, his voice was hoarse when he would talk. The reason?
"The best game in recent years was last night, when Gallatin County won over Massac County," Duffy said. "I don't have my voice back, as you can tell."
Since the early 1980s, he's been a fixture in the reserved seats at the north end of the court, and a fixture on the court in between games and at trophy time. As an insurance and financial representative for Country Financial, he throws out promotional mini-basketballs to children, and he hands out the trophies to the top teams at the end. Plus, players and cheerleaders from the tournament remember him, he said.
"I'll have someone who was a cheerleader several years ago run into me somewhere and say she remembers me from the Eldorado tournament," Duffy said.
For a Southern Illinois basketball fan, being known as a tournament mainstay is just one of the small pleasures of watching each year, he said.
"I tell people this is the best deal in basketball anywhere," he said. "You get 26 games of basketball in three days' time. You can't beat it."