History of the Concordia Invitational Tournament
The Concordia Invitational Tournament is the creation of Coach Eldon “Pete” Pederson of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. In the fall of 1950, Pederson developed the idea of a basketball tournament involving The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s four culminating schools: the teachers’ colleges in Seward, Neb., and River Forest, Ill., and the seminaries in Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo.
The inaugural tournament was held in St. Louis March 9-10, 1951. Besides Pederson, Don Dinkmeyer of River Forest, Luther Schwich of Seward, and Ronald Wagner of Springfield were the coaches in this new tournament’s trial run. St. Louis defeated River Forest, 50-40, to win the championship. The response to the tournament was so overwhelming that it became an annual event. The site of the tournament rotated so that each institution would have the opportunity to serve as the host.
New teams, women take to the hardcourt
Concordia Seminary, Springfield, dropped its intercollegiate athletics program in 1963. Westmar College in Le Mars, Iowa, and Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind., participated until 1967 when Concordia St. Paul, having just become a four-year college, entered the tournament as the fourth participant.
The women’s basketball tournament was introduced in 1965 in River Forest with a single game between the Seward “Lady Bulldogs” and the River Forest “Kittens.” In 1971, St. Paul was invited to participate in a three-team round-robin tournament. The tournament went to a four-team format in 1973, with the host school responsible for inviting the fourth team. St. Louis School of Nursing, Concordia Milwaukee, Augsburg College, Maryville College, Dana College, North Park College, St. John’s Winfield, Concordia Portland and Concordia Mequon have all participated as the fourth team.
A new beginning and a gracious farewell marked 1994. After 42 years of participation, and winning 16 championships (the last coming in 1973), Concordia Seminary, St. Louis withdrew from the tournament. The Concordia Mequon men’s team began its first year of competition in the tournament after being invited to fill the slot vacated by St. Louis. The Concordia Mequon women’s team had been the fourth invited team since 1990.
One final change came about as St. Paul switched their affiliation to NCAA Division II and thus competed in their final tournament in 2001. Concordia Ann Arbor was invited to fill their position and began play in 2002. Coinciding with this change, the site rotation was changed so that Ann Arbor did not have the burden of hosting in their initial appearance, and Mequon assumed the host’s role for 2002 with Ann Arbor following in 2003.
CIT traveling trophies
Aid Association for Lutherans donated the tournament’s traveling trophy in 1957. Designed by Dr. Adalbert Kretzmann, the trophy stands not only as a symbol of tournament victory, but is also inscribed with the true meaning of athletics among the Concordias: “Inaugurated to sponsor the highest ideals in competitive athletics, in fullest conformity with the Spirit of Christ and its demand in the lives of Christian men.”
In 1981, Aid Association for Lutherans donated a traveling trophy for the women. The champions of the tournament are in custody of the trophy until the subsequent tournament.
All-tournament teams for men have been selected since 1959. The All-Tournament Team includes two members from the championship team, in addition to one member from each of the other participating teams. In 1962, the River Forest Cougar Club donated a most valuable player trophy, and it soon became a permanent part of the tournament awards presentation. In 1977, the women adopted the same tournament format and awards presentation.
The Concordia Invitational Tournament was originally scheduled as a post-season tournament but, due to conflicts with conference, district and national tournaments, it was cancelled in 1976 and moved to the end of January in 1977. In 1990, the tournament was moved to early December as an experiment. The December date was immediately unpopular with the fans, coaches and administrators, so it was quickly shifted back to the last week of January, where it has remained since that time.
For the first 15 years of the tournament, the teams were matched, or seeded, at the discretion of the host institution. In the mid-1960s, the seeding was based on the win-loss record of the participating schools, with the top team playing the team with the poorest record. This format prevailed until 1990 when, at the 40th tournament, it was decided to match the teams that did not play each other the previous year. This format has been followed to the present day.
Pins in the mix
In 1963, a bowling tournament was added for the men. This tournament provided many exciting moments for fans and participants alike. Because of financial and scheduling concerns, this phase of the program was dropped in 1978. In 1971 and 1972, River Forest and Seward competed in wrestling, with each school posting a win over the other.
Cheerleaders, dance teams, pep bands and mascots have always been part of the festivities. The CIT spirit is demonstrated yearly in the fan antics, dance routines, good-humored mascot follies and pep band competitions. The excitement, spirited games and fellowship lives on and continues to grow with each Concordia Invitational Tournament. Truly, it has become one of the highlights of the athletic year.