Tourney for SoBo star growing

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ROCKFORD - The four-year anniversary of Antonio Little's death passed by last month.

In just over two weeks, friends, family and the community will once again pay tribute to the former South Beloit star by doing what he loved best: Playing basketball.

Mat Parker, Rockford Public Schools Director of Athletics, Activities and Program Development and Little's former coach at South Beloit, is the point person for the fourth annual Antonio Little Memorial Hoops Tournament. For the third straight year, it will be held at the University of Wisconsin Sports Factory in downtown Rockford.

The tournament will be held on August 10, with several difference categories that can serve a variety of local ball players.

Little was the leading scorer and team leader for the 2008-2009 SoBos, who won 28 games and captured an IHSA Class 1A regional crown.

More than his exploits on the court, Little will be remembered for his ability to make a difference off of it.

"Antonio was a phenomenal student," Parker said. "He had a great GPA and he was taking a lot of AP classes. He was also very outspoken. I remember he was in my class when Barack Obama wont the election, and how proud he was of that. He was such a leader for us.

"I remember a close game that we lost when he was a junior. He had uncharacteristically shot very poorly from the free throw line that night. We had finished our post-game, talked to the media, sent our scores in. I was closing up shop and there was Antonio, still there shooting free throws at 10 p.m. on a Friday after a game."

Parker said Little's triumphs and character were one reason people still want to honor his memory. But that's not the only thing.

"Antonio had his struggles, too," Parker said. "He struggled at Elmhurst College, which was the original place he went. He wasn't getting as much playing time as he wanted, and that was a struggle for him. He came back and played at Rock Valley and then finished his degree at Northern Illinois.

"And then, obviously, there are no real answers as to what happened with his death (Little was found drowned in the Rock River), and I think people connect to a human story where you have this exceptional kid who's doing a lot of great things but also dealing with life. That's what we all navigate through every day. That's what draws people to him."

The tournament, which began as a South Beloit-only affair just weeks after Little's death with Parker's backyard serving as the site, has evolved into an event that will help produce three separate scholarships to deserving students in the area.

"One of the scholarships will go to a South Beloit student that displays those same characteristics that Antonio had," Parker said. "One will go to a student in Winnebago County, and one will go to a student in the Rockford 205 school district. It's really been incredible to see the growth that we've seen over this short time."

The tournament will feature an adults division (high school and up) and a middle school (sixth through eighth grade) that will play five-on-five full court.

There will also be a 40-and-over division that will play 3-on-3, along with a second-through-fifth grade that will also play 3-on-3.

Highlighting the 40-and-over division will be a reunion of sorts of the 1993 Rockford Guilford team that finished second in state.

"The basketball at these tournaments is really good and really fun to watch," Parker said. "There are a lot of people who knew Antonio that want to play, and I'm able to use my connections through my position to get the word out as well. The level of play is really high quality."

Tournament play begins at 10 a.m. and registration can be found at www.antoniolittlememorial.com.

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