How it all began….
In the spring of 1974, a young coach by the name of Jim Haley walked into his principal’s office to receive a review of his first year on the job. Vanguard’s principal Leon Rogers, a native of Kentucky, was particularly fond of basketball and was eager to see what Haley had in his plans for building his program. Haley had just moved to Florida less than a year earlier from his home state of Illinois, also a basketball hot-bed. The visionary coach told his boss that he wanted to host a tournament during the Jim Haley, Founder upcoming season. Intrigued, Rogers replied, “Ok Jim. How many teams are you thinking about having? Eight?” Without pause, Haley said, “Sixteen.” His boss was taken aback. “You’re crazy!” Rogers exclaimed, “You’ll never get sixteen teams lined up for a tournament here in Florida.” The ever-confident Haley told Rogers that not only could he get 16 teams to commit to the tournament, he could do it within 24 hours. Rogers was again visibly in disbelief. He told Coach Haley if he could have 16 teams committed within 24 hours he would grant him the opportunity to host such a large-scale event. Twenty-four hours later, Haley walked into Rogers’ office with a list of 16 teams who were committed to participating in the inaugural Kingdom of the Sun.
The following day, Haley brought in Bob Murphy, a friend and avid Vanguard Supporter. The two men sat at Haley’s desk and cold called local businesses in Ocala in search of sponsorships. At the end of the day they had raised a total of $7,500, and, thus, an Ocala institution was born.
The Kingdom took off and thrived, and from the late ?O’s to mid-90’s built its brand into one of premier high school basketball tournaments in the country.
Other tournament across the country soon adopted the Kingdom of the Sun blueprint to create similar events. The King of the Bluegrass (Kentucky) and the Arby’s Classic
(Tennessee), are a couple of well-established tournaments that are spinoffs of the Kingdom of the Sun. The City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, FL (often regarded as the #1 high school tournament in the U.S.) was originally an eight-team event until it changed its format after seeing the Kingdom take off. There is no doubt that Ocala’s version is the original tournament in America with a national flair.