Ron Martella has not forgotten his basketball years with the Modesto Junior College Pirates.
Fifty years ago, he was a member of an MJC team that rallied to a winning season, Modesto's first since 1957. Martella also remembered how the Pirates, drinking in the home-court advantage that poured out from the old campus gym, captured third place at the MJC Tournament.
"The best times of my life were at MJC," said Martella, a life-long Hughson farmer. "As a kid, I couldn't wait for the tournament. I would hope for rain so I could stay there all day long."
Martella, 69, has upgraded his love for the MJC Tournament the city's longest-running sports event to a new level. His family-run Grower Direct Nut Company and the tournament are officially joined at the hip.
The 76th MJC Tournament, to be held Dec. 3-7, and Martella's business have agreed to a three-year deal. It now will be called the MJC Tournament sponsored by Grower Direct Nut Company.
The tradition-steeped 16-team tournament has claimed a title sponsor for the first time in the modern era. Kaiser Permanente and 7-Up have helped for short stints in recent decades, but no one has jumped on board with both feet until now.
Martella, who still attends the tournament each year, plans to bring his '63 team together this December for a 50-year reunion. With that in mind, he contacted MJC coach Paul Brogan and Nick Stavrianoudakis, the latter the public affairs director for the Yosemite Community College District and the tournament committee chairman.
The idea expanded from the reunion to a full-blown title sponsorship.
The reunion, which will include 1963 MJC coach Pete Sullivan, still will happen. Only now, it will be featured during special activities as the weeklong event receives some fresh marketing and promotion.
Tuesday will be Pack the House Night. MJC students will be admitted free.
Wednesday is Veterans Night. Veterans will be charged only $1 for the four games.
Thursday is Family Night. Any student at any level will be charged only $1.
Friday is Legends Night, where Martella's team and all former MJC players will be honored. Seniors will be charged only $1.
Saturday, finals night, is Youth Sports Night. All youth wearing their team jerseys will be charged only $1.
"It's very exciting. We have been wanting to really promote the tournament for a long time," Brogan said. "Ron called about his reunion, and I told him what we're trying to do. The Martellas have always been supportive and are great basketball fans."
One team dropped out in August, leaving the tournament with 15.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.