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      Holiday sports tournaments bring visitors and dollars from nearly every state

      Tourism is an $18 billion a year industry in South Carolina and the Grand Strand is the industry's cash cow. Tourism leaders have put an extra focus on sports tourism in recent years and this week a high school sports event is drawing thousands of people.

      Young athletes from all over the country will be on the strand this week playing in a tournaments, and with the kids comes their families and their spending dollars.The 31th annual Beach Ball Classic basketball tournament, which draws high school teams from around the nation kicks off Tuesday in Myrtle Beach.

      "It's so popular because they will sit and talk to our fans and they will sign autographs. You wait until they become pros, that's a whole different story then. But now they enjoy getting the attention," Organizer and Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said.

      It may be December - which looks and feels dramatically different on the Grand Strand than July - but tourism leaders are sure players can still find something to do.

      "We'll be enjoying the Myrtle Beach life even though it's not the summertime and they probably won't be going in the water," said Coach Grant Rice of Bishop Gordon High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. "We'll probably check out the aquarium, and the movie theatre while we're here."

      The 16 player team will also be eating out, a lot. After a practice Monday night, the team, their seven coaches, and about half of the teams' families were headed out to a nearby Fudruckers. They were estimating just that one dinner to cost between 300 and 400 dollars. Add that up over their seven day stay in Myrtle Beach, and that's a lot of meals. Thus, a lot of money.

      The entire Beach Ball Classic event is expected to generate more than a million dollars for the week and even more down the road, especially as families who are visiting the Grand Strand for the first time are introduced, and like what they see.