The Union Democrat Sports Department

The Columbia Claim Jumpers have waived all admission fees to this season's non-tournament home basketball games in an effort to increase local interest and give back to the community that supports them.

"I talked a lot over the summer with (Columbia College Athletic Director) Mike Torok and decided it would be nice because basketball is a fun game but, unfortunately, sports and entertainment are coming with a huge cost," said Claim Jumper head coach Nathan Rien.

Ticket prices generally varied from $5 to $7 per game, but Columbia will use money raised from it's annual Robert and Mary Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic to leverage the cost of offering home games for free.

The unique tournament features eight high school teams, including Sonora and Summerville, competing during the day while junior colleges face off at night.

The cost of admission to the classic is $10 for a single day, which includes four high school games and one college game, or $25 for a three-day pass. Single-day tickets for seniors or children ages 12-and-under are $5.

"It's a good deal and it helps support the kids," Rien said.

Columbia's basketball program is entirely supported through sponsorships, donations and fundraisers like the Holiday Classic, according to Rien. Depending on the year, the program raises anywhere between $24,000 to $60,000 which goes toward funding equipment, travel, hiring referees and other associated costs.

Rien said attendance has been down in recent years due in part to the rough economy, so he hopes the free home games will help attract Columbia fans both old and new to come out and cheer on the Jumpers.

"We haven't seen a huge difference yet, but we expect larger crowds when we start playing Central Valley Conference games," he said. "We are seeing people showing up who haven't been exposed to Columbia basketball and they are having a good time. So you can see that excitement is building."

And with the addition of former area high school stars to the Columbia roster, the community has several reasons to be especially excited about the Claim Jumpers this year.

Bret Harte grads Danny Radford and Jordan Gomez were key members of last season's successful Bullfrog squad and have been making an impression in their first year of junior college.

Radford has led the team in points scored through the first 12 games of the preseason with 128. He's averaging 14.2 points per game and has shot 27 of 55 (49 percent) from 3-point range.

Summerville grad Travis Arenas has been tough in the post for Columbia coming off the bench this season grabbing 30 rebounds in limited minutes.

Columbia (5-7) is gearing up for the Holiday Classic where they play Sisikyous in the first game on Dec. 27 and Sacramento on Dec. 29. Tip-off for both games is scheduled for 6 p.m.

The Jumpers have fared well against some strong competition and Rien is hoping for a top-three finish during CVC play to qualify Columbia for its first playoff berth since the 1999-2000 season, when they reached the first round of the State Tournament.

For more information about Columbia's basketball program, contact Rien at 588-5182 or