Hoopfest Forever

Mary Harvill reports from the hottest basketball tournament on the planet.

Maybe you were watching the SportsCenter Outdoors live broadcast from Spokane’s Annual Hoopfest 3 on 3 tournament on Sunday morning, June 28th.  And maybe you heard it was really hot in Spokane.

But did you know how hot it REALLY was?

How about 108 degrees on a paved city street, clinging to the one nearby tree from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 in the evening?Street Ball

After spending my first year as Hoopfest volunteer sequestered in a tent on the edge of Riverfront Park, I thought I would up the ante a little bit and become a court monitor.  The Nike swag (a cool pair of Nike shoes, shorts, t-shirt and hat) was the deciding factor for me. Oh, what we’ll do for a little swag….

I was a bit nervous about stepping onto the street and into the proverbial basketball fire, having heard so many stories about the smack talk court monitor’s at the event get from overzealous parents who have kids playing, the 40-something men who just haven’t come to terms with the fact they are truly past their prime as athletes, and the seemingly omnipresent hecklers who never seem to chill out, not even in the 108 degree heat.

As you can imagine, I made the decision to be a court monitor during the colder winter months. Learning, a week out, about the scorching temperatures in the forecast gave me pause.   But there’s no turning back for me when I make a commitment, and I wasn’t going to let the heat wave melt my resolve.fountain

Hoopfest consists of 42 city blocks of basketball courts and hoops, 7,000 teams and 27,000 players, a gazillion spectators, and 3,000 volunteers. All of this combines into a raucous invasion of backboards and sneakers that reportedly injects 38 million dollars to the city’s economy for the weekend.  Close to 2 million dollars are donated to local charities along with the Nike basketballs used during the weekend.

From its inception 25 years ago, Hoopfest quickly evolved into a family and community tradition.  If you aren’t playing, you are watching.  If you aren’t watching, you are a volunteer.  If you don’t like crowds, you beat a path to one of the beautiful area lakes and chill out until everyone leaves town.

Spokane has become synonymous with great basketball over the years. Gonzaga University regularly fields NCAA tournament caliber men’s and women’s basketball teams. The Eastern Washington University men earned a berth in the 2015 NCAA basketball tournament. Former GU guard John Stockton went on to set the NBA career records for steals and assists. Then there are his talented basketball playing children, David with the NBA Sacramento Kings, Lindsey who plays for Montana State University and Laura who will be joining the Gonzaga women as a freshman in 2015-2016.  John’s brother Steve and his kids also play.  John says Steve was always better at basketball than he was growing up.  There are also a legion of other Spokane athletes past and present who play.

From its inception 25 years ago, Hoopfest quickly evolved into a family and community tradition.  If you aren’t playing, you are watching.  If you aren’t watching, you are a volunteer.  If you don’t like crowds, you beat a path to one of the beautiful area lakes and chill out until everyone leaves town.  If 3 on 3 basketball isn’t sufficient exercise, you can enter the Ironman Triathalon in Coeur d’Alene which is also held on Hoopfest weekend (but will be moving to August next year.)

Under the tournament’s modified scoring scheme, a common basket counts as one point. What would normally be a three-point shot, counts for two, and thus there is a 2-point line on the court, rather than a 3 point arc. It turns out, on my court, there is also the Mary Harvill line for unsportsman-like conduct.  My football referee training, hockey penalty management and child rearing techniques were a definite bonus when I banished a male player to the bench for 3 minutes.  Think of it as the Hoopfest time-out chair for men who can’t stop talking smack even when they are told specifically not to say one….. more….. word….. to ANYONE…..and especially not to me.3 girls

The Spirit of Hoopfest is a serious matter.  Players call their own fouls.  Court monitors call only the most egregious of fouls (flagrant, intentional or technical fouls, which can get you tossed out for the entire weekend and, in extreme cases, even cause you to be ineligible for the next year’s tournament.)  A court monitor can call in reinforcements to handle court enforcement issues, the Court Marshals and finally, the biggest stick awaits violators – the Spokane Police Department.  Yes, the same cops you see on “Cops.”

The rest of my two days at Hoopfest went smoothly with the adult co-ed bracket games populated by polite, respectful, appreciative college-age kids who were terrific basketball players and amazingly fit athletes to withstand the heat.  Things got a little dicey when the shirts came off and the skins, sports bras, sweaty tattoos and birth control patches became visible, making it harder to determine which team hit the one or two point shot.  I was profoundly grateful for the various scorekeepers who assisted me especially when all I had available were warm bottles of water and a few pieces of candy with which to thank them.

I hired what is possibly Spokane’s only pedicab for a ride back to the bus stop that seemed like it was fifty miles away from my court assignment. The shuttle bus returned me to my oppressively hot car just as the sprinklers were turning on for the evening.  The pedicab driver was delighted I wasn’t injured so he didn’t have to worry about hitting bumps on Spokane’s notoriously pothole -laden streets.  The pedicab ride was money well spent.

Socializing after a day like that wasn’t in the cards.  Splayed on the couch under the ceiling fan inside my air conditioned house, nursing the umpteenth bottle of Gatorade, was all the excitement I could handle. But the bottom line is I survived the oppressive  heat and even enjoyed the experience.

I’m already thinking about next year, whether or not to invest in a shade tent to cover the scorer’s table like so many of the other more seasoned Hoopfest court monitors had, whether I should spring for a little red wagon to transport all of my Hoopfest creature comforts more easily, and how the Hoopfest organization can plan and prepare for staffing in the event the 108 degree temperatures are the norm. In retrospect, I wish I would have remembered my court marshal’s last name, so I could have more properly thanked him for taking such good care of me during the weekend.

In the meantime, I have a renewed appreciation for air conditioning and ice cold drinks and proud to call this great city and the people who live here my home.

—Mary Harvill
HF strip

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