‘Christmas In June’, Hoopfest Turns 25

By Paige Browning

When the backboards go up and the sneakers are laced this weekend, it will mark the 25th anniversary of Spokane’s Hoopfest. It has remained the world’s largest three-on-three basketball tournament, and the organizers have a few things planned to celebrate.
 
There will be about six-thousand-nine-hundred teams. That’s 14,000 three-on-three basketball games between Saturday and Sunday. Rick Betts started Hoopfest, along with friends, in 1990. He says it started out with 500 teams in the first year.
 
Betts: “Now it seems like nothing, but if you can just imagine a stack of paper, 500 pages thick, and now you’ve got to organize all that.”
 
He says the first year games were played along Riverfront Park, and it grew quickly from there. About 1,000 teams played in the second year, and 2,000 after that. Betts says the early success has a lot to do with it being a non-profit. They recruited volunteers with some ease, and the event runs off of volunteer power now.
 
Betts: “As I tell everybody now, really in some ways it’s not much different now with 7,000 teams than it was with 500 teams. That was a lot of teams, and it seemed crowded. I think what’s really changed over the years is really the cultural phenomena of it.”
 
Santangelo: “Oh yeah, I come down every year.”
 
Matt Santangelo, formerly of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, took over as Hoopfest Executive Director three months ago. He says now is a good time to reflect on history, like the 58 players that have played all 25 years, and the 14 volunteers that have been involved every year.
 
Santangelo: “I mean its Christmas in June. Its family reunions, its wedding anniversaries and wedding proposals. This is a big part of people’s summer plans. Being able to celebrate that, this year in the 25th year, of people flying to Seattle on Saturday night for a wedding and flying back to make Sunday morning’s game.”
 
Rick Betts says it has become a weekend for people who have never played basketball, and for families.
 
Betts: “It’s something that is a lot of fun for a lot of people, and where I really see that is with friends and co-workers that have young children that are just dying to play in their first Hoopfest.”
 
This year, Santangelo says there are special events. It all tips off Thursday night with a concert at Riverfront Park by Cami Bradley. Friday, former Gonzaga players will be at Lewis and Clark high school for a talk called Beyond the Kennel. And for the weekend, Hoopfest has gone tech with a new mobile app.
 
Santangelo: “So you can search for teams, you can follow team, they’ll tell you exactly where the court is… It has a great ‘what if’ scenario, to be able to say ‘what if I win at 8:00 and lose at 10:00’, and where are my games, so you can plan your day accordingly.”
 
Hoopfest 25 will be in full swing Saturday and Sunday with games all across downtown Spokane.
 
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio
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