Hoopfest - Coverage of Spokane's annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament from The Spokesman-Review

Australian siblings find American teammates for Hoopfest

Australian siblings cross the ocean blue to take part in Spokane’s Hoopfest 2013

FILE PHOTOS photo Theresa Ritscher, front, battled Emilee Schlader during their game on the first day of Hoopfest 2012 in Spokane.

A dream vacation for two Australian boys meant taking a shot at the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball competition.

The boys, along with their younger sister, experienced Hoopfest as spectators when they visited in 2009 with their mom, a graduate of Northwest Christian School in Spokane County. But watching wasn’t enough.

“We thought it was really cool, and we all decided we’d have a go at Hoopfest,” said 16-year-old Mason Hayes in a thick Australian accent.

To make their hope a reality, the boys just needed two more players. Their mom, Tracy Hayes, asked a high school friend for help. An inquiry at a family reunion quickly resulted in two teen volunteers.

“We heard about the boys’ dream vacation and we stepped up and said we’d play with them,” said Sierra Haack, 16, who will be on a team with the Hayes boys and her cousin, 17-year-old Joanna Tsarbopoulos.

The Yanks and Mates will join more than 7,050 other teams when Hoopfest kicks off Saturday.

The Australian teens – Mason Hayes and his brother, 13-year-old Jackson – will be among the less than 1 percent of international players expected in the 23rd annual competition. Close to 28,000 ball players will dominate 42 downtown blocks as they play on 454 courts before about 225,000 fans on Saturday and Sunday.

“We wanted to play with my sister as well, but we couldn’t because of the age restrictions,” Mason Hayes said.

Cora Hayes, 11, decided she would instead be the team’s official cheerleader. Like the team’s T-shirts, hand-painted as half American flag and half Australian flag, the girl’s uniform will reflect patriotic symbols of both countries – complete with pompoms.

The team started practicing last week, but before the Australians arrived, the Hayes brothers, Haack and Tsarbopoulos all connected on Facebook.

“We communicated that way to get our team name,” Haack said. “We tried to get them to know we weren’t scary people before they got here, get the good vibe started early.”

None of the teens are serious basketball players, but the general consensus is the team is doing fine.

“The boys definitely are talented, and we’re just there to play with them,” Haack said. “With them being more into the game and serious and stuff, I thought they would be more ball hogs, but they tried to work me and my cousin into the game more.”

Said Mason, “We’re clicking; it’s going really well.”

The Yanks and Mates’ first game is 11:30 a.m. Saturday on Sprague Avenue between Lincoln and Monroe streets.

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