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Competitors Mix It Up

Sun., June 30, 1996

You never - never - give the early game to the team that traveled the farthest to play, but there they were anyway at 8 a.m. sharp:

Dream Team Alaska from beautiful downtown Barrow, far beyond America’s 3-point line.

Some Hoopfest teams might eat lunch at Arctic Circle. These guys all live 400 miles inside it.

And with the average summer temperature a brisk 40 degrees, there’s not a lot of ball being played on Barrow’s boulevards.

So if you nail up a backboard, they will come. Three fifth-graders and a sixth-grade Shaq, they attended back-to-back basketball camps in Wasilla, Alaska, and LaGrande, Ore. - and their parents did the rest to get them to Spokane for tipoff.

Hey, it’s a global game.

“You don’t know the half of it,” confided Howard Morris, the Alaskans’ coach. “One kid is half (Inupiat) Eskimo, half Filipino, another is half Filipino, half Mexican….

“We have our own little melting pot here.”

And here.

Make no mistake, a pass through a few blocks of downtown streets during the heat of Hoopfest is enough to make a big-city transplant think, “White man’s brickfest.” No surprise there - Spokane is an overwhelmingly white town.

But this weekend, it’s not so overwhelming.

The fact is, in the civic microcosm department, Hoopfest is as diverse - ethnically, culturally, economically - as Spokane gets.

What comes close? Bloomsday? Hardly - not even with the importation of the elite Kenyans, which may be sports’ answer to forced busing.

The Lilac parade? The King day march?

None of the above.

This can’t be overstated. The telling anecdote comes from a colleague at this newspaper, a young African-American writer who strolled downtown for his first Hoopfest a few years ago and was dumbstruck.

“Where,” he asked, “did all the brothers come from?”

Hoopfest is the definition of affirmative action. Cultures don’t collide, they merge - unless it’s a block/ charge, of course.

“I’m a people person - I see people as people, kids as kids,” said Ivan Corley, a Shadle Park High School teacher playing in the men’s 6-foot-and-under division. “But it’s nice to see the diversity you have at Hoopfest. It’s one of the things that makes it special.”

He’s talking about knee-high African-American kids shooting on the short baskets in front of the STA Plaza, teams with names like La Raza and Brown Pride, and the Native American players who make an entire circuit of reservation tournaments in the winter.

The Sobotta brothers of Lapwai - doing basketball business as Heat in the Street - have won the open 6-foot-and-under division three of the last four years. The other year, another Lapwai team won it.

“People never stop playing,” Bob Sobotta said of the basketball culture in his hometown. “There’s three gyms and always a game. Kids 14 and 15 are playing guys 40 years old. There’s a team aspect and a family aspect that brings a community together.”

Of course, everyone is here for basketball, not sociology. And after a hard foul, nobody’s joining hands for a reprise of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”

“But people don’t sign up for this to get mad at each other and fight,” Corley said. “They sign up for a good time and to meet people. I’ve made friends from this.”

Corley grew up in Tacoma and came to Spokane to run track at the community college. Unlike a few of his fellow black teammates who complained of the culture shock and bolted for home, he stayed “because this town has a lot of things that bring a community together. This is one of them.”

Not that the event’s organizers necessarily had that in mind.

“I don’t think we really thought about it,” said Hoopfest executive director Rick Steltenpohl. “We just thought, ‘We’ll have a basketball tournament and do the best we can and whoever plays, plays.’

“I guess you notice (the ethnic diversity) now and that’s cool.”

But why basketball and not, say, Neighbor Days?

“Basketball is America’s pastime,” Corley said with a laugh, “not baseball. Regardless of age, size and quickness, people just figure they can play.”

Steltenpohl agreed.

“Most kids grow up shooting baskets - in the driveway, at the park, in their back yards,” he said. “Kids play. Pickup basketball is easy to do - a couple of kids and a bucket. It’s a great game - not because of that, but that’s a part of it.

“It’s just a game that crosses all sexes and races and ages.”

Time zones, too. And even tundras.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HOOPFEST - Spokane 1996 On-line results:

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOOPFEST - Spokane 1996 On-line results:

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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