More than 24,000 basketball players – from smaller ballers just out of second grade to elite teams from around the country – will turn downtown into the biggest 3-on-3 arena in the world today at the 16th annual Hoopfest.
The event is expected to bring 150,000 people downtown, said Brady Crook, the event’s new executive director. Those people will put an estimated $15 million into the local economy. Roughly half of the teams are from outside Spokane County. Participation is up from last year, 80 teams shy of the 2003 tournament record of 6,245.
“We love Hoopfest because it is so incredibly organized,” said Debbie Neumann of East Wenatchee, who has watched her family compete for eight years.
Sitting on the center court bleachers in Riverfront Park on Friday, Neumann leafed through registration materials as a long row of volunteers signed in teams behind her.
“We’ve never had a glitch or a problem, and that’s what keeps us (coming) back every year,” she said.
All three of her children have competed. This year, her 12-year-old son, Riley, plays with the Ballaholics.
Neumann’s daughter, a junior in high school, won her sixth-grade division in 2000 and still wears her prized Hoopfest T-shirt around the house.
“It’s like a blanket,” said her father, Matt Neumann. “She won’t let go of it.”
The Ballaholics and their fellow competitors will play on 395 courts. Between 300 and 400 volunteers laid down 12 miles of tape to outline the courts, starting at 7 p.m. Friday and finishing seven hours later.
By the time Hoopfest is done, more than 3,000 people will have volunteered, Crook said. To accommodate the crowd, 221 portable toilets have been set up around the tournament.
For three years, Hoopfest and Ironman Coeur d’Alene have created what tourism officials at a recent meeting called a “perfect storm,” packing area hotels this weekend. The Neumanns booked their hotel room in February. Many people make their reservation a full year in advance.
“We will be completely sold out by Sunday afternoon for next year,” said Suzie Mize, a manager at the Ridpath hotel downtown.
Rooms were scarce from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, and businesses downtown braced for the influx of Hoopfest business.
“Hands down, biggest day of the year,” said Ron Kyhl, general manager of Red Robin downtown. “This is our Super Bowl.”
The restaurant set the franchise’s national one-day sales record during Hoopfest four years ago and has broken it during every Hoopfest since. His crew expects to break it again today. Kyhl brought in extra managers from Seattle and will open two hours early to keep up with business.
Competition starts at 8 a.m. today and finishes Sunday evening.