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More than just a game

Sun., June 25, 2006

Don and Ev Newland have lived in Spokane for 62 years.

But it wasn’t until this year that they made it to Hoopfest, drawn downtown to watch their grandson and granddaughter

“We’re just down to take in the games,” Don said, as he and Ev enjoyed ice cream bars on the shady side of Riverside Avenue. “But we’re enjoying the whole business.”

The whole business, when it comes to Hoopfest, is much more than basketball. Some 24,000 people signed up to compete in Spokane’s annual 3-on-3 street tournament, but five or six times that many showed up to watch or volunteer, officials estimate.

Teenagers engaged in the timeless pageant of seeing and being seen. Toddlers dozed sweatily in strollers. Fans crowded into the shade, and vendors hawked cool drinks and hot food.

For a huge number of people, like the Newlands, a thread of family ran through it all. Parents watched their children play, and children watched their parents. Families set up encampments of folding chairs and coolers, jockeying for the shadiest spots as temperatures climbed to the upper 80s.

Todd Price of Missoula came with his wife and sons to watch Matthew Price, a seventh-grader, play with the Broncs. They hit the road for Spokane at 6 a.m.

“But that’s our time,” Price said. “So it’s really 5 here.”

About half of Hoopfest’s players come from outside Spokane County. This is the second year here for the Prices.

“I think it’s great,” Todd Price said. “It’s a wonderful event for everyone, from kids right on up to adults.”

Saturday was hot, and it’s expected to be even hotter today, reaching into the 90s.

Plus, “when you get on that asphalt you can add 10 or 15 degrees,” said Brady Crook, executive director of the event.

The heat led to a lot of heat exhaustion and dehydration, according to volunteers at the first aid tents.

“We just cool them down, keep them hydrated and keep an eye on them,” said Stefanie Bruno, who helps coordinate the first aid tents run by Premera Blue Cross in cooperation with local hospitals.

In addition to heat-related problems, the four first aid tents dealt with scores of sprained ankles, scrapes and cuts that made up most of the day’s injuries.

Though some said the heat made some players more aggressive or grumpy, Crook said he’d had few reports of fights. One of his priorities this year, his first on the job, was to improve sportsmanship among what he called the 5 percent of players who fight and behave too aggressively.

“From all I know there’s only been a report of one altercation that went beyond words,” he said at mid-afternoon. “Last year at this time we had 12 ejections.”

Spokane Police Officer Teresa Fuller said her department had handled a few fights, but nothing unusual for a day with huge crowds, high temperatures and a competitive backdrop.

It wasn’t the biggest Hoopfest in terms of teams – the 6,140 teams were the third highest for the event. But Crook said he believes it was the biggest in terms of overall numbers downtown, with an estimated 155,000 to 160,000 people counting players, spectators and volunteers.

“It does seem to grow every year,” he said.

And that growth creates a people-watching circus. As much as the family ties were evident, so were the freedoms of the young and single, deploying tanned skin by the square foot and conspicuously working their cell phones.

For Tony Pereira, 21, there’s the Hoopfest on the court and the Hoopfest off it, and the latter involves one goal: “Meeting up with the ladies.”

That doesn’t end with the games. “Hoopfest weekend, there’s a lot of people who go out to the clubs,” he said as he had his ankle taped before a game.

Not all teen-agers at Saturday’s event were playing around. For Marcie Roley, a 17-year-old Cheney High graduate who’s bound for the University of Idaho in the fall, Saturday was a chance to volunteer on trash detail to help earn a donation for the CHS band.

Roley and her bandmates were emptying trash cans and cleaning the streets of all manner of debris – from empty water bottles to food wrappers to cigarette butts.

“It’s pretty bad,” she said.

But for those not on trash detail, things were looking up. Mid-afternoon on Saturday, Tracie and Dan Stephenson were shuttling their family between the games of sons Spencer, 11, and Connor, 14.

Connor and a teammate, 13-year-old Jared Maynes, were fresh off their first win as the Westside Ballaz, and in an optimistic frame of mind. Asked what they liked best about Hoopfest, Maynes said, “I like dunking.”

And then he gave his height: 4 feet, 8 inches.

“And a half!” he said.


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