As a parent of Hoopfest-playing youngsters, Brad Smith has tempered his approach to the annual Spokane extravaganza.
“After all, it’s only for a T-shirt that they’ll outgrow in a year or so anyway,” he said.
It wasn’t always so, but Brad and his wife, Carol Ann Christnacht, came to that realization some four years ago.
“(A) very good and considerate friend pointed out that we were getting a little too into it,” at one of his son’s championship bracket games, Brad said.
No matter how intense the game is, Smith maintains a perspective.
“It’s just a game and not our game, but the kids’ game,” he said. “Since then, we’ve become much better observers and are not screaming our heads off and getting upset.”
Smith and Christnacht are not isolated instances. Wandering the streets on Saturday offered reminders that occasional parental flare-ups – as well as on-court confrontations when the honor system sometimes ceases to be honorable – have been part of Hoopfest’s 20 years. The event has grown from 512 teams and 2,009 players at its inception in 1990 to a record 6,701 teams (272 more than last year) and 26,253 athletes this weekend.
Smith and Christnacht have three sons, two of whom play high school sports. Like others, their ire tended to be aimed at court monitors.
But his friend’s admonishment provided a wake-up call. Smith is more than willing to get the word out to those who take a 3-on-3 basketball game way too seriously.
His advice? No. 1, get a chair and sit in it. He said people tend to get less into a game than if standing on the sidelines. Second, remember that Hoopfest is staffed by volunteers and that there is little on the line.
And when he observes those around him blowing off steam, it stuns Smith to think that was him a few years ago.
“It’s kind of changed me in one other fashion,” Smith said. “I’ve made a promise to myself that either next year or the year after I will become a court monitor myself. If I’m critical, which I have been, I better put myself in there.”
What are the odds?
For 10 years, Henry Flores has traveled from Los Banos, Calif., and entered his team twice at Hoopfest to get his money’s worth out of the long trip.
It has usually worked out without conflict. This year, because of a glitch, he and first-year teammates Mondo Henderson and Justin Goings were placed in the same bracket twice, faced with the possibility of playing themselves at 8 a.m. today.
“I told them if they had four players, they could have played 2-on-2 for fairness,” court scorekeeper Kori Mellick said.
Unfortunately, there was no fourth player because Jesse Dominquez couldn’t make the trip. As it turned out, Flores’ second team, DKWC lost, avoiding the eventuality.
“We enter a recreation and competitive bracket,” Flores said.
This year he entered his team in the recreational portion, but the second entry was mistakenly entered for recreational instead of competitive.
As fate would have it, both teams wound up in Bracket 337 and on the same side of the draw. By the time Flores discovered it, it was too late for Hoopfest officials to make a change.
As the team We’re Back Again they played at 8 a.m., and as alter ego DKWC they played at 9. The trio played again at 2:30 and 3 p.m. in loser’s bracket games. We’re Back Again won to advance to a 5 p.m. game. DKWC is in consolation play today at 10 a.m.
“We’re tired,” Flores said. “We just had to play it. What are you going to do?”
Flores began playing Hoopfest with his wife’s cousin, who had lived in Spokane. When the cousin moved, he kept coming, usually by airplane. This year the players and families, nine people total, traveled 16 hours in a Holiday Rambler that was parked in a lot near their court at Riverside and Washington.
“You become addicted to (Hoopfest),” Flores said. “It’s fun and a getaway.”
You’re never too old
For three years, 1999-2001, Lori Napier, Nicole (King) Kilgore and Jennifer Sutter reigned as Women’s Elite Hoopfest champions. Nearly a decade later, the former Eastern Washington University basketball players are called the “Ancient Eags.”
Saturday morning they offered evidence that there’s truth to the adage that “old age and treachery can overcome youth and skill,” hanging on for a 20-18 victory on scoring leader Napier’s offensive putback.
Kilgore, the ex-Rogers girls basketball coach, was pregnant and missed last year’s event, giving birth in September to daughters Rhiannon and Beibhinn – “good old Irish names,” she said.
“Not too bad, after having twins,” she said of her game.
Kilgore said she and Napier joke that, in their mid-30s, they are so old because everyone in the Elite bracket is at least 10 years younger.
“We like to win that first game and whatever happens afterward happens,” she said. “We’re all competitive still, but what do you expect from old Eastern girls? We’ll be playing in the upper bracket until we’re 50 years old.”
One for the ages
Paul Tallman of Spokane Valley has played in all but one Hoopfest.
At age 71, he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Tallman has been playing basketball since 1956, when he graduated from Clark Fork High School. He was on a traveling men’s team that frequently played in tournaments in Canada.
These days, though, he’s enjoying time playing with his sons and grandson. This year he teamed up with sons Steve Tallman, 48, who lives near Seattle, and Gavin Tallman, 17, who just graduated from University, and grandson Michael Lynd, 25, who lives in Redmond.
Paul Tallman had no idea how long they’d be around in the world’s largest 3-on-3 tournament. They were placed in a division with mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings.
“It’s not a division that works for us,” he said.
They had no difficulty winning their opener. Tallman hit a 3-pointer (scored as a two pointer in Hoopfest) and got inside for a couple of baskets.
“I’ve always enjoyed the game,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that I’m a standout, but I could play a little bit. I just worked hard at it.”
Tallman believes he’s younger than his age.
“I still want to be 20 years old,” he said, laughing. “From the inside looking out I’m still 30, if I avoid looking at mirrors. It works for me. It’s all about who you think you are.”
Twenty and counting
Marc Allert, a longtime assistant boys basketball coach at Post Falls High, is one of the 70 who has played in all 20 Hoopfests.
His team, Northwest Hoops, won both of its games Saturday, moving into the quarterfinals. He and Cory Comstock provide the perimeter shooting while Duane Dlouhy and Tim Symons, who are about 6-3 and conservatively tip the scales at 260, provide the inside muscle.
“You’ve got to have the big burly guys in there to beat up on people,” Allert said.
Allert isn’t sure how long his streak of Hoopfest appearances will continue. He has twin daughters who will be in seventh grade in the fall. They’re playing in their sixth Hoopfest.
If it becomes too much of a hassle trying to play and watch his daughters play, he’ll bow out.
Then he thought of a solution.
“We could play as a family,” he said.