Michael Felver and his Bomb Squad don’t care if they win any Hoopfest games this weekend.
“We’re just here to have fun,” the 23-year-old said.
Felver and his teammates, John Bizup and Kyler “Littleman” Young, all of Puyallup, Wash., said one of Hoopfest’s best attributes is not that it’s the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world, but that it’s an event that preaches good sportsmanship.
The trio plays in the unified division for Special Olympians and other players with disabilities.
“Nobody here is rude, it’s a lot more fun when people don’t let their emotions get out of hand,” Young said.
Positive play is Hoopfest law; disrespect is not tolerated on these courts.
It’s a tricky rule to enforce, especially in street ball, a game notorious for trash-talking and rough, above-the-regulations play.
Enter Hoopfest’s court marshals, a band of volunteers who keep a lid on the 200,000 players, coaches and spectators who converge for Spokane’s 3-on-3 extravaganza.
“It’s like this is your backyard, and we are mom and dad hollering from the back porch to settle it down or get going,” said Danny Adams, a volunteer court marshal.
The tournament continues today, with more than 7,000 teams spread out over 40 city blocks. Some players come to compete for a trophy, but mostly for bragging rights.
With that, hot tempers sometimes follow. It’s the court marshal’s job to take some of the pressure off the court monitors, who are too busy monitoring the game to pay attention to what’s happening on the sidewalk.
Court monitors only call fouls for the youth teams ninth grade and below, and for the elite teams. The adult teams call their own fouls.
The marshals take the heat off the monitors, and talk with coaches and parents about maintaining a positive environment.
“One of the things we do is we try to educate,” said Shane Wilson, who has volunteered as a court marshal for the last eight years. Like many marshals, he’s assigned the same stretch of Riverside Avenue each year. There are also roving court marshals.
“It’s a game where somebody wins and somebody doesn’t every time,” Wilson said. “But you can still have fun out there. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Hoopfest has made rule changes over the years to keep players and onlookers in check, including adding an ejection policy in 2005 and a sportsmanship program in 2006.
While it’s rare, court marshals sometimes have to involve the police and rapid response teams to help eject teams who don’t follow the rule of good sportsmanship.
Court marshal Jeff Setter had to throw a team out of the tournament Saturday after the crew of ruffians showed up to their Post Street game intoxicated. One player tried to take a swing at an opposing player, who was attempting to help him up off the ground.
“They are disqualified from play, and if they return this weekend they will be trespassing,” Setter said. “This is a family event, with children.”
Foul language, drinking or fighting is a deal-breaker, he said. Such rules preserve the integrity of the tournament and its support of sportsmanship.
Not all incidents are egregious. Most of the time, the court marshals are putting out small fires so the court monitors don’t have to, and for the youth teams that usually involves calming down an irate parent or coach.
At a Riverside Avenue court, one player threw a ball at another boy Saturday, sparking a feud between parents, Wilson said.
“It’s a matter of stepping in and defusing that situation before it gets out of hand,” he said.
He and his son Brodie handed out free ice cream to teams that demonstrated positive behavior on the court.
Wilson praised a middle-school boys AAU team from Missoula, the Razorbacks. Despite losing an aggressive game with plenty of elbows and blocks, the boys maintained healthy respect toward the other team.
“We talk about not showing out on the court,” said coach Ceylon Elgin-Taylor. “There’s no structure in street ball, so it’s important to play within yourself, and know your limits and boundaries.”