In the days leading up to this year’s Hoopfest, hundreds of thousands of people are gearing up for the world’s biggest three-on-three basketball tournament.
One group caravanned in a small convoy of RVs from Priest River early Thursday to watch and participate in the event, which will draw about 27,500 players and more than 200,000 spectators this year.
“We got here this morning at the crack of dawn,” said Holly Janhsen, who will watch her daughter, Heidi Janhsen, 12, compete in the event. “We wanted to make sure we got a parking spot.”
Heidi Janhsen, Avery Summers, 12, and Rachel Akre, 12, are the North Idaho Girls. They traveled to Spokane with a team of boys from Priest River Lamanna High School, called Chick Stealing Hicks.
For Summers and Akre, the Hoopfest scene is familiar; this is their fifth year in the competition. Janhsen is playing for the first time. The team of best friends, who also play at Priest River Junior High, has been practicing off and on for the last four weeks.
“We want to have fun,” Summers said. “We also want to do good.”
For the group of 14 that traveled here together, the weekend offers a lot; spending time with friends and family and, of course, basketball.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Hoopfest Marketing Manager Kirsten Davis. “From the very serious players, to the three buddies that only play once a year, to the little kids that this will be their first Hoopfest,” Davis said.
There will also be a variety of food vendors and children’s activities in Riverfront Park.
Davis said the community-oriented nature of the tournament is what keeps people like Summers and Akre coming back.
“Friends and family,” she said. “I think from day one, the focus has been to put together a quality tournament, so we spent a huge amount of time and resources to create a good tournament, which makes players want to come back. As long as players come back, they’ll bring their friends and family.”
But Hoopfest, which began in 1998 with about 500 players, isn’t just for those competing in it, said Summers’ mother, Krista Summers.
“It’s fun to get to know other parents, and throughout the years, you start to recognize the other parents,” she said, adding, “It’s amazing to walk (around) … and really see all the amazing talent on the street. Just the different levels of talent, it’s amazing.”
Such a large-scale event takes ample planning on everyone’s part, and Krista Summers, a seasoned spectator, has some tips for those new to Hoopfest.
“Bring a backpack, lots of water, snacks and comfortable shoes,” she said. “And patience. If you’re not a people watcher, don’t come. If you don’t like huge crowds, don’t come.”