At age 89, first-time Hoopfest participant Jim Metzger chose to slip a pair of dress khakis over the athletic shorts donated by his teammates and grandchildren.
“Old fogeys look bad enough just showing up,” he joked as he watched his family, decked in matching lime-green T-shirts bearing the team name Gesundheit, play their first game of the tournament Saturday morning.
The 24th annual Hoopfest tipped off Saturday with more than 27,000 eager athletes slogging through surprisingly damp conditions. Forecasts predicted extreme summer heat, but intermittent rain fell throughout the day, causing some events to be delayed and some players to slip. In spite of the showers, the streets of downtown Spokane echoed with the sound of dribbling basketballs and shrill whistle blows well into the evening.
Brian Olney, at 22, roughly the same age as Metzger’s beat-up white sneakers, guarded his elder closely after some early physical play.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know how hard we should be guarding him or what kind of defense we should be playing,” Olney said. When Metzger played some tough defense early, Olney hit him accidentally with an elbow to the face and tried to apologize.
Metzger, who grew up in Indiana where “they put a basketball in the crib with you,” waved him away. They shook hands after the game.
“He’s a tough guy,” Olney said.
That’s the reason Metzger’s granddaughter Anna Metzger, 14, who dreamed up the team name and designed their look on the court, asked Metzger to play. Grandson Patrick Metzger, 25, of Salt Lake City, said Metzger’s longevity gave their team an edge that opponents couldn’t match.
“I keep telling people, he’s got more basketball experience than anybody else here,” Patrick Metzger said.
Jim Metzger thought that wisdom may be better served on the sideline. The team’s strategy, he said, was to “keep me on the bench.” Metzger went 0-2 from the field in the first game, though he scored a bucket in Gesundheit’s afternoon contest, to cheers from the crowd.
The skies darkened shortly after the Metzgers left the court Saturday morning, and the rain came in waves through the afternoon. While the weather closed Nike Center Court for several hours and pushed the U.S. Marine Corps Slam Dunk Contest to today, it was dry enough for Evan Alston, 20, of Sammamish, Wash., to sink a 47-footer at the Toyota Shootoff on his first attempt.
“I kind of just screw around with my friends, and I make them every once in a while,” said Alston, who’s now in today’s competition to win a Toyota SUV.
The rain did, however, slow down a foursome that has donned handmade superhero outfits for the last few Hoopfest competitions. They call themselves Marvels Rejects, and the team comprised of Superman (Nick Morlan), Batgirl (Heather Gronewald), Iron Man (Will Colborn) and Captain America (Scott Gronewald) spent much of their time between games posing for photos with other Hoopfest-goers.
Morlan watched as a player in the game before his went down into the splits after slipping on the wet pavement.
“I’m not getting up if I do that,” he said. In the afternoon session, the team struggled through five minutes of scoreless basketball after a rain delay but managed a victory.
In a tournament where neon shirts and tie-dye short-shorts are par for the course, the Marvel-themed team is just one of many colorful coordinated efforts. A group of freshmen boys headed to Mead High School called themselves the Fairys and played in rainbow-colored tutus “just to be funny,” said team member Chase Bos.
For the young of body and heart, the late June weekend that shuts down 42 blocks of the city is a celebration of sport and family. It’s an experience Jim Metzger enjoyed firsthand Saturday.
“They’re just a super group,” he said proudly as his family members scampered around the court.
Fight prompts arrest
Cooler temperatures didn’t stop everyone’s tempers from getting hot on the court. In one case, they escalated it.
Two teams, Cuddle Puddle and Championship Detour, were removed from play early Saturday afternoon when a fight broke out on the court. A member of Cuddle Puddle slipped and fell on the wet ground, grabbing an opponent’s shirt on his way down, said Tyler Krebs, a witness to the fight.
Another member of Championship Detour attacked the man who fell, punching him in the jaw and knocking out a couple of his teeth, Krebs said. Police took the suspect into custody.
Otherwise, there were no incidents, police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said.
Heat fears abated
Soggy weather and slippery courts hit medics Saturday with a different challenge from what they expected.
Rather than the dehydration and heatstroke expected to be prevalent at the tournament, medics treated sprains, scrapes and bruises.
By 4 p.m., medics had only treated one dehydration case, according to the injury board at the Rockwood medical tent outside River Park Square.
“It’s a credit to the overcast skies,” Rockwood Chief Financial Officer Chris McGoldrick said.
Keeping tabs on #Hoopfest
Several high school students wandered the streets of Hoopfest in bright orange T-shirts, collecting stories, photos and video for the event’s social media campaign.
Students in the video clubs at Mead and Lewis and Clark high schools fed content back to the Digital Street Team’s headquarters at the Mobius Science Center throughout the day, where it was posted to the Hoopfest Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest accounts.
“The idea is to have a new Hoopfest volunteer group,” said Mike Ellis, who’s helping coordinate the team.
Ellis said the social media presence at this year’s Hoopfest far surpasses anything they’ve done in the past.
“We’ve kicked it up a notch,” he said.