What started as a sports ministry in a Spokane Valley church has become a casual group of guys showing up to play basketball a couple of nights a week.
“We have about eight to 25 guys show up a night,” said Elric Heckathorn, organizer of the basketball group at Spokane Valley Baptist Church, 1222 S. McDonald Road.
Heckathorn has been running the group for about two years. He started coming because he didn’t like going to the gym and wanted to find a way to exercise.
“I have zero experience with basketball,” he said.
What he found was a group of people just wanting to play basketball in a safe place.
Jon Atwood started the group about 15 years ago. He still shows up to play.
“I love basketball,” Atwood said. He asked the church if he could form a group and use the gym. It started off slow.
“Sometimes it was just me,” he said. But soon, about 20 to 25 people started to come.
Players come from the neighborhood, or because they saw Heckathorn’s ad on Craigslist.
Some come to get ready for Hoopfest. Others come for the exercise. While there is a competitive spirit to the game, Heckathorn said people come to play, not showboat.
“We don’t do drama,” Heckathorn said.
The group is open to anyone 13 and older. While they don’t have female players now, Heckathorn said they would welcome them. On Monday, about eight guys showed up, ranging in age from mid-20s to 60s – Atwood is 62.
Players come when they can. Games are chosen based on how many show up. They can do a half-court three-on-three game, a full-court four-on-four game or five-on-five. Heckathorn said if 25 guys show up, he’s willing to keep the gym open later so everyone gets a chance to play.
During Monday’s games, two players showed up while six were playing a 3-on-3 half-court game. When the game was over, everyone took a quick water break before they expanded to a full-court game. When there is a particularly rough play, players checked on each other before moving on. Some of them slid on the floor, and you have to wonder how many go home with rug burns – the gym floor is carpeted.
“It’s not my first choice,” Heckathorn said of the carpet.
Heckathorn said some of the guys want to start a tournament in the coming months. He plans to charge $5 to each player in the tournament to pay for the prizes.
“It’s nice to have a competition,” he said. “It helps to stay motivated and keep coming.”
Matt Porter has been coming to the game for a while now, after learning about the group from a friend.
“It’s a fun, great place to come,” he said.