Win or lose, Christian Baycroft adores basketball.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s like a sun shining down on our faces.”
Baycroft, one of dozens of athletes who competed in Hoopfest’s Special Olympics division, has been playing longer than he can remember. This year’s Hoopfest was more important than most for him, because the 27-year-old Spokane resident had the chance to play alongside his friend from the Community Colleges of Spokane Special Olympics team and his father.
Baycroft’s father, Ted Baycroft, said he has also played in Hoopfest for years, but there’s something special about competing alongside his son.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Ted Baycroft said, “Connecting.”
The third member of their team, Howard Banks Jr., said his stepfather was going to be the team’s alternate, but couldn’t play due to health issues. Even with just three players, the team, named Melvin Eagle Lighting in honor of Banks’ late step-grandfather, wasn’t defeated until the second day of the tournament.
Baycroft was just one of several Special Olympics basketball enthusiasts who played in front of City Hall on Sunday. Just a few courts over, Luis Munoz, 27, of Spokane, played alongside longtime friend Jennifer Tabert and her son Michel, both of Spokane, while Munoz’s family watched from the sidelines.
Tabert and Munoz have been playing together for years, after they met when Tabert was a caseworker at House of Charity and Munoz was a volunteer.
Munoz sank basket after basket, eventually leading his small team Missed Again to victory, defeating the “Finding Nemo”-themed team Just Keep Swimming. Munoz, who communicated using sign language and the help of his brother Arturo Ortego, said he loved basketball, and Hoopfest has been great for him. Even though he won his game, he said he still had a lot of work to do.
Tabert said Munoz is the team’s strongest shooter, and he always tries the hardest to win.
“He can make amazing shots from the furthest corner,” she said. “He makes them over and over, he is awesome.”
Tabert, Munoz and Ortego were among many close family and friend groups who formed teams to take on Hoopfest. The Bikini Bottom Ballers team, which faced off against the Tighty Whiteys just a few blocks away in front of Riverfront Park, played five games before the weekend was over.
Chris Wash, father of three of the team members, said this was the first time his children had competed together as a team. He said he’s been competing since Hoopfest’s second year, but this year he’s supporting his children from the sidelines.
The team was made up of Jake Wash, his twin sisters Malia Wash and Mikayla Nebergall, and Mikayla’s husband, Tyler. Every member wore a T-shirt decorated with a SpongeBob character’s face, which brought the team a lot of attention, Mikayla Nebergall said. She added that competing as siblings may become a new family tradition.
Jake Wash said the team has played basketball since high school, and playing alongside family makes them better.
“The chemistry is there already,” Jake Wash said. “We know how each other work.”
After five games in 80-degree weather, however, even winning some, he said the team was more than done.
“We’re dead,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.