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Sports >  Area sports

Spokane Hoopfest postponed to Aug. 22-23 due to coronavirus

UPDATED: Wed., April 15, 2020

Marc Axson of LeeandHayes shoots a two pointer during the men's elite six feet and over championship game featuring LeeandHayes versus Bobby and the Boys on the final day of Hoopfest 2019 on June 30 at Nike Center Court. LeeandHayes took home the title. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Marc Axson of LeeandHayes shoots a two pointer during the men's elite six feet and over championship game featuring LeeandHayes versus Bobby and the Boys on the final day of Hoopfest 2019 on June 30 at Nike Center Court. LeeandHayes took home the title. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

The world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament is postponed.

Spokane Hoopfest confirmed Wednesday the 31-year-old event has been pushed back to Aug. 22-23 amid concerns and uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus.

Hoopfest, which attracted more than 6,000 teams to downtown Spokane last summer and had an economic impact of roughly $50 million, was originally slated for June 27-28.

The organization said the decision to postpone was leaked before it could iron out the particulars.

“This announcement was made prematurely and inappropriately,” the organization said on its website. “The organization is still working through the logistics of postponement. This was leaked before the registration process was revamped to reflect the new and evolving COVID-19 situation.”

Players who’ve already paid their team fee now have the option to request a full refund, maintain their registration or donate the fee to Hoopfest. The event’s guaranteed registration deadline has also been extended to July 13.

Matt Santangelo, Hoopfest executive director, said he and his team have been closely monitoring the pandemic and the word of health officials, and have gone through several contingency plans.

The former Gonzaga star remains focused on the positive aspects of the decision but is also ready to face its inherent difficulties.

“At this point, we’re excited we have an alternative date,” Santangelo said. “Imagine if we only had the June date and had to say, ‘Hey, sorry, see you in 2021.’ The fact we still have August is big.”

Over 250,000 people crowd the streets of downtown Spokane during Hoopfest weekend, similar to the Lilac City’s other major event, Bloomsday, which is also delayed.

Bloomsday, which had around 40,000 runners in 2019, was recently pushed back to Sept. 20.

Rick Betts, a co-founder of both Hoopfest and Bloomsday, expected the postponement.

“That was a clear-cut decision,” said the Hoopfest board member. “Because no matter what happens in the next month or so, there would be still angst in June (if the quarantine ended).

“But August is also a good time to have it, especially with the weather, which is usually sunny. In June, we’re sometimes at the edge of our seats.”

The new date isn’t entirely foreign for the most local and avid 3-on-3 players.

The Coeur d’Alene Shootout – the area’s second most-popular 3-on-3 street basketball tournament before it stopped in 2019 – took place in late August at North Idaho College for more than two decades.

Santangelo said a late-summer Hoopfest may affect the participation numbers of high school-age athletes – Idaho football power Coeur d’Alene opens its season Aug. 21, for example. August travel patterns could also play a role.

“We’re either going to get 15,000 teams – obviously an exaggerated number – and be the biggest Hoopfest ever, because people are going to be so excited to be out of the house after a pandemic,” Santangelo said. “Or it could be significantly smaller than normal.”

The overwhelming majority of Hoopfest teams over the years are from Eastern Washington and North Idaho, Betts said, likely making it easier for players to adjust to the date change. The rest come from all over the country or world.

Santangelo said Hoopfest’s several major sponsors have been “wonderful” during the time of uncertainty.

Longtime Hoopfest players are happy it hasn’t been canceled entirely, like many major sporting events across the country.

Marc Axton, who helped lead Eastern Washington to its first NCAA Tournament in 2004, is one of them.

Axton’s team Lee and Hayes has won the past three Hoopfest men’s elite division titles and is eyeing a four-peat.

“It’s obviously a bummer they have to push it back,” Axton said. “But I understand why they have to do it. It’s a going to be a little hotter, but I am just happy they’re still doing it because it’s great for Spokane.

“It could be tough (for Hoopfest), because when you always think of it being in June, and now it’s the first time of them doing something different.”

Greater Spokane Incorporated, which works with local businesses to boost the economy, is happy to see a postponement rather than a cancellation.

The downtown foot traffic and money spent at various businesses during Hoopfest weekend has been a major economic boon, but Greater Spokane also wants to ensure it’s safe to do so.

“We understand the postponement had to happen,” said Cara Coon, spokeswoman for Great Spokane Incorporated. “GSI is supportive of this, and getting through and past our health crisis. This is very impactful.”

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