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Hoopfest cancels 31st annual 3-on-3 tournament

UPDATED: Tue., July 14, 2020

The streets of downtown Spokane are converted into basketball courts during Hoopfest 2019. Officials of the event canceled the tournament amid a spike in coronavirus cases.   (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)
The streets of downtown Spokane are converted into basketball courts during Hoopfest 2019. Officials of the event canceled the tournament amid a spike in coronavirus cases. (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)

Hoopfest officials have canceled Spokane’s signature 3-on-3 basketball tournament amid a spike in COVID-19 infections.

As major sporting events around the country were being shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hoopfest director Matt Santangelo had remained cautiously optimistic. So did the Spokane business community, which reaps tens of millions of dollars per year from one of the city’s biggest events.

Entering its 31st year when it was postponed from June 27-28 to August 23-24, efforts were made to salvage the event in hopes that the coronavirus curve would flatten.

Spokane County infections have spiked since its Phase 2 reopening in May, however, leading to the inevitable.

Players will be encouraged to participate in a virtual alternative that entails performing a series of individual challenges at home and still receiving the event’s annual T-shirt.

Players who aren’t interested in participating in virtual Hoopfest – a series of games ranging from shooting to dribbling with points totaled on Hoopfest’s app – will receive a full refund.

Hoopfest, which annually attracts over 6,000 teams and roughly 250,000 people to downtown Spokane, was forced to make concessions in hopes of playing in August, including a 50 percent cut in team entries to limit the amount of bodies in close proximity during a pandemic.

Organizers were planning to move forward with social distancing mandates adhering to the state’s Phase 3 reopening guidelines, but with the recent skyrocketing of coronavirus cases in the area, a move from Phase 2 in time for Hoopfest appeared unlikely.

“Every other event canceled, but we remained optimistic,” Santangelo said. “We worked our tails off, worked with health officials to come up with plans. We really wanted to be the light at the end of that tunnel.

“But our priority is the health and wellness of our community.”

A year after celebrating its 30th anniversary, Hoopfest now looks ahead to 2021 in hopes that economic losses from 2020 don’t cause major hurdles next summer.

Most Hoopfest sponsors are still honoring their commitments despite the cancellation, Santangelo said, and he hopes donors will also help Hoopfest’s cause, including teams that will still receive a T-shirt if they opt to donate their registration fees.

“The ability to sustain for 2021 is to get help from the community,” Santangelo said.

Downtown Spokane businesses will also feel the sting.

From 1990 through 2019, Hoopfest helped bring in an estimated $47 million annually to the Inland Northwest economy, according to Hoopfest officials.

Greater Spokane Incorporated, which works with local businesses to boost the economy, sees the cancellation of Hoopfest as a significant loss.

“It is a difficult announcement for the many businesses that remained hopeful it would still occur,” said Cara Coon, public affairs director for GSI. However, we acknowledge that safety of the players and everyone involved in Hoopfest, including the businesses that benefit from the event, is a priority that we support.”

The loss of Hoopfest is the latest in the string of major area sports cancellations, including the first and second rounds of the men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament that were expected to be played in Spokane, each of which likely would have given the Lilac City a substantial economic boost.

Travis Dickinson, owner and chef of Cochinito Taqueria in downtown Spokane, is one of several small business owners who benefited from the additional foot traffic.

“Hoopfest is typically our second-biggest day of the year,” Dickinson said. “Last year was the biggest we had. It’s definitely a weekend we look forward to. It’s a hit to the business, for sure.

“We’d love to have that boost, but public health is more important right now.”

Longtime Hoopfest player and tournament legend Shann Ferch, 53, was disappointed about Hoopfest’s cancellation, but not surprised.

Ferch, who has won several team championships and slam dunk and three-point shooting contests since 1990, was more saddened for the younger players whose summers are synonymous with Hoopfest.

“There’s just so much chaos and uncertainty going on right now, and it affects all of us,” Ferch said. “The community loss of Hoopfest is huge. People make friends, friends and family gather. There’s so much kindness, and it’s a such a great event. It’s unfortunate.”

Through the years

1990: The first annual Hoopfest street tournament attracts 2.009 players on 512 teams to downtown Spokane. 

1996: Hoopfest partners with Nike.

2004: A WNBA game between the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty – the first neutral site game in league history – is played at the Spokane Arena on Friday, Hoopfest eve.

2009: Hoopfest’s 20th anniversary sees team registration reach 6,700 and becomes biggest 3-on-3 tournament in the world, per Guiness Book of World Records.

2010: Three bystanders are injured after a man fires a gun in a gang-related shooting near the elite division courts on Spokane Falls Boulevard.

2012: Hoopfest registration hits all-time high of 7,090.

2014: Former Zags star point guard Matt Santangelo is named Hoopfest executive director, replacing departed longtime director Rick Steltenpohl.

2017: Weeks after an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, All-Star Kevin Durant visits Hoopfest.

2019: Hoopfest unveils new Hooptown, USA brand on 30th anniversary.

2020: Hoopfest is postponed two months to August before ultimately being canceled. 

Ryan Collingwood can be reached at (208) 676-6576 or ryanc@spokesman.com.

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