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Hoopfest plots course for September as COVID-19, smoke concerns continue

Aug. 13, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 13, 2021 at 5:04 p.m.

Jakobe Ford participates in the championship rounds of the dunk contest on the final day of Hoopfest 2019 on June 30, 2019, at Nike center court in Spokane. Ford was crowned the 2019 champion and won a trophy plus a $300 certificate to the Nike store tent.  (Libby Kamrowski)
Jakobe Ford participates in the championship rounds of the dunk contest on the final day of Hoopfest 2019 on June 30, 2019, at Nike center court in Spokane. Ford was crowned the 2019 champion and won a trophy plus a $300 certificate to the Nike store tent. (Libby Kamrowski)

Spokane’s smoky skies and the specter of the spread of COVID-19 has Hoopfest pondering contingency plans for next month’s planned return of the 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

After Monday, if there’s a cancellation of the Sept. 11-12 event, participants will receive a 20% refund of their entry fees if requested, organizers announced this week. The notification was made as Spokane’s air quality again dipped to unhealthy levels and amid reports of transmission of COVID-19 at an outdoor music festival in Grant County.

“Everything needs to happen pretty fast now,” said Matt Santangelo, executive director of the Spokane Hoopfest Association. “We can’t sit in this holding pattern.”

Hoopfest has signed up roughly 3,200 teams for play next month, its first live event since the pandemic canceled the 2020 tournament. The loss of revenue from the weekend forced Hoopfest to dig into its reserves, Santangelo said. The nonprofit’s IRS filings show a loss of $1.1 million in revenue in 2020 when the tournament couldn’t be held, and the association ended the year $287,000 in the red.

Hoopfest has already incurred costs for its 2021 edition, which was moved to September earlier this year when COVID case numbers remained at winter-level highs and vaccines remained unavailable. Hoopfest encourages players and spectators to be vaccinated, but organizers said Friday they will not require proof of vaccination to participate.

“We’re relying on the same guidance as the CDC, relative to what you can and can’t do outdoors,” said Rick Betts, a cofounder of the event and board member of the Hoopfest Association.

Betts said that he personally would prefer all residents to get vaccinated.

Another variable that has not reared its head during June editions of the annual outdoor basketball tournament has been air quality. Hoopfest announced that it will make a determination during the weekend of play whether to continue with competition based on the air quality index. If it’s about 150 points on a 500-point scale, considered unhealthy for everyone, play will be suspended.

That determination can’t be made until the day play begins, Betts said, complicating the nonprofit’s calculus.

“If we’re not going to know until Saturday morning, there’s virtually no cost that we’re not going to incur,” he said.

An air quality alert was in effect on Sept. 11 last year. Skies were clear during the same period in 2017, after several days of intense smoke, according to accounts in The Spokesman-Review.

Santangelo said that organizers are pushing forward under the assumption that play will be allowed. The 3,200 team total is about half of a traditional Hoopfest year, he said, which encourages organizers. They’re asking players to understand their financial constraints as they head into the last few weeks of preparations.

“If we could give everybody back their money, we would,” Santangelo said, noting many early-entry teams dedicated their fees to the nonprofit after the 2020 event was canceled. “But this is about not being able survive in the future. We’re not in dire straits, but we have to kind of be proactive as best as we can.”

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