Hoopfest organizers announced Monday the basketball tournament that brings thousands to the streets of downtown Spokane will move to September in hopes the pandemic will be under control by then.
The event usually is held in late June but was canceled last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. This year, it will be held on Sept. 11 and 12, Hoopfest announced in a news release.
“This move provides us the longest timeline to ensure that Hoopfest 2021 will not only be epic but also be safe for us to enjoy,” Hoopfest’s news release said.
The announcement follows Bloomsday’s decision to abandon the usual race starting and ending in downtown Spokane for the second year in a row, instead opting for a virtual race in which participants chose any 7.5-mile course and report their results to Bloomsday.
The decision was made for planning purposes with so much up in the air due to ever-changing COVID-19 mitigation regulations, said Matt Santangelo, executive director of the Spokane Hoopfest Association.
“This year we wanted to give everyone a heads -up, like a firm date to plan for,” Santangelo said.
Last year, Hoopfest was postponed until August before ultimately being canceled. While Santangelo acknowledges the best weekend for Hoopfest is at the end of June, moving the 2021 event to September allows for more planning time and more vaccinations.
“Pushing out to September is this idea that we’ll be healthier and stronger as a community,” Santangelo said. “More people will be vaccinated, and on top of that, more people will be more comfortable engaging in an event like this.”
Hoopfest plans to work with the Spokane Regional Health District and state and local officials to make sure the event is conducted safely, he said. When it comes to specifics, it’s too early to know what modifications to the traditional event will be required to keep the tournament safe, Santangelo said.
Limiting the number of fans per athlete, stretching out courts to allow for physical distancing or limiting the number of teams that are able to register are all options, depending on the state of the pandemic ahead of the event, Santangelo said. Volunteer registration will open on April 19 with team registration opening on June 1.
“We hope by June 1 some of those guidelines are mapped out and better defined for summer sporting events, live entertainment events, and just large events like ours,” Santangelo said. “I’m optimistic and plan on having some more specific guidelines, even on June 1, as to what the event will look like.”
Kelli Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District, said the district will be looking at some of the same metrics they are now when evaluating how events will happen.
“Right now, it’s still too early to think about gathering,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said guidance on large gatherings in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery phases is still being discussed. She said that for events planned for the summer or fall, immunity might come into play as well, and the district will be looking at what level the community needs to be at and what additional measures can be put in place before those events take place.
By August, Santangelo said he expects to know if the event will have to pivot.
Moving the event to September causes some event conflicts, like with the Spokane County Interstate Fair, which will run during the same weekend. Picking a weekend where Hoopfest could use the streets and parking necessary to run such a large event was difficult, Santangelo said.
“The only perfect weekend for Hoopfest is the end of June. Once we decide to postpone, there are conflicts every weekend of the year from there on out,” he said. “That really, really narrowed down the potential weekends pretty quickly.”
Holding the tournament in September means students will be back in school, another conflict that Santangelo acknowledged would change the event. The new Hoopfest weekend also falls on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
“We look at that as a great opportunity to commemorate and memorialize and remember the sacrifices made 20 years ago,” Santangelo said.
Hoopfest plans to work with local organizations to commemorate the historic anniversary throughout the tournament, Santangelo said.
Not only is Hoopfest a huge sporting event, it provides an economic boost to the region, with an estimated $50 million impact in previous years, Santangelo said.
“We’re aware of those things, and they are a part of our motivations every year and I think a little more so in 2021,” Santangelo said of boosting the local economy. “For the most part, that impact is going to an industry that got hit hard by this pandemic, which is the hospitality sector.”
All scheduled events in January 2021 were canceled and most annual events that normally would take place over the next few months have moved online or been canceled, said Kate Hudson with Visit Spokane. The Pacific Northwest Qualifier volleyball tournament is still scheduled for three weekends in March. Pig Out in the Park has yet to announce its 2021 plans.
“All of our conferences and conventions that we had in the books for January were canceled,” Hudson said. “We’re anxiously watching and waiting to see what happens.”
There have not been any large -scale events since the initial COVID-19 shutdown last March, Hudson said.
While Hoopfest typically attracts players and fans from across the country and even internationally, Hudson said this year it would be wise to focus on regional attendance from people who can drive to the event.
With ever -changing regulations, Santangelo encouraged Hoopfest fans to sign up for the newsletter and follow Hoopfest on social media for updates as planning for the 2021 tournament continues.
Reporter Arielle Dreher contributed to this story.
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