Spokane is doubling up on March madness this year.
The Spokane Hoopfest Association and Spokane Parks and Recreation have partnered to develop an outdoor recreational basketball league that will begin next month, pitting five-on-five teams against one another for an eight-week season.
The Hooptown USA Outdoor League was designed with COVID-19 in mind and complies with current guidelines, according to the parks department.
Its March launch comes as Gonzaga University men’s and women’s basketball teams appear poised to make a run for glory in their respective NCAA championship tournaments.
“We’ve been on pins and needles waiting for basketball to have some (reopening) guidance, and it hasn’t had any guidance. I don’t know if we even were optimistic for basketball any time soon,” said Matt Santangelo, executive director of Spokane Hoopfest Association.
But with protocols in place as Spokane enters Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, organizers scrambled to put together a league.
Starting the Hooptown league as early as possible was important. The hope is that regular summer leagues will be back on later this year, and organizers are aware that there’s a pent up demand to play.
Hoopfest recently released a survey to gauge interest in the eight-week league.
“The response has been crazy,” Santangelo said.
There are separate divisions for 3rd through 8th graders, high schoolers, men, women, and a coed league. The first eight teams to register in each division will be guaranteed a spot, but registration is first come, first served.
Each team that signs up is guaranteed to play at least eight games. For youth and high school teams, the game will consist of four 8-minute quarters. Adults will play two 20-minute halves.
More details about the format of the tournament, and a portal to help players find teammates, can be found on Hoopfest’s website.
“It’s not just open run at the park; this will be structured games and rostered teams,” Santangelo said.
It’s a different format than the standard 3-on-3 Hoopfest, which is scheduled to take place in September this year. Plans were in the works for a similar 5-on-5 tournament last year, but they were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Santangelo said.
Coronavirus precautions for the upcoming league include mandatory masks for every player, referee, coach, spectator and volunteer. Each team will have a designated staging area and cannot arrive more than 15 minutes prior to the game.
Although physical distancing is obviously impossible between players during the game, 6 feet of separation will be expected between everyone not actively playing. The court will have hand sanitizing stations.
The exact schedule has yet to be determined and the number and location of the city parks used for the league will depend on how many teams sign up.
Making use of public parks was a natural fit not only because they’re outdoors, but because over its history Hoopfest has invested in more than 30 park courts across the region.
“We love that our parks and courts will be activated with this safe, healthy recreation activity under Phase 2,” Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation said in a statement. “It was important for us to come together with our longstanding partners at Hoopfest to find creative ways to offer healthy activities for our community while building on the popularity of parks and open spaces in 2020.”
The registration fee is $600 per team, with a $25 processing fee, but scholarships are available to teams that can’t afford the entry fee.
It was important everyone be able to play regardless of their financial means, Santangelo said. Club sports “is already a have-and-have-not world, which is unfortunate,” but that equity gap has only been exacerbated in the pandemic, he added.
Registration begins on Saturday at 8 a.m. and can be completed at www.spokanehoopfest.net.
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