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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Hoopfest queen: Kim Eng stands alone as only woman to play in every year of annual tournament

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

After 30 years of her shoe tread being worn off on the streets of downtown Spokane, Kim Eng has more experience playing in Hoopfest than any other woman in the world.

With Hoopfest in its 31st season, Eng is the only remaining woman to lace up her shoes in every single one.

“Honestly, I think it is really cool and it sounds silly, but I am never going to be famous for anything else,” Eng said. “ ‘Famous’ might not be the right word, but it is my go-to claim to fame.”

Luckily, husband Matt Youngquist took to enjoying Hoopfest and spending the last weekend in June in Spokane with his wife.

“When my husband married me, he realized that if there’s anything on this weekend, my heart is with Hoopfest, not what he is doing,” Eng said .

She said each time she steps on the court with Youngquist are cherished moments.

“Turns out it one of his favorite weekends as well,” she said.

Nothing has been able to squeeze the “Best Basketball Weekend on Earth” out of her schedule, not even a C-section to deliver her son weeks before play.

“My doctor said I shouldn’t play and I said, ‘Well, I am going to, so just guide me through this thing,’ ” Eng said.

Her doctor created a special abdomen wrap that held her together so her streak could continue uninterrupted.

Even a year when she took an elbow to the face, splitting open a gash above her eye, couldn’t keep her on the sidelines.

The nurses and doctors at the event recommended she head to the hospital, but she had a championship game to play, so stitches could wait.

She played in the finals before she made her trip to the hospital.

The Lewis and Clark graduate also has one of the rarest stories to come from Hoopfest’s history.

During a game years ago, she was guarding a woman who stopped the game action abruptly in the middle of a play.

Eng and the rest of the spectators were unsure what was going on until she screamed that her eyeball fell out and rolled away.

“She had a glass eyeball and we all had to stop and look for it,” she said. “When we found it, to wash it off, she put it in her mouth and then she popped it back into her socket.”

But truly her most special moment was the first year that her son could play and she had the opportunity to coach him and his three friends they brought over from Issaquah, Washington.

On top of her playing streak, another milestone was reached.

“This is the first year my son is taller than me,” Eng said.

It is also the first year she isn’t playing with her two best friends from LC, Julie Lemery and Stephanie Etter.

They would have all played together the past two seasons before Hoopfest was canceled.

“We cried the whole weekend, both years,” Eng said.

“I thought for sure it was going to happen last year, but when it didn’t, I was bummed. … So yeah, I’m really happy to be back playing this year,” Eng said.

As the years have gone by, Eng never thought about her streak. It didn’t really dawn on her until media outlets started reaching out to her on her 15th year of playing – she was just enjoying the moment.

For several years, Eng played in multiple brackets, jumping between the elite women’s and coed while switching from a women’s ball to a men’s ball in the process.

The highest she placed in the elite’s was fourth, but she has taken home a few champion shirts throughout the years.

Eng has lived in the Seattle area since she graduated from LC in 1989. Hoopfest weekend acts as a natural coming together for her family.

The week after Hoopfest, Eng and the family convene in Coeur d’Alene for a reunion.

“I was born and raised here. I left when I was 18 and Hoopfest is why I come back,” she said. “My summers are worked around Hoopfest in June.”

She loves Spokane, even if she was cut from her sixth-grade basketball team at Jefferson Elementary.

While she loves dominating the blacktop, Hoopfest is more than just about the basketball – but it also is a lot about the basketball.

“Just the whole atmosphere, the music and I think of community, family, fun, hanging out with friends,” she said. “When you’re playing, you’re playing. When you’re not playing, there is always someone to watch. And if you don’t have anyone to watch, there is always a good game going on (Northern Quest) Center Court.”

On Saturday, her team, Beating Father Time, won both games and will look to keep the streak alive on Sunday at 9 a.m.

“We played like we were north of 50 (years old), but we snuck out a couple wins,” Eng said.

At 51, Eng still bangs around inside, not shying away from contact.

“The one thing we weren’t used to when we first started playing – and we still struggle with it – is calling your own fouls,” she said.

“We are kind of bruisers and bang-down-low kind of people. I don’t like calling fouls.”

Spoken like a true Hoopfest veteran.