Good weather, fun all around at Gus Macker tournament

By RYAN SPITZA

Journal Sports Writer

ISHPEMING — 17 years and a few parents later, the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament is back on the streets of downtown Ishpeming.

There was no shortage of fun to be had by the local community Saturday with sunny skies helping bring out an estimated 3,000 people to Hematite Drive from Third Street to Main Street for the return of the nationwide basketball spectacle.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Gus Macker tournament originated in downstate Lowell in 1974. The tournament grew over the next few years before organizers took it across the country.

Currently, Gus Macker tournaments are held in over 75 cities, with an estimated 200,000 players and 1.7 million spectators combined.

The tournament was last played in Ishpeming in 2002 before a 16-year hiatus. Now, thanks to some local support and the tenacity of a few parents, the Gus Macker is back with approximately 124 teams and 496 individuals spanning 12 divisions. It’s an all-age, all-skill levels tourney with brackets for all groups.

Jennifer Hendrickson, lead organizer of the event, said the idea to bring the Gus Macker back to Ishpeming came about after taking her own kids to play in the Green Bay tourney last year.

“There was a group of moms who took our families and their kids to play down in Green Bay last year,” she said. “We got to talking with organizers and how we would love to bring it back to this area. They convinced us to do this and here we are.”

Aside from the basketball action itself, vendors, food trucks, a dunk tank, pony rides and a wing eating challenge were just some of the other activities available throughout the festival-like atmosphere.

“The turnout has been absolutely great,” Hendrickson said. “There’s tons of spectators down here this weekend. We’ve got all these extras with the food trucks, wing challenge, dunk tank… It’s just been a great turnout and a beautiful day.”

The entry fee for each team was $140, with some proceeds going to volunteer groups, but most of the money will be donated to Bay Cliff Health Camp.

“We have had a couple of local school groups volunteer, so they’ll get some of the money as well,” Hendrickson said. “Our biggest donation will go to Bay Cliff.”

Joe Fox, event manager for the Gus Macker national staff, said he’s worked these tournaments all across the country, but the ones held in small communities like Ishpeming, which has a population of 6,470, have extra meaning.

“I travel mostly around Michigan now, but in the past I’ve worked from New York to New Mexico,” he said. “When a community embraces it like this, it’s my favorite kind of tournament to work. When it’s on the streets and the place is packed.

“When you go to a first-year tournament, you can judge how successful it’s going to be by the crowds near the kids courts. It’s been packed all weekend, so it’s been really good.”

Fox also encourages the community to come out today, making for a fun Father’s Day activity. Whether playing or spectating, there’s something for everyone.

“We’ll be running until the early afternoon (today),” he said. “We have events for kids on the sides, so you don’t have to be a player. If you’re interested in playing, come check it out so you can know what you’re looking for next year. We also have a Sault (Ste. Marie) tournament in July. We’re really excited with how it’s going so far.”

Hendrickson also thanked the community for the support of the tournament with several local sponsors and volunteers on board this weekend.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from our local businesses and a lot of donations,” she said. “I can’t even imagine if you don’t have the support of the community, how other Gus Macker’s are put on.

“The trade-outs have been a huge help to us monetarily. It leaves us more of the money that’s donated this weekend to benefit Bay Cliff and some of the local schools.”

The Gus Macker tournament wraps up today with games taking place until roughly 4 p.m. For more information, visit the Ishpeming Gus Macker Facebook page or www.macker.com. Brackets and information about other tournaments can be found on the Gus Macker website.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.