The Macker is back: Moms take on bringing Gus Macker basketball back to Ishpeming this weekend

Eric Eliason, right, of Ishpeming tries to block a shot by Wes Passinault of Munising during their boys' 17-18-year-old game at the Gus Macker basketball tournament in Ishpeming during August 1999. (Journal file photo)

“People seem really excited to see this event come back.” — Jennifer Hendrickson, Ishpeming mother and a principal organizer of this year’s Ishpeming Gus Macker tournament


ISHPEMING — Gus Macker is making a comeback in Ishpeming this weekend.

For those old enough to remember, the community basketball tournament held on streets and in parking lots all around the country was popular for several years right around the start of the 21st century.

It seems to have faded from most people’s minds, though the tourneys themselves have continued on thanks to the Macker headquarters located in the community of Belding about 20 miles east of Grand Rapids in the Lower Peninsula.

From left, Haley Turino, left, of Ishpeming dribbles around Holly Nardi, also of Ishpeming, as Mallory McCormick looks on durnig a girls' 13-year-old game at the Gus Macker basketball tournament held in Ishpeming in June 2000. (Journal file photo)

Now a small handful of Ishpeming-area women are bringing it back.

“I’ve never organized something like this before, but people seem really excited to see this event come back,” said Jennifer Hendrickson, who like other top organizer Kris Anderson are Ishpeming mothers whose children were excited about participating in a tourney like this right near home.

“We took our two kids down to Green Bay (Wisconsin) last year for the Macker tournament there, and we got talking to the organizers and found out how we could hold a tournament here.”

Mining Journal records show the Macker was held in Ishpeming from 1999 to at least 2002, the last summer that information about the venerable event could be found on a local version of the event.

Several other Upper Peninsula cities, including Iron Mountain and Sault Ste. Marie, also held Gus Mackers around that time and continued for at least part of the time since.

Heath Eliason of Ishpeming, left, goes into the air for a shot while being defended by Brad Besonen of Trout Creek during a game at the Gus Macker basketball tournament held in Ishpeming in June 2000. (Journal file photo)

In fact, the Soo will host its annual Macker tourney in early to mid-July, according to Hendrickson.

With it being the first year back in Ishpeming, Hendrickson is happy to have a manageable turnout, which will be 124 teams comprising 496 individuals.

“I just hoped for a nice round 500, but that’s all right,” she laughed. Registration is closed for those interested in entering the event.

Hematite Drive, a street running on an angle along the northern border of downtown Ishpeming, will have about three blocks reserved for the Macker basketball courts. The section of that street from Third to Main was to be blocked off beginning this morning and run through daylight hours Sunday.

No games will be held today, though, with set-up going on all day and registration available for preregistered teams from 4 to 7 p.m. today, along with 7 to 8 a.m. Saturday.

Rebecca Holsworth of Channing takes a shot during their girls' 13-14-year-old age group game during Gus Macker action in Ishpeming in August 1999. Behind Holsworth from left are Kasey Willis and Vanessa Anderson from the opposing Hancock Dawgs team and Kathryn Holsworth of Marquette playing with Holsworth for the Alley Yoopers. (Journal file photo)

Basketball games themselves will be played from around 8 or 8:30 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Hendrickson said there are 13 divisions, divided by gender and age, with divisions as young as 10 years and under and as old as open adult listed for 25 and older.

Admission is free for spectators or those who just want to take in the festive atmosphere.

“We’ll have lots of activities going on,” Hendrickson said, listing a half-dozen food vendors, at least three being food trucks, with pony rides, a bounce house, face painting and several on-site raffles benefitting local charities.

On Saturday, there will also be opening ceremonies at 8 a.m. to include a speech to open the event and an invocation.

Eric Eliason, left, of Ishpeming defends against Wes Passinault of Munising during the boys' 17-18-year-old age group game at the Gus Macker basketball tournament in Ishpeming in August 1999. (Journal file photo)

Later that morning, a dunk tank where local “celebrities” can be knocked into the water will be held from about 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., while 3-point shooting and slam dunk contests will be available to Macker participants later in the day.

Open to both basketball competitors and noncompetitors on Saturday will be a hot wings-eating challenge sponsored by Jerzi’s 41.

Just off site at the Ishpeming VFW, a pancake breakfast open to all will be held in conjunction with the post’s annual Red, White & Blue walk-run with a small discount for those involved with the Macker from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Hendrickson is grateful for the cooperation and support she has received in bringing the Gus Macker back to Ishpeming.

“I remember participating in it here, it must’ve been around 2000, either right around the time I graduated (from high school) or a couple years later,” she said.

Tom Salo of Manistique, left, works his way around Brandon Lawson of Ishpeming during a Gus Macker basketball tournament game in June 2002 in Ishpeming. (Journal file photo)

“We had to have a sponsoring organization for our Gus Macker application, and the Ishpeming ICE — the Ishpeming Community Events group — took that on for us.

“Travel Marquette is our largest sponsor.”

She added there are about a dozen major sponsors and at least 20 “core” sponsors.

“We’ve had a lot of in-kind donations, which has really taken a lot of the pressure off,” Hendrickson said. “For groups that don’t have this kind of help, I don’t know how they can afford to put this on. We’ve been quite fortunate.”

She also added that she is still seeking more volunteers, even from people who don’t have a significant time to contribute.

To reach her, visit the Gus Macker-Ishpeming page on Facebook, email Hendrickson at mackerish@gmail.com or call her at 250-4823.

Any profit made from the event will be donated to charitable groups, the main one to be Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay.

Several organizations, including a few high school basketball teams, that are volunteering as a group will also receive modest donations, Hendrickson added.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.