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Air Apparent 

by Michael Bowen

If you were searching for a new executive director for Hoopfest, you'd want someone who had been responsible for securing sponsors and cajoling contributors for not-on-the-national-radar sports-related events in remote Eastern Washington. Someone like Washington State University's associate athletic director for development. Someone, in other words, like Brady Crook.

Executive Director Rick Steltenpohl is still around -- and will be until the end of August -- but Crook is grooming himself for the job. Steltenpohl, who has guided Hoopfest for 13 years, is leaving to join a sports promotion firm in Phoenix. In the meantime, Crook is overseeing the official Hoopfest vendors in a kind of "temporary co-executive directorship" situation.

But how can an incoming director improve on an already successful event?

"We want to make it better for everyone who's involved," replies Crook, "from spectators to volunteers to participants. So we're continually trying to improve it -- by making it even easier with the online registration process, for example. Over two-thirds of our registrations come in online -- so that's something we're doing right, even though of course we'd love to be paperless."

Crook, who was born and raised in Pullman, has worked in various capacities in athletic-department development, not only at WSU but at the universities of Oregon and Nevada as well. He's well aware of the unceasing effort that goes into expanding budgets and enticing sponsors.

"We don't want to get too comfortable," he says, "because comfort leads to stagnation and decline,"

But can Hoopfest just keep expanding forever? Someday, for example, will there be temporary courts all over the parking lot on the north side of Spokane Arena?

"The only thing that will keep us from expanding would be a deterioration of the event," says Crook. "If putting courts north of the Arena resulted in a poorer experience for participants, then we would not do that."

As impressive as "nearly 25,000 players" sounds, it's still true that for every one of Hoopfest's participants, five other people venture downtown on Hoopfest weekend to watch them. That's 150,000 folks all told, all of them seemingly trying at the same time to squeeze between the same two courts at Riverside and Post.

Spectators are "a major focal point for us," says Crook. "We want our spectators to have a great experience."

Part of doing that involves keeping nearly 40 authorized vendors satisfied while fending off the unauthorized ones. Hoopfest will be more aggressive this year -- first in trying to sign up unofficial vendors, then in enlisting police support to ticket or remove offenders.

Crook has a vested interest, after all, in keeping downtown businesses happy. "Some say, 'It's our best weekend,'" he reports. "Some just close for the weekend. But the majority are excited about it."

Crook says he's found that, if the weather is hot, those businesses that can take their products outdoors -- to where the spectators are -- do best. If the nature of the product requires that the business lure people indoors -- well, that's a separate concern.

Dealing with vendors and salespeople, attempting to market Hoopfest to the community with even greater success than it has enjoyed in the past -- those are the challenges facing Brady Crook.

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