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Hoopfest - Head Hoopster 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ith a small paid staff and lots of volunteers, Hoopfest Executive Director Brady Crook makes sure that thousands of folks have a safe (and only somewhat insane) street ball experience.

He can't guarantee, however, that your body won't attract a few scrapes and bruises.

Yet while street ball reigns during Hoopfest -- don't try calling a touch foul -- excessively rough play isn't really a problem: Last year, out of more than 24,000 players, exactly 12 were ejected for throwing their toys out of the pram.

This year, using a carrot-and-stick approach -- not so much to increase enforcement, says Crook, as to "address any problem before it happens" -- court monitors will be able to award exceptional sportsmanship with McDonalds-sponsored coupons redeemable for bags with lots of goodies. That's the carrot.

The new stick? Flagrant, intentional and technical fouls won't simply allow the other side to shoot a free throw -- instead, they'll be awarded a point and the ball. In other words, guy makes a basket and you scream bloody hell about it, he'll get the basket plus an extra point and the ball back -- potentially a four- or five-point play in game that, after all, only goes up to 20.

With Crook leading a full-time staff of just five other employees, you'd think Hoopfest would have its hands full (of basketballs?) just trying to keep up with 400 brackets averaging nearly 16 teams each. But that's not all they do. Crook seems surprised by the suggestion that winter might be a down-time for Hoopfest. "AAU basketball," he pipes up. "We administer leagues for fourth through eighth graders. Runs from September through February. Over 2,000 teams. We play games at the Warehouse and at two or three middle schools in the area. It's for the more competitive kids who want to play on a team in addition to their school teams."

And by the time February rolls around, Crook and his staff have already started planning for the Hoopfest entry forms, making sure that hard copies are distributed at local stores by mid-March. He notes with satisfaction that "75 percent of our entries are online, up from 63 percent last year." When you're dealing with 6,130 teams with an average of 3.8 players each, it helps to cut down on the paperwork.

Crook, formerly associate athletic director for development at WSU, knows a thing or two about sports-related logistics and fund-raising. Asked what the average player on the street doesn't realize about Hoopfest, he goes straight to the charitable aspects: "Hoopfest has contributed more than $500,000 in 16 years to the Special Olympics," he says. "And we'll pass the $900,000 mark in total contributions this year."

In addition, for several years now, Hoopfest has constructed or refurbished outdoor basketball courts at parks and community centers all over Spokane and in towns like Reardan, Fairfield and Clarkston. That's a small part of why Hoopfest has such drawing power: One-third of the players (that's 8,000 people) travel from Idaho, western Washington and other areas outside the eastern half of Washington state.

They're drawn to an event that runs on more than 3,000 Spokane-area volunteers. Crook runs down the list: "marshals, court monitors, area administrators ... cleanup, the maintenance crew, site ops, EMTs, the special events coordinator with the local police -- a lot of people are very generous with their time. It's a real testament to the community."

And the Spokane community has come together to create a hoop event more than twice as big as any other three-on-three tournament in the world. Organizers from other cities send observers to Hoopfest all the time -- "Lewiston, Coeur d'Alene, Portland with the Street Jam there," says Crook, running through a mental list. "Salt Lake City has been here the last four years, and they haven't even started their tournament yet -- just observing."

What they see is the world's biggest outdoor display of basketball as organized chaos. Crook and his staff provide the "organized" part. As for the "chaos" -- we didn't mean to mention it, but your passing, dribbling and jump shot could all use some work.

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