Hoopfest - Weekend warriors

by Angela Johnson and Ted S. McGregor, Jr.

Come Saturday, you may think Spokane is experiencing another earthquake, but it will really be the sound of 44,204 sneakered feet pounding the pavement of downtown Spokane in unison. This rumbling has become a familiar phenomenon at the end of June for the past dozen years -- and every year it just gets bigger.

"It's definitely fun to see so many people playing basketball this time of year," says Rick Steltenpohl, executive director of Hoopfest and one of its founders. "Normally in the end of June, you wouldn't see so many people playing ball, but they're all getting ready for Hoopfest."

Sure, people liked playing basketball before Hoopfest, but now they have an excuse to really go overboard. Steltenpohl's little event has gone from drawing just from the city's most hardcore players to bringing hoop-crazy folks in from all over the nation, not to mention every corner of the Inland Northwest. It's the competition and the sheer spectacle of it all that keeps the event growing to increasingly unbelievable dimensions. Rubbing elbows -- and poking elbows -- with thousands of people who share your dedication to the game that old James Naismith invented in Massachusetts all those years ago has the kind of life-affirming effect that is all too rare these days.

But half-baked philosophy aside, there's more to do at Hoopfest than just ponder the meaning of that missed game-winning shot -- you can agonize over that for the rest of the year. Check out some of the elite division teams, try some of the Hoopfest games, go shopping at some of the local stores or drown those sorrows and relive the action at one of the many local watering holes. But whatever you do, get in the game.

The Elites

Steltenpohl says the 2001 elite field may be the strongest ever. Back to defend its 2000 title in the six-foot-and-over bracket is Phat Steppin', which features former Whitworth College players. But the team didn't stand pat; instead it shook things up by adding perennial Hoopfest all-star Shan Ferch to the squad.

"They had a real good inside player that they don't have now, but they got a great shooter in Shan," says Steltenpohl. "So who knows what's better."

Also back is Team Granger, four guys from Atlanta, Ga., who make the three-on-three tournament rounds but who liked Spokane's version well enough to make the cross-country trek again. And the winners from 1999, Da Bus Drivers from Tacoma, are back, too.

But the sleeper this year might be Team Fresno, a bunch of schoolteachers who have been taking three-on-three wannabes to school for the past few years. They've won something like 25 different tourneys across the country, and now they've set their sights on Spokane.

The elites, including the six-foot-and-under teams and a women's bracket, play on the courts along Spokane Falls Boulevard all weekend long. The championship game of the elite division's six-foot-and-over division is at 6 pm Sunday night at Center Court and will be televised on KREM-2.

Beyond Basketball

There is a plethora of events going on Hoopfest weekend besides the famous tournament, and many sponsors are offering different all-ages activities for five bucks or less.

Burger King is sponsoring a slam-dunk contest on Saturday at the Nike Center Court for a cost of $2. The women's contest is at 12:30 pm. followed by the men's at 1 pm.

"This is one of Hoopfest's most popular events," says Lara Sopchak, events coordinator for Hoopfest.

The Children's Museum, located at 110 N. Post just a block south of River Park Square, is offering free admission Hoopfest weekend for kids 10 and under. The museum has hands-on activities and interactive exhibits.

Want to fly? The quad jump in Riverfront Park's central meadow is open all weekend. It is a trampoline jump for children and adults at a cost of $5.

Mountain Dew is having a BMX Bike Show on Saturday and Sunday. Pro bikers will perform a quarter-pipe show on Main between Wall and Post, in addition to giving autographs and prizes.

The Coeur d'Alene Casino is holding a sports challenge in Riverfront Park this weekend, too. For a price of $1, you and a friend can play one on one. For the same cost, AT & amp;T is sponsoring the Wireless Hoopshoot at the Riverfront Park bridge. The contest is geared toward younger players for a chance to win a mini basketball.

The Hoop Ness Monster is open Saturday and Sunday for children in Riverfront Park. Kids can run through the colorful seamonster and partake in the activities inside the beast. The activity is $1 and is put on by Horizon and Alaska Airlines. They are also setting up a large inflatable slide called the Tsunami. In addition, Tidyman's has a jumping castle at the same times and place for $1.

On Spokane Falls Boulevard, Safeco is sponsoring the Last Second Shot Contest. The contest is on Saturday and Sunday and is open to all ages. Tickets are $1 and prizes are offered to those who make the shot. On the same street, the Downtown Spokane Partnership is having a Hot Shot Contest where kids can win a bicycle, scooter or skateboard.

Only children are invited to Wells Fargo Little Hoopsters on Saturday and Sunday in Riverfront Park. It's a shooting contest for all children. Prizes are given to every participant, and it costs $1.

Aquafina is holding a shootout contest at the Spokane Falls Boulevard turnout on Saturday and Sunday for $1. The champion and two finalists receive prizes at the finals on Sunday. Others have a chance to win mini basketballs. A 3-point Shot Contest is offered in the same location by 24-Hour Fitness. The contest is on Saturday followed by finals on Sunday. The contest is for all ages and is $1.

The Naval Reserve wants to see how many consecutive free throws you can make. Prizes are given to the champion and five finalists. It costs $1 to enter this competition on Saturday and Sunday at the turnout.

Finally, there will be a shoot-out for a Toyota Rav-4, where someone is guaranteed to win. Starting Thursday, anyone over 18 can attempt to shoot for the car for $5. The finals are on Sunday and will be located at the Spokane Falls Boulevard turnout. Tickets for most of the activities are available at three ticket locations in the park.

For those not interested in sports but who still want to be part of the event, music will play all weekend long at Riverfront Park's Clock Tower Meadow.

"This year, we'll have live music for the first time," says Sopchak. Some of the acts include Jupiter Effect, 10 Minutes Down and Sweet Fancy Moses.

Getting There

To get to Hoopfest, Spokane Transit has a shuttle available for just 25 cents. The bus runs every 30 minutes from the Jefferson Park and Ride (at Jefferson and I-90), where parking is free to the public. Instead of the Plaza, Second and Howard will be STA's meeting place beginning Friday night and running through the weekend.

If you have to drive, along with a variety of surface parking lots, three downtown parking garages are offering special parking passes that allow in-and-out privileges for the whole weekend. The Parkade and the River Park Square parking garages are offering the weekend passes for $10; the Bank of America garage is charging $14. Parking passes for these locations can be purchased at the team check-in at Riverfront Park starting on Thursday.

How to Win

You're probably glad you read this far into the article, because here's where we reveal the secret to winning. The short answer is, of course, that you must score more points than your opponent -- duh! But doing that isn't always easy. We polled two Hoopfest experts and even dug into our vast Inlander archives to answer that question.

If you see this year's cool Hoopfest poster, with Casey Calvary on it, you can see Mark Reilly in the ref suit in the background. Reilly has been an elite division referee at Hoopfest for seven years -- in other words, he's seen a lot of good basketball.

"It's a little different than in five-on-five," says Reilly. "The guys who get along well and don't let one bad play -- or a bad call -- affect their game get through it and win.

"Passing is even more important than in five-on-five," Reilly continues. "At Hoopfest, you've got to find the open man quickly because the defense is always right there."

Steltenpohl has seen a lot of hoop, too, both as a spectator and a player. He agrees that passing is important in keeping the ball moving around so you can get the best possible shot.

"Hey, the old pick and roll -- it works," says Steltenpohl. "You've got to keep moving, then you're going to get open shots. You do that by setting good picks and crisp passing."

But Steltenpohl says crashing the boards may be the most important of all, a thought he shares with the late, great Wayne Gillman, who passed away earlier this year after a legendary career as the coach of Ferris High School's varsity basketball team. Back in 1995, Gillman told The Inlander that he thought rebounding could be the most important thing of all in the three-on-three game.

"It's hard in a three-on-three game to find a guy to block out, so you can get murdered on the offensive boards," Gillman said. "In three-on-three basketball, you don't have to send a guard down court to defend against the long pass because the game is half-court. So you can have all three players crash the boards."

What about shooting the long ball, after all in Hoopfest, a three-pointer is worth two points while a normal shot is worth one, making the long ball even more of a weapon. Reilly says that a lot of times by Sunday, the teams that can make their two-pointers have an easier time of winning, but Steltenpohl says to be careful: "If you win by the three, or the two in Hoopfest, then you can die by it, too."

Gillman held the same philosophy: "I don't believe you can win Hoopfest by shooting from the outside. You have to work hard on defense and maybe even try some double-teaming. The team that works harder wins during Hoopfest."

But in the end, it may all come down to that charity stripe, and all those hours of shooting free throws in practice can finally pay off. "Ah, the all-important free throw," says Steltenpohl. "A lot of games are won and lost at the free-throw line."

By the numbers


(estimated number of dollars spent in Spokane as a direct result of Hoopfest)


(dollars donated by Hoopfest over the past 11 years to the Special Olympics, the YMCA, the YWCA and used to build Hoopfest courts around the city -- and another $60,000 is expected to be donated after this year)


(estimated number fans who crowd downtown Spokane to cheer on their team)


(number of players set to take the courts starting Saturday)


(number of teams)


(number of volunteers who man the event)


(number of courts to be spread across downtown Spokane)


(years Hoopfest has been in existence)


(number of teams left standing as the winner in each bracket on Sunday afternoon)

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