Friends of Ironton ready to ‘court’ next civic project

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

Only months after the Friends of Ironton kick-started a new event in the community, the group hopes its next possible venture is a slam-dunk, or maybe a few thousand slam-dunks.

The civic improvement group that created August’s Rally on the River motorcycle rally and car show has been dribbling around a new idea and wants a little public feedback on its hoop dreams.

"The Rally on the River was huge for us," said Rick Jansen, one of the group’s founders. "My feeling is that a Gus Macker Tournament could even be more huge."

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For the un-Mackerized, a Michigan man who played the tournament on his parents’ driveway started the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in 1974. Gus Macker tournaments are now played in dozens of cities all over the country with more than 200,000 players each year.

Teams of all ages, size and player skill levels are accepted. Teams play a small entry fee to compete for trophies.

Tournaments are held in all sorts of locations. Some communities use large parking lots, others block off streets to create courts.

"We can’t keep living on money from within this community," Jansen said last week at the Friends’ meeting. "We’ve got to get outsiders to come here."

Jansen and other members of the Friends group are excited about the opportunities such a tournament could bring, but also realize it would require lots of work from the community and many additional volunteers.

Jansen has arranged for a representative from the tournament to come to the Friends meeting at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the City Center building.

"(Gus Macker officials) feel we have a gold mine sitting here with Kentucky right here and basketball being so big there," Jansen said, adding that neither Kentucky nor West Virginia currently have Gus Macker tournaments. "So this is the perfect location."

The nearest one is in Chillicothe, where more than 1,000 teams compete each year, bringing thousands of players, parents and spectators to the area.

Such an event would be a huge undertaking for the Friends group, Jansen said, but with the help of the community, it could be hugely successful.

Others at the meeting agreed.

"If we can get enough people together, let’s go for it," said Rick McKnight, one of the group’s founders.

Although the decision to hold the event hasn’t been made yet, the group is considering holding it on the Memorial Day weekend.

The key to making that weekend a success would be making sure the tournament wouldn’t impact existing features such as the Memorial Day Parade, the nation’s longest continuously running parade, and the annual Saint Joseph High School Charity Fair.

Jansen said the group plans to do nothing to harm either event and believes the additional event could draw more tourists to each of the other events.

That’s a key, said Judge Frank McCown, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court judge and former grand marshal of the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.

"The smart thing is to try and do things together," McCown said. "Ideally, any activity that is done in the community ought to work hand-in-hand with other activities that are already there.

"If the Friends of Ironton can host it, I think it could be a good project for them. I don’t see any problem with that. I think the more activities you can get for the community, the better," McCown said.

For Jansen, the biggest goal now is judging community interest and seeing if enough people will volunteer to help. He believes the event will be a success if they do it.

"I’ve seen it work in other communities," he said. "And I have a good feeling about this working here."

The Friends’ next meeting will be at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the City Center building on the corner of Third and Vernon streets. The public is invited to attend.

The Friends of Ironton have raised funds in a number of ways since it was formed earlier this year.

The money raised has provided for a variety of community improvement projects including bullet-resistant vest for the Ironton police to new traffic signs for area communities and even the legal fees to cover the formation of the Ironton Port Authority.