Hoop Dreams: Friends try to bring tourney

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Ironton is a football town. Everyone knows that. But basketball may soon take over - at least for one weekend this May.

The Friends of Ironton civic improvement group is continuing with its plans to bring a Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament to Ironton.

Last week, members of the Friends met with Jeff Thomas, tournament coordinator of Macker Basketball, to discuss options.

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"We're excited about the possibilities of being able to bring an event down here," Thomas said. "Obviously with Ironton being located so close to Kentucky and West Virginia, that's a big draw.

"Kentucky is one of the biggest basketball states, but we have not had a tournament there," he said. "Obviously that's exciting to us."

Ironton attempted to bring a Gus Macker tournament to town in 1992, but Macker Basketball decided it was too close to a tournament that was then held in Portsmouth.

Since that time the parochial school that sponsored the Portsmouth tournament has shifted its fund-raising direction, Thomas said.

Macker tournaments had humble beginnings 30 years ago.

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 pay 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.

Thomas said he and Friends of Ironton co-founder Rick Jansen identified more than two dozen potential court sites throughout downtown Ironton, nearly twice the amount they expect to need for the first year.

"I think this is something we're going to do," said Rick Jansen, co-founder of the Friends of Ironton. "I'm worried about getting enough volunteers to help though."

And unlike the Rally on the River motorcycle rally and car show that the Friends group sponsored in August, a Macker Tournament will easily take three to four times as many volunteers.

Thomas said getting volunteers to help is critical to the success of a tournament, but that the Friends group seems in a good position to attract enough volunteers.

"You don't realize how far ahead of the game you are," Thomas said. "You've got a whole room full of people here, that's what impresses me. You've got 17 to 20 people that are fired up about it."

Although the Friends group has not signed the contract with Macker yet, the group has already set the date for the tournament, May 14-15. The group had considered hosting it on Memorial Day weekend, but decided against it, at least for the first year, because of the potential for conflicts with other Memorial Day weekend activities.

Thomas said the key is just continuing to get community volunteers behind it. When that happens, the event will be successful, he said.

"It's a no-brainer, it really is," Thomas said. "This group is way ahead of most."

Volunteers are needed both to help officiate the games and handle logistics. People interested in volunteering as tournament officials are asked to call Tony Payne at 532-5605. Other volunteers are asked to call Jodi Rowe-Collins at 534-1152 or Rick McKnight at 533-2631.

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

The next Friends of Ironton meeting will be at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at the City Center on Third Street in Ironton.