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Macker daddy visits town to push tourney

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Gus Macker."

Well, sort of. The namesake and creator of the world's largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, which makes its way to Ironton May 21-22, visited the city Wednesday to thank the event sponsors, and to hold sportsmanship events at local schools.

How Scott McNeal became "Gus Macker," and how his tournament rose to national status, however, is a different story entirely, which starts in 1974.

"Everybody in the neighborhood had nicknames," McNeal said. "The tall thin guy was 'Skinny Mulligan,' the guy with big feet was 'Shoes,' with my last name it was 'Mac' and people had always thrown 'Gus' on the front of it, I don't know why, but my nickname was 'Gus Macker.'"

McNeal may be patchy on the history of his nickname, but his memories of the origin of the tournament, which took place in his mother's Lowell, Mich., driveway are crystal clear.

"When I was growing up and my friends and I would play in the driveway, and we got tired of playing one another, so we started playing for money," McNeal said. "We all threw a dollar in the hat, and we got drafted."

When McNeal's mother needed something to put at the top of the sheet she had typed that declared the winners (as well as which of the 18 competitors had paid their dollar) her son's nickname seemed the perfect fit.

After a few years, the original players had moved away, but they continued to return for the competition, often with teams of the own. Of course, the original players didn't want to be shown up by ringers, so teams were matched according to ability, a practice that continues to this day.

That, however, is just about the only thing that has stayed the same in the Macker tournaments of today. After an appearance in Sports Illustrated Macker exploded, with 55 cities and 90,000 players being involved in tournaments just last year. To date, the tournament has raised $3 million for charity.

And, of course, "the hat" that teams of four throw their $108 entry fee into is now quite a bit larger, and instead of that money going to winning teams, it is delivered to a charity, in this case, the Friends of Ironton civic group.

Ohio has been especially "Macker-crazy" McNeal said, with 12 tournaments happening in the Buckeye State this year. However, Ironton's will be the first to take place in the Tri-State.

When the tournament comes to town, it is more than just hoops, but a happening. Second, Third and Vernon streets will be host to a "basketball carnival" of sorts, with several activities for families, all in an alcohol-free and tobacco-free environment specifically designed for family fun.

All-inclusiveness extends from the event to the court, as anyone may participate in Macker, from children to seniors. Registration forms are available at John Clark's Pump-N-Shop locations, The Ironton Tribune, participating area Wendy's, and online at www.macker.com.

The postmark deadline is April 29, and the online deadline is May 2.