Gus Macker brings thousands of fans to downtown Ironton

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Rubin Taylor wandered across Second Street Saturday, cane in hand and a hat on his head. He stopped a minute and watched the flurry of activity on the parking lot in front of the Old Depot. To one side were a group of young ladies, a basketball bouncing among them. A short distance away were a group of pre-teenaged boys shooting hoops. Further away more groups of people were bandying basketballs about. And everywhere there were spectators: Some sat in folding camp chairs, others stood on the edges of the temporary basketball courts, peering in at the activity.

“This is something else, isn’t it?” he said with a smile. “This is really nice. I didn’t think they could get this many people down here. I wanted to get out and walk a little and see people.”

Taylor was not disappointed: he saw people, approximately 2,000 of them. Some of them were, as he was, curious about the commotion. Others were intensely involved in it. The second annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament on Second Street brought throngs of people into downtown Ironton this weekend.

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“This is really nice,” Taylor said. “It gives the kids something to do.”

Something to do

Misty Brown, of Portsmouth, came with friends Sue and Rick Grose to watch the Grose’s daughter, Gabby, play in the Gus Macker tournament. None of them had been to a Gus Macker event before. It was Gabby’s idea.

“She plays basketball and her friends were coming to play,” Sue Grose said. “She wanted to play, too.”

It was the first time, too, for four young ladies from South Point: Kadesha Fox, Macy MacArthur, Kelly Barnett and Brianna Whaley.

“We just saw it in the paper and made a team,” Fox said. “There are a lot of people here.”

Beginner’s luck was good luck: They won their first match against a team from Wheelersburg, 7-6. Perhaps the win had a little something to do with it, but their opinion of Gus after this initial encounter was a good one.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” MacArthur said.

The four South Point young ladies came with Whaley’s mom, Jonda and her friend, Ed Penniston, who both said they were pleased with their first taste of Gus.

“Originally, where I first heard about it, I didn’t think much of it,” Penniston said.

“But the girls decided they wanted to play, and I thought it would be good if we came down and checked it out.

I’m impressed with the way it’s run. It’s really well-organized.”

While some locals were new to the idea of street basketball tournaments, others fell in love with the idea years ago.

Tom Sabo, of Chillicothe, walked through the maze of people, with 3-year-old Madyson perched atop Daddy’s shoulders. Gus Macker was a bit of a family affair: two of Sabo’s three kids and his wife came with him to watch him play.

Sabo has been playing in Gus Macker events for 12 years and — like many of the people who came to Ironton from out of town — has traveled all over the state to do it. Gus is not just a fun thing they do sometimes, it’s an expanded workout, a vacation and an adventure rolled into a multi-location package.

“I’ve played in Chillicothe, of course, and (Washington) Court House. I’ve been to Zanesville and Cambridge and one place in Kentucky: Boone County? It’s something to do. I like getting out and playing.”

Prentice Tomas came from Columbus to play in the tournament. Standing on the sidelines Saturday, he lamented that neither Columbus nor Dayton had Gus Macker tournaments anymore — not that he was doing without.

“We decided to venture out and play in all of them (in Ohio),” he said. This is his first trip to Ironton. “It’s nice to be on the river. It’s nice here.”

And it doesn’t hurt that there is basketball to be played on the river.

“I’m a major basketball fan,” Tomas said.

“I like good competition. It’s a manly fulfillment.”

Cashing in on Gus

Vendors lined up on the back of the lot and on sidewalks on South Second Street, hoping that all those people who came to see Gus or be Gus would soon get hungry.

“We’re extremely busy,” said Larry Holtzapfel, treasurer of the Knights of Columbus, as he dished up french fries and onion rings onto waiting plates. People taking orders buzzed around him, handing him plates and then taking the orders back to customers.

“We started serving lunch at 9:30,” fellow K of C member Nick Medinger said. “We started serving breakfast at about 7:30 (a.m.) and then they wanted lunch at about 9:30. It’s busier than I thought it would be.”

Nannette Brown set a sign outside the door of the mini craft mall that read “From the Lane,” hoping passersby would come through her open door.

“I plan to set some stuff outside once I get helpers,” she said. “I hope business will pick up when it’s less chaotic. They just started playing.”

Across the street, Ann and Rick Haynes, owners of The End Zone, opened their doors at 9 a.m., serving breakfast, something normally not on the menu there.

“We usually don’t open until 11,” Rick Haynes said. But business has been good, thanks to hungry Gus Macker enthusiasts.

“Early evenings and in between games, it gets busy in here,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Friends of Ironton for what they’re trying to do. I think the volunteers are working so hard.”

Support for Gus

Greg Linn, of Ironton, had heard about Gus Macker last year but was out of town playing baseball. This year he is volunteering as a scorekeeper.

“I heard it was a blast last year,” he said. “So I figured I could do this since I’m not playing summer ball. I think we’ll try to get a team together next year.”

Linn was one of more than 100 people who gave up part or all of their weekend to create an event for the community, both an entertainment/ social event and an economic tool.

“What’s great is how it brings the whole community back to life,” Lilly said. “I remember when I was growing up there was a lot of young people in this town and during Gus Macker we see a lot of young people.

“Obviously it brings cash flow into the city. It gives the merchants … the opportunity to get involved and have sidewalk sales and improve their cash flow. But what’s great is how it just brings the whole community back to life.”