Hoops in the heat at Kenowa High School
When it comes to basketball in West Michigan, Scott McNeal is a legend. He is the founder of Gus Macker, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that began in his parents’ driveway in Lowell a long, long time ago. In 1974, the first year, 18 players competed for a prize of $18. For 41 years and running, players of all ages and skill levels have been coming together on the local streets of cities and towns throughout our great Nation.
My first Gus Macker tournament was in 1987, the first to be held in Belding after growing too large for Lowell. I can truly say I was not ready to handle the competition on the court, the huge crowds of basketball fans or the heat. The team consisted of myself, my neighbors Augie and Shawn, as well as my distant cousin, Josh. Although the three of us locals had played casually in my driveway for the last couple of years, we never had come together in a team-oriented structure. Our experience away from the driveway or playground had been limited at best, except for Shawn, who had already been playing in a youth league and at school.
The drive to Belding seemed to take forever due to the amount of people headed there and , of course, the country backroads route my dad will (still) always take to avoid heavy traffic. The walk from the car to the court was even longer. Blocks and blocks of courts on every street and people everywhere. Our team didn’t fair well in that first tournament, losing big in our first game and barely holding close in our second. Our first of our final two games on Sunday, in the toilet bowl bracket, saw us win in a nail-biter against a team of with only three players to show up in the first.
During the time between games my mom and I had run down the way to the local store just southwest of downtown Belding. As we waited in line, my mom turned to me with the most puzzled look on her face and asked, “doesn’t that hurt?” Without knowing what she was talking about, my response was a questioned look and most likely a pre-teen’s best ‘whaddaya mean, ma?’. As I turned to look at what I was leaning against as I responded to her, my eyes grew large in the instant my brain told my arm “hey, that’s burning you!” Pulling away from the chicken roaster/warmer was no simple task as my skin was melting from the heat of the metal. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt as much as the people around us in line imagined, with me assuring them that I was and would be just fine. My mom insisted to me I must be immune to fire after the grill incident at Grand Haven State Park earlier in my childhood. Near age 4, I took a back dive over our camping grill playing frisbee, most likely trying to show off, and burned up my leg pretty good. After being taped up and the blister “popped” by the emergency crew, our team faced the same team that had crushed us in the first game on Saturday. This time we performed much better but were just too small to handle those guys near the basket. We were out of the tournament but ready for the next!
When I jumped in the car on Saturday to head over to Kenowa Hill HS to watch some basketball at the Gus Macker in Grand Rapids, hosted by the Grand Rapids Drive, I expected all the same things we’ve seen too much of in previous years at Macker tournaments. The size of the crowd was smaller, but the players and fans alike were just as excited to get out to the courts. There was just as much shaded area as usual, slim to none, but the vendor tents were a needed break for anyone out there more than a couple of hours. The emcees on the Top Courts were on point like it was Rucker Park and the competition and officiating was top-notch on all the courts.
Hoping to back ON the courts before next season (that’s AFTER race-running season), we here at the Hoops are always looking for a new game, preferably full-court!
If you’d like to sponsor the BeerCityHoops team in an upcoming Macker tournament, please e-mail referee@GSCeltic.com
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