Gus Macker has put Cicero on the map.
“People talk about it as a destination on the New York Macker circuit,” said Julie Raddell, director of the Syracuse-Cicero Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, held this past weekend at Drivers Village. “Cicero actually gets mentioned as a place now where people want to come and participate. Last year, we were too new, but this year, we’re much more part of the Macker circuit.”
Raddell, who works in the Cicero Youth Bureau, Parks and Recreation Department, organized the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in the town to raise money for the CanTeen teen center, which is run by the Youth Bureau. The center provides a home away from home after school for teens, allowing them a place to do homework, play games and keep them safe and entertained during their out-of-school time. Because of state budget cuts, the program has found itself in jeopardy and in need of a new source of funding. So in 2010, Raddell started looking for a new way to come up with some money.
“We needed a big fundraiser to make a lot of money, because we were doing a lot of little fundraisers, just nickel-and-diming and just bringing in small amounts,” Raddell said. “We were just using up our committee members year-round, and they were getting tired. So we wanted one big one that we could put a lot of work into for part of the year that could bring in a lot of money.”
That’s when Raddell thought of Macker.
“I grew up in Michigan, and that’s where Macker started,” she said. “I grew up playing in lots of Mackers and going from city to city to city, and I said, ‘Why don’t we look at this?’”
Gus Macker tournaments have become a tradition for people across the country. The first Gus Macker tournament was played by Scott McNeal (known to friends as Gus Macker) on his parents’ driveway basketball court in Lowell, Michigan in 1974, and it only grew from there. By 1987, it had become a statewide phenomenon. The first year, more than 10,400 players participated in five cities. Since then, the Macker tournaments have expanded, holding both indoor and outdoor games in more than 75 cities, with more than 200,000 players taking part each year.
The Macker tournament is designed so that anyone can play, regardless of age or ability. Since 1987, a total of 972 tournaments have been held nationwide, with more than 2.2 million players participating —male and female from 7 years old to over 50 — and more than 23 million spectators.
Teams are computer-matched into male and female divisions within one of the following categories: Junior, Adult, or Top. The age, height and experience of all four players are considered when making teams. Teams are guaranteed at least three scheduled games. At each tournament site, the local organizing committee donates proceeds from their event to a local charity — in Cicero’s case, the CanTeen.
Also, in many cities local non-profit clubs, groups, and organizations raise funds through on-site food concession sales, special events and other on-site activities. The Gus Macker official Web site estimates that since 1987, about $15 million has been raised for numerous charities throughout the United States.
And it’s not just the charities that benefit, Raddell said.
“It’s great for Cicero,” she said. “It’s great for the local businesses. The hotels are packed with athletes and their families who come in from all over the place. The restaurants are feeding everyone at lunch and dinnertime. It’s huge for the businesses. And for the community, it’s something that brings us together as a major community event.”
This year’s event drew 55 more teams than last year, with a total of 792 athletes compared to roughly 600 last year. Teams came in from all over the country to compete in the Cicero Macker, and community members, athletes, families and friends participated in events like the Macker Block Party at Drivers Village preceding the tourney Friday night, autograph signings from former Syracuse University basketball star Scoop Jardine, bounce houses, face painting, crafts and more.
“It’s much more than a basketball tournament,” Raddell said. “It’s a festival.”
And none of it would be possible without the support of the town, she acknowledged.
“We’re so thankful to the town of Cicero for their support for all of this,” Raddell said. “The community and businesses’ support for all that we do is tremendous. There would be no tournament without them.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.