This weekend, basketballers from around the country will descend on the town of Cicero for the fifth annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament.
The tournament, which includes 716 players on 179 teams, will take place from Friday, Aug. 8, to Sunday, Aug. 10 next to Drivers Village.
Cicero Parks and Recreation Department employee Julie Raddell brought the tournament to town in 2010 as a way to help raise money for the CanTeen teen center.
“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 local event has grown exponentially since its inception.
“In four short years, our event has doubled in size,” Raddell said. “We’ve registered players from around New York and from states all around the country. We’ve built new solid relationships with local businesses and charities and we’ve met some incredible people that have continued to volunteer over the years.”
Now, Cicero has become a Macker destination.
“Our event is much more than just a basketball tournament. We actually call it a basketball festival,” Raddell said. “People come from around the state for the competition on the courts. I believe some of our local citizens also come for the fun atmosphere we provide. We host mascot games, dance contests, wing-eating challenges and the hilarious play-by-play announcing on our Dream Court area is top-notch. Also, on Friday night, we host two separate single-elimination tournaments, separate from the main event. Our sponsors partake in a Corporate Tournament and local teachers and school personnel compete in the School District Tournament. I had the task of collecting the trophies back from last year’s winners [Tully’s and Gillette Road Middle School] and both teams are confident they can win it again this year.”
Putting together an event of such magnitude is no easy task.
“Basically, when the event ends on Sunday night in August, our committee takes about a six-week break before we start planning for the next year,” Raddell said. “While still fresh in our mind, we evaluate everything that worked and didn’t work and make a game plan for the following year. We assign people to every task imaginable throughout the year. We try not to leave any detail about our event to chance.”
And none of it would be possible without the tournament’s many dedicated volunteers.
“Thinking about the Macker event volunteers is one of my favorite signs of growth and acceptance by the community,” Raddell said. “If I were to look back at our volunteer list from 2010, I would be able to name the connection to each volunteer. Now in 2014, that is a whole different story. In addition to our loyal five-year volunteers, we have seen new faces come in each year that continue to return because they have so much fun.”
Raddell said more and more volunteers sign on every year.
“We continue to get calls from new volunteers that want to help because they want to better their community or make a difference,” she said. “The hard work and dedication of every single one of our volunteers in past years has contributed to our success. Without volunteers, our event would absolutely fail.”
The tournament also has the support of local organizations, which can use the tournament as an opportunity to fundraise for themselves.
“For example, the Cicero Fire Department comes every year on Friday night to provide a concession,” Raddell said. “The Cicero-North Syracuse Optimist Club has taken over complete ownership and responsibility of registering the players on site at our tournament.”
Most importantly, after this year, Macker will have raised more than $100,000 for the CanTeen, helping to keep the doors open at the valuable community resource.
“That number is so impressive when you consider we are a local charity with no real marketing budget or full-time dedicated fundraisers,” Raddell said. “We are all volunteers that started with an idea and went wild with it. We used creativity and our passion to convince sponsors, volunteers and players to join us. It’s paid off in a big way.”
For more information, visit macker.com/macker-tournament/2014-gus-macker-tour/273-syracuse-cicero-ny.html or find them on Facebook.
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.