BELDING — Conditions were hot and dry this past weekend with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, but that didn’t stop more than 1,200 youths and adults from packing the streets of downtown Belding for this year’s annual Gus Macker tournament.
With 326 teams participating in this year’s tournament, downtown Belding once again was transformed into “Mackerville, USA” as teams competed in the 3-on-3 basketball tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
Tournament co-founder Scott McNeal said he could’t have been happier with how this year’s tournament was played, and expects things to continue to grow as the tournament approaches its 40th anniversary next year.
“Things have gone really good this weekend,” he said. “It’s always hectic when you have it in your hometown.”
McNeal estimated about 280 teams participated in the Belding tournament in 2011 and was happy to see an increase in teams coming to Belding.
“I think there are a lot more kid and family teams and I think that was evident here this weekend,” he said. “There were a lot of teams from across the state here today and I think you’re going to see even more of that next year as teams continue to come back to Belding.”
McNeal also attributed the increase in teams to the timing of the tournament, being that it is held toward the end of the summer.
“This is one of the last chances to play in a Macker in the summer in Michigan,” McNeal said. “I think that also helps boost the number of teams.”
McNeal said most tournaments are prepared with volunteer groups and this year in Belding there were 16 charity groups that came forward to help out at this year’s Gus Macker tournament.
Local community groups such as the Belding Police Reserves, Project Graduation, Belding Area Arts Council and the “B” Foundation were on hand to help out and raise money.
“Emotionally, for all of us, it’s a big push to get up to this event,” he said. “After the morning ceremonies, it’s a lot of work. Almost everyone helping out in this particular tournament is from Belding and around the area.”
Another charity group was the Belding boys varsity basketball team, headed by head coach Jeff Wierzbicki.
“I’ve played in Mackers and helped out in Mackers my entire life, but this is my first time here in Belding,” Wierzbicki said. “With the tradition they’ve had, I just jumped at the opportunity to help out.
Wierzbicki and his players arrived at 8 a.m. Friday and spent the day setting up courts along with other charity groups.
On Saturday, the players and coach came out in two-hour shifts to manage water for all of the courts, which was especially important with the hot conditions.
“It’s been very busy, but it has been great,” he said. “There’s a lot of Mackers that don’t offer the water, scoreboard and other things, but Belding does it right.”
Wierzbicki said he was amazed at the atmosphere of this year’s tournament and said he is especially looking forward to next year’s 40-year anniversary.
“We want to bring back the mentality we had 20 years ago when there were thousands of teams,” he said. “I think you’re starting to see this. I had one of my players say he’s never seen this many people in Belding.”
McNeal said he will be “pulling out all the stops” for next year’s tournament to attract as many teams as possible to bring to Belding.
“We appreciate the town letting us do this,” he said. “Especially letting so many local charities getting involved. It’s becoming more of a family festival than just a basketball tournament.”