BELDING — It all started with a group of friends who wanted to play basketball. It evolved into Gus Macker Basketball — the original 3-on-3 tournament.
Now 40 years later, Gus Macker is a community event. It’s a weekend event where family and friends still get together to play basketball for the love of the game.
Still going strong, Gus Macker will host its 40th anniversary tournament Aug. 3-4 in downtown Belding. The celebration festivities will kick off on Aug. 1 with the Macker Hacker golf outing at Candlestone Golf and Resort, followed by the Gus Macker Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and banquet, also at Candlestone.
Reaching the 40-year plateau was never the objective of Gus Macker founder Scott McNeal when the tournament first began back in 1974 in Lowell.
“I didn’t think, when we first started, we would get to two, maybe three (years),” McNeal said. “Back then, as a group of kids, we were doing this for fun. Even in the early 1980s (six or seven years after the first Macker), we didn’t have many plans other than to do it in the neighborhood for fun, once a year.
“To get to 40 years was way out of anyone’s realm of thinking,” he added.
The Macker was always a way for friends to play basketball.
“It was more for us to play, in it’s original years. We were just playing against one another,” McNeal said. “Once we got to college and post-college we started bringing in teams, but still, this didn’t have any purpose beyond once a summer. There were no thoughts of it taking over our lives like it has.”
Now the tournament takes over communities each and every weekend all summer long across the state of Michigan and beyond. This year, Gus Macker will hold 41 tournaments across the country, up from 35 a year ago.
The community, family atmosphere is what separates Gus Macker from other tournaments. It’s also what has allowed Gus Macker to survive as other competitors have disappeared or are close to extinction.
“There are still people doing tournaments, but it’s not the business it was in the 90s when it was booming,” McNeal said. “It doesn’t bother us because our event has morphed into a community, family festival. We have a lot of kids with 13- and 14-year-olds our average age. We have been bursting at the seams in the kids area.”
The growth in the youth game has increased the past five or so years, according to McNeal. Gus Macker has also helped with the increased interest.
“We kind of nurtured that part with the Dream Court and announcing the kids games,” McNeal said. “The top men’s court have not been the emphasis. We probably only have a top women’s court at a couple of events. That end of the business isn’t quite as popular anymore, but it will be interesting to see if it comes back. We will see if these kids that are playing now continue past their high school years.”
The youth emphasis gave Gus Macker another niche, besides being fun. While other tournaments catered to the older ball player.
“It helped us to survive. Our competitors got killed by that,” McNeal said. “The Hoop It Ups of the world were street ball and big city events. They really targeted the 19- to 30-year-old males.
“We had to focus on what we thought we were better at. And that was the small town, the fun festival and to raise money for a cause. We didn’t focus on the winning and losing as much. It helped us to survive where my competitors are, literally trying to decide whether they are staying in the business. That hasn’t been an issue for us,” he added.
The growth will be seen next weekend in Belding. This year, 370 teams on 30 courts will participate. Last year, 327 teams took part.
“We were kind of surprised. At the last second we got a bump and it think it had to do with the 40th (anniversary),” McNeal said. “Our numbers are way up at the end of the summer for all our tournaments, but it was nice to see a good count for Belding. We are pretty excited.”
Registration for the Macker Hacker ends tomorrow. Call the Macker office at (616) 794-1445 if interested in golfing or for more information. Following the golf outing the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet will take place at 5 p.m. The golf outing costs $40 and includes the banquet. You can attend the banquet and not golf for $15.
Like the basketball tournament, this golf outing is meant to be enjoyed. The outing is at 9 a.m. Aug. 1 and is a four-person scramble.
“We call it the Macker Hacker. There will be a couple of good golfers, but most of us are hackers and it’s humorous, at best,” McNeal said. “There is definitely a Macker feel to it. There will be awards for winners and gifts throughout.”
The B Foundation also uses the Macker weekend to kick off their new campaign. Friday Aug. 2 will be “Paint the Town Pink” night.
“Downtown, on our courts there will be Zumba on the streets, music, food and everything else,” McNeal said. “They (B Foundation) release their new T-shirt for the year and start the new campaign for the year.”
40 years is an incredible accomplishment. McNeal is now ready for the festivities to take place.
“We are so excited to get through it,” McNeal said. “We have been building up for it and now ready for it all to take place.”