It’s safe to say that the long history of basketball in Ithaca and Tompkins County has never seen anything like the event being planned for Sept. 7-8.
That’s when the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), Ithaca High athletics and the Convention and Visitors Bureau will host Ithaca’s first-ever Gus Macker Three-on-Three Tournament. The event is expected to draw more than 700 players on 200-plus teams and will fill 20 courts on the Ithaca High parking lot for the better part of two days.
“I expect it’s going to be amazing,” said Travis Brooks, Deputy Director of GIAC and local point person for the Gus Macker event. “We want it to be something the whole community can enjoy, so there will certainly be a lot of basketball, but there will be plenty of activities for people who don’t like basketball, too.”
The big draw, though, will be basketball. Teams are separated by Gus Macker organizers into competitive divisions based on players’ age, height and competitive experience. Brooks said Macker tournaments draw players from eight to 80 years old and that the top division often includes former college and professional players.
Each team is made up of four players, and the team entry fee is $148. Although the initial entry deadline has passed, teams can continue to register online until three days before the tournament starts at www.macker.com/ithaca-ny-2019/ provided the cap of 225 teams has not been reached.
Gus Macker tournaments are double elimination. Teams that lose their first game are placed in the consolation bracket to guarantee that every team gets to play at least three games. The games will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 and 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8.
Top division games will be played at a special Center Court with a play-by-play announcer. Selected games in other brackets will be held on the Dream Court, which will include PA announcements and live music. The two featured courts will have a special rubber surface brought in for the event. The other 18 courts will be marked off on the IHS parking lot asphalt.
The games are half-court and played to a set number of points, ranging from 15 in the top level to 10 in the consolation bracket. Normal field goals are worth one point and long-range shots are worth two. Outside the consolation bracket, teams must win by two unless the game has reached 20 points or 25 minutes in playing time. Certified officials will be hired to work all the games at the Ithaca event.
Gus Macker has been hosting tournaments for 45 years and started touring across the country in 1987. Nearly 3 million players have participated in Gus Macker events, playing in front of 27.5 million spectators in nearly 1,500 tournaments. These events have become common around upstate New York with events earlier this summer in Rochester, Cicero, Hornell, Olean and Norwich.
“One day last year somebody asked, ‘Why don’t we have one of those tournaments here,’” Brooks said. “So, we made a couple of phone calls and found out we could do that. The Gus Macker people told us what we needed to do, and we were on our way.”
Samantha Little, athletic director at Ithaca High School, was the catalyst to getting things started, Brooks said. GIAC decided to be the lead agency, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau soon joined as well.
“It took several months for all the contracts and paperwork to be completed, but in March, we received approval from the Gus Macker people to host the tournament,” he said.
Since then, the structure has been finalized and several sponsors have been brought on board, including presenting sponsor Vizium, DiBella’s, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, Wegmans, Cayuga Medical Center, Wings over Ithaca, ESPN Ithaca and Z95.5.
“The buy-in we’ve received from our sponsors has been phenomenal,” Brooks said. “Especially since many of them had already planned their sponsorship spending before we got our approval, we’re thrilled with the response.”
Brooks said beyond offering a chance for local players to show their skills near home, the event is intended to bring greater awareness of GIAC’s mission to people in the area and additional funding for its programs.
“A lot of people see GIAC just as the place for after school and summer camp,” he said. “But we have a lot of programs, such as a dance program, the Navigators track program, service programs, senior activities, and much more. This will give us a chance to show off some of these programs, and we’ll use proceeds from the event to help fund some of the extra costs that come with these programs.”
The Gus Macker Tournament will also run in conjunction with the 2019 Festival of Nations, the successor event to the old GIAC Festival that has been on hiatus. The Festival, which will run on Saturday only, will be held in the area adjacent to the IHS parking lot and will feature food, performances, art and activities highlighting a number of different cultures from across the globe.
“Everyone can come down and have fun on Saturday,” Brooks said. “If you’re not into basketball you can enjoy everything going on at the Festival, and if you’re a basketball fan, you can enjoy both.”
Brooks said that early registrations have been good, far exceeding what Gus Macker tournaments usually receive this far in advance. He’s hopeful that having this event just after Labor Day will help increase participation.
“We chose this date, in part, so we can get some college students to be part of the event,” Brooks said. “We’re going to be promoting the event on the campuses, and we expect a good turnout from there”.
In addition, it will be the last weekend for Gus Macker tournaments worldwide, he said.
“We’ve been handing out flyers at other Gus Macker tournaments in the region and have heard from a lot of teams that they’re excited about our event and plan to be here,” Brooks said.
GIAC has signed a three-year deal with Gus Macker, and Brooks expects the Ithaca event will grow each year.
“We want everyone who participates to walk away saying, ‘That was a great experience. I can’t wait to come back next year,’” he said. “Whether they’re a player, an official, a spectator or they just enjoy the festival, we’re working to make sure everyone has an amazing time.”
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