Ithaca Gus Macker Tournament a resounding success

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Two days, 14 tournaments, 15 courts, 108 teams, 413 players: The first Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament in Ithaca was an overwhelming success.

With the help of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, the nationally recognized basketball entity gave people of all ages from central New York and beyond a chance to compete in a great atmosphere last weekend. 

The Ithaca High School parking lot was transformed into a basketball paradise. Special red-and-white rubber flooring was featured on two of the courts, one specifically for the highest skilled players and the other for the youngest children participating to add to their experience.

Word of the tournament certainly got out, as teams from Elmira, Syracuse and even Buffalo and New Jersey flocked to Ithaca to try and take home a trophy. That was exactly what GIAC Deputy Director and local tournament organizer Travis Brooks expected. 

“We were told that if we have a Gus [Macker Tournament], people will come,” Brooks said. “Next year, we’re actually going to move it up and we anticipate double the numbers.”

Looking back on the weekend, the date is the only thing Brooks would change. He explained that many kids couldn’t participate due to obligations with school teams. The plan is to hold the tournament right before the start of the school year in 2020 to make it an even bigger hit. 

“Other than [the date], it’s a fool-proof plan. Gus has a manual. You follow it to a T. You work with the folks who come in and help you with the tournament,” Brooks said. “If you do it the way they lay it out for you, it’s simple. We’re just excited to be a part of it and bringing it to the community.”

The excitement was palpable from the participants as well. The Certified Hoopers, a group of young girls from Elmira, won the championship game of their tournament in sudden death. Alivya Woodruff, who hit the winning shot, said she was “floating on top of the world” when she celebrated with her teammates.

Equal competition was something Brooks emphasized prior to the tournament, and that was certainly on display over the weekend. 

“The concept of it is pretty amazing. You have people at all kinds of levels, and you play within your level,” Brooks said. “So, if you’re like me, you’re 47 years old and haven’t played ball on a regular basis in forever, you’re not going to play a bunch of high school and college basketball players. So, it’s competitive to your level.”

One tournament final that got very competitive was at the high school level between the Ithaca Rising Stars and Syracuse Net Warmers. The Rising Stars had to win two games over their opponents to lift the trophy. Both games were intense and physical, and the Rising Stars expressed a great amount of relief afterward.

“At first, when I heard we had to play two games and win, I had a little doubt,” Tyrone Dean said. “But I got my team, and my team got me, so I knew we were going to win.”

Being on essentially the home team, Justin Yearwood was happy to “send those boys back to ’Cuse” after their hard-fought victory.

The Rising Stars also had a team at the elementary level, ranging from eight to 10 years of age, that won their respective tournament. It was a great experience for the young kids who had never been a part of something like this.

“We’ve gone to Goshen and stuff because we never have tournaments in Ithaca, so this is great,” said Ben Susskind, a member of the young team.

One of his teammates, Israel Mack, expressed that they never received a gold trophy before, making this weekend that much more special. 

While Brooks already has next year’s event planned out, his vision reaches well beyond 2020. He intends on making Gus Macker an integral part of Ithaca in the future.

“It’s just this opportunity to bring a tremendous amount of people in the community together, to invite people into your community, see what Ithaca’s all about,” Brooks said. “If you do it right and people have fun, then they go tell other people. I think Norwich, New York, has been doing this for 20 years. We want to be able to say we’ve been doing it for 25, 30 years one day.”

The community involvement is a main sticking point of the tournament for Brooks, who expressed gratitude to the over 20 local sponsors that helped support the event. With his sights set on having double the participants next year, the Gus Macker Tournament is here to stay and is a great addition to the Ithaca community.

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