GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. -- The Gus Macker Basketball Tournament has finally arrived on Grand Island, with hundreds of kids, teens, and adults hitting up the half-court for some friendly competition.
Twenty-four years, a cityscape, an amusement park and an island. The ball is now in Grand Island's court as it plays host to the 2015 Gus Macker Basketball Tournament this weekend. Exactly 281 four-person teams signed up to be a part of the event, which takes place across a handful of half-sized courts along Grand Island Boulevard and City Hall.
"So far, from what I've seen from it, it's a good spot for it. It's a friendly community and a safer environment than the Buffalo one,” said participant Janessa Vandegriff.
This is the second year the Macker has had to shift locations. Downtown Buffalo was its home for 22 years, but a lack of a sponsor left the event's future in jeopardy. When Darien Lake welcomed the 2014 Gus Macker, staffers breathed a sigh of relief. A year later, the park ran into timing issues putting the tourney in trouble once more. In May, Grand Island and Corey McGowan Productions saved the day.
"A smaller town fits us better, too. A little easier to work with, you don't have all the logistics of a big city. From that standpoint I'm excited, and I hope the players like it,” said Gus Macker Owner Scott McNeal.
While folks like Vandegriff admit the roster isn't as big as years past, the 2013 Buffalo tournament saw close to 3,000 players, she's just happy to get out and play ball with friends and former college teammates.
"It's good to see Buffalo have this basketball community. We all grew up playing; it's nice to have something to do in the summertime just for fun," said Vandegriff.
"The Fourth of July parade is here too, so it's even better with the basketball. The music, all the people here just to play basketball, it's a good feeling,” remarked first time Macker player Luke Strott.
McNeal said that good feeling, combined with the smiles on player's faces, is what the tournament is all about.
"All the politics can go out the window. It's mainly about playing the game we enjoyed in our driveway,” McNeal said. “We're not professionals and we're supposed to have a good time. I hope everyone gets into that part of it."
Tournament play resumes Sunday at 8 a.m. with a trophy ceremony at 10 a.m.