Hoopfest 2012: Basketbrawl

*Originally published on July 4, 2012.

This past weekend I completed my fifth consecutive year as a court monitor for the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, Hoopfest. This particular year the tournament was the largest ever as over 7,000 teams took to the streets of Spokane to play some ball. Far and away, Hoopfest 2012 will go down as my most challenging year.

One thing I love about court monitoring is that you get a different experience each year. Different brackets, different ages, different street locations, different weather, and different situations factor in to making sure that one tournament will be completely different from another tournament. My first four years I definitely got a unique taste each time. However, while each year presented me with a new experience and new stories, one thing stayed constant: I had zero problems. I was able to maintain control, avoid any ugly incidents, and keep all teams eligible. Well, my unblemished record took a bit of a hit this year.

Hoopfest 2012: This was my fifth consecutive year as a court monitor for Hoopfest.

On Friday night I learned that I got assigned an adult male court….well, sort of.  My bracket consisted of 17-18 year old boys, some still in high school, others just graduated. I welcomed this assignment. For many people, this age is the pinnacle of athletic careers. I knew competition would be intense and the desire to win would be high. This appealed to me. I love monitoring games when teams go at each other tooth and nail, doing whatever they can to advance in the bracket. However, I think I got a little more than what I bargained for.

Hoopfest 2012: My brother and I at Hoopfest.

My home for the weekend was the KXLY4 HD #1 court on Washington and Spokane Falls Boulevard. This particular court was an end court so instead of another court directly in back of my court, I had empty space, thus allowing for fans to crowd around that area. Anyway, the early morning games went well except for one weird oddity. Maybe as a sign to me that this would be no regular Hoopfest, during one of the first games a drunk transient wandered onto my court and stood inside the two-point arc. Incensed, I told the guy to get off the court. He said no. Again, I told him to get off the court. He said no again. After telling him that I was going to get the cops he stepped behind the two point line (still on the court) and slurred “I’m behind the line now.” Just as he said that I saw my court marshal out of the corner of my eye and noticed that he had just realized the situation. As I went to go meet him, the transient left the court. Several other court marshals and rapid response members followed him in hot pursuit.

The actual play that morning went exactly how I thought it would go. Games for the most part were hotly contested and the competitive level was high, but nothing got out of hand. By the time the 12:30pm game came around, things started to escalate a little. In the first winners bracket game of the tournament, two teams were going at it the whole twenty-five minutes. Trash talk, hard fouls, and some pushing and shoving entered the picture. Towards the end of the game, I was forced to call an intentional foul. After that, everyone seemed to calm down a little bit and the game finally came to an end. I ventured over to the scorer’s table to do the necessary paperwork for the completed game. As  my head was turned from the players I received an urgent alert from my cousin to turn around. As I threw my head back I saw a terrible sight. No less than six or seven people were engaged in a fight. Haymakers were being thrown, people were screaming, and randos were starting to rush over. The number of people started to snowball and the situation got ugly. Remember how I said there was open space behind my court? The brawl had spilled out into the open area. At least twenty people were involved. My court marshal arrived quickly on the scene and radioed for all the help possible. We had multiple court marshals, several rapid response members, and quite a few Spokane police officers doing what they could to break the mess up. By the time order was restored there were bloody faces, ripped shirts, and numerous upset people. What happened was after the game finished, a fan said something to a player on the losing team and that player went after the fan. The team that instigated the brawl was disqualified from the tournament on the spot.

Hoopfest 2012: This picture was taken literally seconds before the first brawl broke out behind me.

I had never presided over such a melee before at Hoopfest. After giving my statement to a high ranking Hoopfest official, I got the next game going. The following game went well and I decided that the earlier fight was just a fluke, something everyone goes through if you volunteer at Hoopfest long enough. Unfortunately, it was not a fluke. At the 1:30pm game, another winner’s bracket matchup, another fiery situation had developed. Two teams from local area high schools were facing off. The teams had history with each other in other sports and they both wanted to win the game. One of the teams brought a very large cheering section with them. The empty space behind my court was no longer empty…it was packed with seventeen and eighteen year old supporters of one of the teams. While they were supporters of the one team, they were more like haters of the other team. The fans kept heckling and baiting the other team, one player in particular. As a court monitor you can try to control a situation as intently as possible but when the crowd is so large and when they are in back of you, it is hard to regulate completely. Anyway, a member of the crowd finally said something that really got to the targeted player and it was game over from there. The player walked over to the fan, pushing me aside as I tried to step between the two (this was a huge athlete), and cold clocked the heckler. Chaos ensued.

Once again blows were exchanged by multiple people. The player who instigated the fight was completely out of control. Someone from the crowd took the player down to the ground and then, I kid you not, some kid who was well over 300 pounds fell on the player, securing the peace. Court marshals and rapid response members separated everyone and I was given the decision on whether to let the game continue or to just call it right then and there. I decided to let the game continue. The player who crossed the player/fan boundary and punched the fan was ejected for the rest of the tournament.

The rest of Saturday went by without a hitch. Many of the players on the other teams saw the previous brawls and did not want to repeat any of that behavior. The late afternoon games went without incident but I still drove home that night feeling a little down about what all had happened that day on my court. An awesome BBQ with my brother and his team, some cold beer, and great conversation that night helped to remove some of that earlier feeling and left me rejuvenated for Sunday.

A delicious Saturday night BBQ was just what I needed.

While Saturday was characterized by brawls, Sunday was defined by disqualifications. Here is the thing: When you fill out your Hoopfest registration packet, you must be honest. When you arrive at Hoopfest, your team must reflect all of the info from when you signed up back in March. If there is even the smallest inaccuracy, opposing players will pounce on it and push for consequences. This happened on Sunday. The DQs started early. One of the teams that still remained in the winner’s bracket had a couple players that looked like they were comfortably over six feet (the bracket was 5’10” and under). The success of the team drew a complaint from a player. So, after the team had won its opening game on Sunday to come just one win away from the championship game, we measured one of the kids and sure enough he did not meet the height limit. The team was immediately disqualified.

A couple games later, another team was disqualified because they had a player sign in who was not on the registered roster. Then, a couple more games later, the fourth team of my bracket was disqualified because they had a player who was signing in as a registered player on the team but the only problem was that he was not that registered player. With all of these disqualifications the aftermath sucked as all DQ’d teams were very upset and voiced their displeasure on the court for everyone to see/hear. I hate disqualifying any team. I hate seeing their weekend ruined, their entry money wasted, and their fans/family disappointed. But when an opposing player brings up a complaint, you have to investigate it and follow the Hoopfest rules. Please, register your team honestly and then uphold that same team for the whole tournament.

Hoopfest 2012: Court marshalls (red shirts) and rapid response members (blue shirts) gave me great support.

So besides all of the disqualifications that resulted in multiple forfeits, some basketball was still played on Sunday. In what couldn’t be any more fitting, the team that won my bracket, the Royal Knights, was one of the few teams that never found themselves in any controversy the whole weekend. They never fought, never had a question raised about their eligibility, never complained/petitioned against another team, never had any player pushing the height limit, and never gave me one reason to dislike them.  In a weekend that saw a quarter of my bracket get disqualified and multiple unsportsmanlike infractions occur, it served as a little bit of justice that a hard playing team like the Royal Knights took home the champion t-shirts.

Hoopfest 2012: Myself with my bracket champions, the Royal Knights.

Players and spectators asked me all weekend long if I enjoyed being in the middle of the action on such a crazy court. My simple answer was no. When I am responsible for running the show I find no joy in watching fights break out and ejecting teams from the tournament. So while I was disappointed in the antics that occurred on my court during Hoopfest 2012 I will just learn from the experience. Some things I could have controlled better and some things were completely out of my hands. I developed a whole new sense of respect for my court marshal, Kevin, and the rest of the Hoopfest court marshals and rapid response members. They had my back every single step of the way and supported me throughout the whole tournament.  Through this experience I feel like I became a better court monitor and my passion and love for Hoopfest never waivered. Let’s get the next 360+ days over with fast, I am ready for Hoopfest 2013! Don’t Blink.