The first year Norwich hosted the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tourney probably seems like half a lifetime ago for Norwich YMCA executive director, Jamey Mullen.
Mullen, in 1996, was the sports director at the Norwich YMCA under late executive director David Sherman. The YMCA took the mantle as the lead organization for the tourney, and Mullen was tabbed as Norwich’s local tournament director.
Mullen has seen the tournament grow from just over 200 teams in its initial year to nearly 600 earlier this decade. “We honestly thought we could grow this tournament to 1,000 teams,” Mullen said of the local tournament committee’s optimistic goal.
The kibosh was placed on that ambitious goal when Mullen and the rest of the local tournament committee realized there was simply not enough volunteers to accomodate the burgeoning number of participants. “We’ve been to other Macker tournaments, where unfortunately, you would show up to a court and they didn’t have an official or a scorekeeper,” Mullen said. “But the players were still there and wanted to play.”
The number of teams allowed was trimmed to 400 – plus complimentary or scholarship teams. This year, the total number of teams is around 425 teams – or about 1,700 players. “We needed to cut back players because our goal was a quality tournament versus the quantity of teams. Unless things have changed, I don’t recall too many tournaments that have Busters and scorekeepers on every single court. That’s pretty phenomenal for our town.”
Entering the 14th year, or the second year of the fifth three-year contract signed with Gus Macker, Mullen believes Norwich will always provide a captive basketball audience. Players commute and travel across states – and even across the country – to reunite and play with longtime friends and family. Some players – and volunteers – return to Norwich every year just because they enjoy the event and enjoy the town, Mullen said. “People come back here year after year because it is such a family atmosphere,” he said.
And the players that do show up, they ratchet up the intensity as if they were playing for the NCAA championship or an NBA title. “It’s a once-a-year event, and a lot of people are watching,” Mullen said. “This is not your typical laid-back pickup game at the park. There are more rules, and there is something at stake. All of that, combined, creates a competitive atmosphere. Everybody wants to prove how good a player they are, or at least how good they used to be. (The players) leave it all out there on the streets and put everything into it.”