NORWICH – Gus Macker basketball player and fan Mark Wainwright of Cortland hasn’t actually played in every tournament the Norwich Family YMCA has sponsored since 1995, but he was here.
The 46-year-old forward has played in 13 of the 14 tournaments. The one year that he didn’t play, Wainwright traveled the 45 minutes to Chenango County anyway. It was the year when the Y limited its field to 400 teams.
“I didn’t get my application in quite quick enough. I came over that year anyway though, just because it’s such a good time,” he said.
Wainwright’s teammates have changed over the years. He said he’s known all of them since his college and basketball career at Cortland State. One friend, Al Bishop of Owego, has played with Wainwright for the past 10 years.
Another former team member is David Bliss of Cooperstown. Bliss, also, has racked up many Mackers, playing in 12 of the total 14. His team, Dark Horse, is made up of a core group of about eight men who hail primarily from the Oneonta and Cooperstown areas and rotate depending on who’s available each year.
Both Bliss’ team and Wainwright’s team, known as Dark Horse Cortland (formerly Rusty Nails), are competitive contenders in the top men’s division. Both have won or taken home second or third place finishes multiple times.
Bliss regularly plays in at least one other Macker in New York each year, but said he looks forward to Norwich’s the most, because it consistently attracts a much larger field of teams.
“Norwich’s is more consistent, top to bottom, of the quality of the tournament. Usually all of the teams are pretty good. And, it’s not just me, because I’ve heard this from Macker organizers: The Norwich tournament is the most well run and has the most festive atmosphere of all of the Mackers I’ve been to in New York State,” he said.
A second generation of both men now participate, with Wainwright’s two boys who are 9 and 12 and Bliss’ college-age daughter playing.
“We love it because it’s right in the middle of summer, right in town, and actually more fun now that the kids are playing, too. We always eat at Nina’s. It’s great; we wouldn’t miss it,” said Wainwright.