It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Norwich city leadership was looking for a summer event to put Norwich on the map. Ideas were floated, and the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament was born in 1996. I remember clearly the first time I heard of the tournament: It was a phone call from the late Tom Schwan, a 26-year veteran contributor to The Evening Sun sports pages.
Tom, retired from Procter and Gamble Pharmaceuticals, was working more and more in his avocation. Schwany had just come off his first stint as the media director for the Stop-DWI basketball tournament held post-Christmas at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. Schwan had innumerable contacts throughout the state – and city of Norwich – so it was no surprise that he heard a summer basketball tournament was coming to Norwich the moment it gained approval.
In one of my last conversations with Tom – before his untimely passing in January that year– he caught me in late afternoon. I was resting up before a long night of work covering local basketball, wrestling, volleyball, and swimming. Schwan told me that Norwich would host the “Gus Macker” tournament in July, and offered to help publicize and promote the event. I was wading slowly through my first year with the newspaper, and I gladly accepted Tom’s offer. The volume of work was overwhelming at the outset of my newspaper career, so any help I received in ameliorating those tasks was welcomed.
Tom explained to me that it was a street ball tournament with team entries separated by age and playing experience. We were on the ground floor of a new community event – six months before the first-ever tournament – and Tom had not yet considered whether the tournament would be a success or failure. It was a basketball tournament, and for Tom Schwan, I know it would have been heaven on asphalt.
Living in Norwich most of my life, I was not skeptical of the tournament, but I did wonder how many people would enter, and if we would find enough people to volunteer. Bad weather the first day wiped out many of the games, yet a resolve emerged from the tournament organizers to the volunteers, and on to the players. All were optimistic the bad weather would pass, and the tournament would play out in complete.
That storm was just a wink from Mother Nature, who brought sunshine to the tourney late Saturday afternoon and all through Sunday. By tournament’s end, the outdoors tournament had gripped everyone with an interest in basketball, and dozens upon dozens of players promised a return the following year. Not only that, word spread, and by the end of year three – the final year in the initial three-year contract – tournament entries had more than doubled.
The right people were also in the right place to ensure the volunteers were coordinated properly. Mark Abbott and Steve Benenati have undertaken the task of managing and training the volunteer officials (Gus Busters), and have become so good at their job, their excellence is now considered a given. Nancy Snell has overseen the concessions; Joyce Hagen the financial aspect, and many others have participated in key roles.
Jamey Mullen, executive director of the lead local organization, the Norwich YMCA, was the local tournament director the opening year, and he has continued to have a hand in the running of the tournament. The past 14 years, Tom Revoir has acted as local tournament director, and has worked hand-in-hand with Macker’s representatives to ensure a smoothly run tournament.
This season is amazingly the 15th incarnation of the Norwich Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament, and the final year in the fifth three-year deal. Finding volunteers – particularly court officials, has long been a down-to-the-last-minute issue most of the last 10 to 12 years. This year, thanks to a generous volunteer gift package, local organizers report no such difficulties in finding Gus Busters.
The tournament is now a decade and a half old, and it shows no drop off in attendance, participation or volunteerism. That fact is an excellent sign of future success and future Macker tournaments.
Can anyone now imagine a summer in Norwich without the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament?