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Non-Profit Spotlight


On a Monday in June, just days before it all begins, the offices of Hoopfest explode with activity.

From here out it’s a frenzy of news releases, event guides, social media pushes, bracket adjustments and final logistical tweaks. People making sure the wi-fi sound system covers all 45 square blocks. Others making sure all 10,000 items have made their way into the Hoopfest Store.

This happens every year: all parts of the 26-year-old organization — 6 staff, 10 board members, 25 operating committee members, 11 interns, and thousands of critical volunteers — converge and push toward the goal.

And while the goal, to put on the world’s biggest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, never changes, the goal line is always a little different. There are the differences the team has planned for — the brand-new HOPFEST at Hoopfest beer garden and a first-ever appearance by cable sports juggernaut ESPN — and there are the differences that no one can control.

This year the uncontrolled factor is heat. The temperature is expected to be over 100 both days, sweltering for players and potentially dangerous for court monitors. Second-year Executive Director Matt Santangelo and Marketing Director Bailee Neyland are making a hundred little decisions to head off mother nature, from renting extra misters to drafting new media plans to raise awareness.

“All year it’s been “What do we do about rain?” Santangelo says, laughing.

And that’s just the tournament. Hoopfest also runs the area’s AAU basketball leagues, a midnight basketball program for at-risk inner city youth, and, since 1994 has planted a total of 30 public courts all around Spokane County and as far south as Colfax. The organization has also donated over $1.6 million dollars to other charities, like Special Olympics and the Rypien Foundation.

It’s a small organization with an enormous reach, and Santangelo admits to feeling stressed, but not overwhelmed. The team is so strong, he says, and has so much knowledge, he can lean on all that expertise. “My job is asking the best questions I can and then making the calls.” It feels a lot like playing point guard, he says, “I’m setting people up to succeed and shouldering the burden when things go wrong.”

And things always go wrong, but mostly what people remember, Neyland says, is all the things that go right. “People own this, they love it,” She says, “It’s become part of what it means to live in Spokane.”

The goal for both is being stewards of that legacy, but also to see the event grow. Events like HOPFEST at Hoopfest show their desire to reach out to people who aren’t diehard street ballers. “We want to touch the arts, other culture things, other demographics” Santangelo says, “use this big platform to showcase Spokane.”

In a few days, those quarter-million people will have filed through downtown, battling through extreme heat, incredible competition and experiencing an event that has no equal in the world. Afterward, once many of them are on their way back home, Santangelo, Neyland and the team will evaluate how everything went, report back to the board and to their sponsors and begin planning for next year.

For now though, it’s back to the zero-hour execution, the last minute fixes and, yeah, renting up all the available misters and cool tents in the region. And even though they’re still relatively new to this, Santangelo and Neyland draw confidence from their team, and trust from our town.

Hoopfest puts on this event, but it’s Spokane — all of us — who pull it off. “Only Spokane can do this,” Neyland says, “This couldn’t happen anywhere else.”