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Gus Macker stays close to its small town roots

IRONTON — Since its debut in a Michigan driveway in 1974, the Gus Macker Basketball Tournament has grown into an annual rite of passage for millions wanting to lace them up on city streets and parking lots.

Imitators, some with very deep pockets, have attempted their own half-court shot into the three-on-three game with over-the-top promotions, national sponsorship and even television coverage.

But in its 36th season, the Macker still remains close to its small-town roots, despite growing to more than 50 venues a year.

“What makes the Macker work is that we are integrated into the towns where our events are staged,” tournament founder Scott McNeal said “We look at the cities that host our events like our family.”

For that, McNeal definitely looks at Ironton as a major part of the Macker’s close-knit family. So much so, that the tournament will be making its fifth visit to the streets of the Gateway city next month.

McNeal was in Ironton Thursday attending the annual Macker tip-off event at Buffalo Wild Wings.

The tip-off, which also had an appearance by mascot Macker Man, gave aspiring players the opportunity to hit free throws on a makeshift court along with the chance to land door prizes and event a free entry into the tournament.

The event was hosted by the Friends of Ironton, one of the tournament’s sponsors.

Moved from its traditional May date to June 6 and 7 this year, the Ironton Gus Macker Basketball Tournament is one of the city’s largest annual events. In 2008, the tournament saw nearly 300 teams and 12,000 people drawn to a converted downtown to watch and play.

The date change to June, McNeal said, should greatly boost the event.

“The Macker is very youth oriented and with the tournament being held after school is out will help.”

In previous years, the tournament has been scheduled during the school year, often resulting in conflicts with other extracurricular school activities such as track, baseball and proms.

Plus Ohio High School Athletic Association rules have restricted the number of games teammates can play on an organized basis.

The improved scheduling, along with the continued quality the Macker provides, has McNeal believing the 2009 tournament will be Ironton’s best to date.

“What sets us apart is that our competitors are focused more towards their sponsors while we are focused more towards the players and fans,” McNeal explained. “We provide the best to our participants — the best balls and the best equipment.”

That is why McNeal says the Macker has staved off all the imitators that have come and gone through the years.

“Our competitors are in it for the quick buck. For us, we are going to be (in Ironton) for years.”

The entry fee for teams is $116. Mailed entries must be postmarked by May 15. Online entry forms can be completed through May 18.

For more information, visit www.macker.com