HERMISTON — Any type of player, from collegiate star down to playground dribbler, can find a home at the “Takin’ it to the Streets” basketball tournament in Hermiston this weekend. The 3-on-3 style games will close off four blocks of Main Street in downtown for the seventh year of play.
This year’s field, which is open to athletes from third grade on up to adult, moved into record territory with 215 teams signed up — 30 more than last year and still above the usual 200.
Usher pointed to the fifth-grade boys pool, a whopping 14-team field, as a prime example. The men’s elite teams may have the flash, but its the kids that really get the fans’ attention anyway.
“Having done dozens and dozens of AAU tournaments over the years, the younger the teams, the more people you’re going to get to come out and watch,” he said. “Those young teams involved, unlike the men’s teams where a guy’s girlfriend or wife might come and watch, when you have a third grade team you get full families.”
With parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents streaming into Hermiston, Usher said he expects one of the biggest crowds in the tournament’s history. The director estimated the downtown visitor total for the weekend at between 3,500 and 5,000 people.
The demographic shift is apparent, but hard to explain. Usher’s best guess is economics.
“Maybe a couple of guys in their 20s can’t afford the money to come spend a weekend in Hermiston,” he said. “Families might be a little more settled and established financially.”
The expanse of attendees will get the usual dose of street ball staples at the center court Saturday with the 3-point shootout competition and the Bellinger Farm’s Melon Slam dunk contest. Along with those crowd pleasers, the tournament added the “Dream Team” game featuring a pair of Hermiston Special Olympic squads.
A Special Olympics division would be hard to fill, Usher said, but this five-minute game gives those athletes the opportunity to participate in the action and raise awareness.
The three events will begin at noon starting with the Dream Team game.
The men’s open division is looking as competitive as ever with the defending champion team from Spokane coming back to defend its crown. Former Hermiston High Bulldog stars — and later Eastern Oregon University players — like Mark and Paul Carollo are also slated for some games.
Nine teams are bracketed for the Coors Light Men’s Open division with another eight playing in the Roemark’s 6-feet and under elite.
“The half court stuff is extremely physically,” Usher said of the men’s elite classes. “Those guys really beat down on each other.”
The women’s side has six teams signed up for the open, but locals won’t likely see former Hermiston Bulldog Shoni Schimmel playing this year. The current University of Louisville point guard drew a two-game suspension by the NCAA for playing at Takin’ it to the Streets last summer, an “unsanctioned summer tournament.”
Games start at 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.