HoopFest sees big run
HoopFest, the 3-on-3 basketball tournament that has packed downtown Little Rock on June weekends since 1988, is starting the summer schedule.
After a 12-year run, HoopFest director and founder Val Hansen talked about why he started the event.
"For one thing, I wanted to spend more time with my 4-year-old son," Hansen said. "For instance, he's playing T-ball now. In fact, he has a game scheduled for what would've been the HoopFest weekend."
Last year, nearly 1,000 four-player teams -- typical for HoopFest -- gathered for the two-day tournament.
Hansen said about 32,000 games were played in HoopFest's 12 years.
"That would've been about 30 million fouls," he said.
HoopFest peaked in the mid-1990s with as many as 1,300 teams.
"I really wanted to get out while we were still on top," Hansen said. "We've really had a nice run, and it's been fun."
"I took so much pride in the tournament. It meant so much to me to make it a first-class event. I just don't know if anyone else would've taken the time I did. It was my baby, and everything about it was special to me.
"I'd do things like schedule games around weddings, around SAT tests. I'm not sure it would've been as special to anyone else."
"Bringing all those different types of people, from all different backgrounds, together was great," Hansen said. "It was amazing to me how well everyone got along. Just seeing that many people together, everyone having fun, that was great. I'm sure. There was something neat about it, and it meant a lot to me."
From Hoop-D-Do to Hoopfest, it was one great run
It is hard to believe that 12 years have passed since Hoopfest was first played .
When it started, the newspaper war was hot and heavy, and some of the brass at the Democrat were impressed with a street tournament in Dallas called Hoop-D-Do.
Stacy Hawkins, who was in sports at the time (now he's a honcho on the news side), made a few calls and discovered that the rights to Hoop-D-Do in Arkansas had been granted to a guy named Val Hansen.
Thus a meeting was set up.
Val, never one to show his cards, didn't reveal until after the first tournament that he had already met with the Gazette -- which had turned him down about sponsorship.
We wanted to do it. Estel Jeffery, our public relations director, set up another meeting -- this one with guys like Grant Bray, Golden Eagle Budweiser and Jerry Haney, Mexico Chiquito, about sponsorship.
Within a week they were on board, as well as Dillard's, KARK-TV Channel 4, Magic 105, Coca-Cola, Cellular One and Safeway.
To gain some extra credibility, a game was arranged between some current Razorbacks and the Triplets, Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer.
It had been 10 years since the Triplets had played together. For that game, we drew a huge crowd that included everyone from politicians to Razorbacks fans to Jim Rasco, who got there two hours early to get a good seat.
It was standing room only for a great battle between fierce competitors that day.
There were 482 teams that played in the first Hoop-D-Do.
Ron Crawford spent dozens of hours classifying the teams and putting together brackets.
The owner of Hoop-D-Do personally flew in from Dallas to mark off each court.
The night before the first tournament, Val gave a downtown tour to see all the courts and goals set up.
It was eerie and exciting.
The name changed to Hoopfest, and the teams grew to more than 1,300.
It became one of Arkansas' biggest summer events, attracting more fans than players.
In the heat, on asphalt with competitive juices flowing, referees had to be added.
It really became obvious the games were becoming too physical when one morning two guys started shoving each other. When David Bazzel moved in to break it up, one of the combatants turned and popped David in the mouth -- once.
Fortunately the linebacker in David didn't come out, and he eventually smiled about it.
Slam dunk contests and three-point shooting were obvious additions that added to the fun.
KATV Channel 7, behind Marcus McDonald, Ron Hoof and Carey Kelley, dominated the media division.
One year, there was a dispute about who was responsible for clean-up. It looked like Val, Estel and a handful of Democrat sports reporters might be doing the dirty deed.
Except a couple of homeless guys showed up, said they'd like to make some money and they had friends who would, too.
We were saved.
About the third year, we discovered some of the volunteers picked up their T-shirts and headed home.
Over the years, more than a half-million dollars was raised for various worthwhile organizations.
From the very first Hoop-D-Do to the final Hoopfest, Val ran everything with an iron fist.
He took pride in how everything turned out.
He started planning the next year's almost as soon as one was finished.
It was a great run. It was fun.