DARIEN CENTER – It’s good to dream, and the Gus Macker Tournament is doing its part to encourage youths to fantasize what it would be like to play in a major college or professional basketball setting.
Welcome to the Dream Court experience.
For the second year in the Western New York event, Macker officials randomly moved select youth games from their assigned blacktop court to a blue synthetic showcase Sports Court, set up with barriers to keep “the throng of fans” at bay and a radio play-by-play booth in which a tournament official called the action over a sound system during games – usually calling players by nicknames instead of their actual ones.
Announcers? Special court?
Sounds like a big game, and that’s exactly the point of it.
During the Alden Storm’s 15-13 triumph over The Dineros, Macker owner Scott McNeal handled play-by-play chores – getting his share of laughs from the parents and fans watching the games with his zingers. Roughly 30 people watched this game but it didn’t stop McNeal from bellowing “huge crowd, fans had to go to Stub Hub to get tickets for this one.”
All the participants in the Dream Court game received water bottles and a story to share with somebody down the road, while the players selected as most valuable in the game were interviewed in the booth during the postgame show.
“You remember the Muppets have the two guys in the balcony making comments? That’s kind of what we’re like, but it’s intended to be a fun thing,” said McNeal. “It’s kind of like Chuck E. Cheese, Disney World and the NBA all rolled up into one.”
Rhoda Pastuszynski, whose son Riley played for the victorious Alden team, is a fan of the Dream Court game.
“The announcer was fun,” she said. “It’s pretty cool. I think the players like it. They had us make a tunnel before the game then they introduced all the boys’ names. They made you feel special.”
“It was a lot of fun,” said 14-year-old Max Penke of the Alden Storm.
With more wet weather expected today, tournament officials are requiring all participants to check in by 8 a.m. At that point, a decision to shorten games will have been made, as the preset schedule for the event is no longer in effect as officials try to get as many games in as possible today.
Further updates, including the order in which games will be played, can be found at the tournament website (macker.com).
Marisa Gallo picked one heck of a time to lace ’em back up. The second-year Lancaster girls basketball coach played her first competitive games in 11 years Saturday in the main women’s draw, not the easiest of assignments when embarking on a comeback.
The team she played with, the Brave Little Toasters, went 1-2, but she had so much fun that the 37-year-old plans to return in 2015.
“I told the girls I’m ready to play again next year,” said Gallo, who played with three players she coached during her tenure as D’Youville College’s pilot. “I watched a lot of these kids grow up playing so it’s kind of neat to be able to play against them.”
Was Gallo the oldest woman in the main draw?
“When I was registering, the guy was like you’re the only one born in the ’70s on this court,” she said.
Antoinette Stewart had this to say about Mark Kramer of the soon-to-be-formed Futures Foundation, which collected enough sponsorships to pay for 40 youths to participate in the Macker, with roughly 12 having an opportunity to stay overnight at a nearby hotel for the total weekend getaway experience:
“He knows some of the kids aren’t as fortunate, that the parents can’t pay their entry into the Gus Macker,” said Stewart, whose son Jaylen had his fee taken care of by the foundation and is one of the 12 who stayed overnight. “He’s a good inspiration and asset to the community and these kids.”
The Stewart family patriarch, Cornelius, served as one of the chaperones.
Besides Kramer’s effort, Darien Lake also donated 100 slots in the tournament to inner-city youths, while True Bethel Baptist Church pastor and Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen also covered entry fees and transportation costs for other youths to participate in the event.