Modie Cox remembers playing in his first Gus Macker Tournament during his freshman year of college in 1993.
The former LaSalle High School standout recalls the atmosphere and the rush he felt when his team reached the championship game in the 3-on-3 event that has been a staple of Western New York basketball and summertime festival season ever since the very first one 24 years ago.
“It was such a great moment, great weekend for me to be able to showcase my talent downtown in front of” thousands of people. “It was a great time to be in the Macker,” Cox said.
Many local basketball aficionados have similar stories of the Gus Macker, and they hope to keep adding more tales to the memory banks.
They may be running out of time to do so this year, however.
For the record, Cox says the Gus Macker has not been cancelled. The Buffalo PAL Executive Director says the organization is working with Gus Macker officials toward securing a Buffalo date on this year’s calendar.
In past years, the tournament date would already be known by now along with the registration cutoff date.
Historically, the event has taken place some time in June – usually the end of the month – and has drawn more than 3,000 players and an estimated 50,000 fans. The crowd not only comes out to watch their children and friends, but also to see some of Western New York’s legends of the game – including Jason Rowe and Damone Brown – hoop it up one more time.
But a list of upcoming tournaments at the Gus Macker website fails to include Buffalo on it.
What is going on here?
“We’re working with Macker directly to secure a 2014 venue in Buffalo and we’re also working on future dates,” said Cox, who played at University at Buffalo. “Hopefully a decision can be made,” during the next executive meeting.
Cox declined to offer the day of the meeting, but Gus Macker tournament director/owner Scott McNeal indicated the meeting would take place either today or Wednesday.
Regardless of when the PAL board meets to discuss/vote on the tournament’s future, McNeal wants an update soon.
“I’ve kind of told them to give me an idea of what their situation is,” McNeal said. “I can run it almost any time. The only issue for me is I have all these other cities that are in line and the timing of where the trucks go to get the baskets to them, to my staffing, to the public knowing about it. All of those are kind of issues that sooner or later they have to kind of decide. I’m not going to say 100 percent that tomorrow if they don’t give me an answer then they totally aren’t going to get an event but it’s getting late in the game.”
The Gus Macker is one of the main fundraising events for the PAL. While the organization raises most of its funds during its annual auction, a good amount of the cash used to fund various PAL programs (golf, educational support, etc.) is raised through the Macker.
The PAL has received sponsorship support in recent years from former Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrance McGee. But he’s no longer with the Bills and Cox said last year was his final one as a sponsor after five years. Others who also have helped sponsor the event in recent years include Toyota and New Era.
Lining up enough sponsorship dollars to make sure PAL turns a profit on the event is key because it doesn’t make sense for PAL to fund an event that’s supposed to be a fundraiser and lose money on it.
In past years, the Buffalo Gus Macker Tournament has been one of the top three in the nation in terms of total participants, according to McNeal.
He personally enjoys the Buffalo stop and usually oversaw the event during the weekend even though there usually are others taking place in other cities at the same time.
During the 2011 tournament here, McNeal said: “You see a lot of people who have either played in the event, helped or have their kids playing in it. You see these old Gus Macker shirts, that’s fun to me, just seeing a lot of good people.”
Even he seems to have fond memories of the event in Buffalo, but will it be enough to save this year’s tournament?
“The city and the people have a great passion for their community. To have an event like ours as one of the focal points of your summer I think is pretty impressive,” McNeal said. “If it didn’t happen in Buffalo I’d really regret not being able to come back for that. Having our event there has been a special thing for us.”