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Spokane’s Hoopfest director says risk of delta variant forced cancellation

(Photo courtesy of IsoSvet via Canva)

It was announced just this week that Hoopfest in Spokane will be canceled for the second year in a row.

The executive director of Hoopfest, Matt Santangelo, and former Gonzaga great, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that it was a “tough day for sure.”

Hoopfest is the largest three-on-three tournament in the country, and likely the world.

“We do not know anything of the kind of size and breath of what Hoopfest has become over its long 32-year history. And it’s larger than life,” Santangelo said.

The decision to cancel September’s event was made Wednesday.

“Up until yesterday morning, we were planning an absolute 100 miles an hour towards the event in September,” Santangelo said. “We had over 50% of our regular number of teams, which puts us a little over 3,000, close to 3,200 teams ready to roll.”

But within 36 hours, he said the health leaders at both the regional and state level said they could not support the event.

“Hospitals over here are full through Spokane and certainly the region, into northern Idaho, and that an event like Hoopfest that would bring so many people together ultimately was just too much risk,” he said. “So the decision was determined for us, unfortunately, yesterday morning.”

While it’s an outdoor event and people who play it in tend to be fairly fit and somewhat young, as Dori pointed out, Santangelo says it was just too much of a risk with the delta variant.

“I’m not a health expert, … but what we heard is that this particular variant, the delta variant, is attacking a couple different populations at a much higher rate than the previous variant of COVID,” he said. “And that population is ours. And what I mean by that is it’s 39 and under, it’s unvaccinated, and it’s actually impacting the youth a lot greater than the previous variant.”

Hoopfest spans all ages, Santangelo said, which is something the tournament is proud of.

“But the bulk of our athletes are 39 and under, or youth athletes,” he said. “So with that being said, and just the overwhelmed nature of our local regional health care system, the risk was deemed too great. We went back and forth, believe me. … For those of you that may know me as a basketball player, I compete, that’s what we do. We compete to play, we compete to win. And this is two years in a row without Hoopfest.”

“It’s just a crushing blow. And we’re heartbroken, like the rest of the Hoopfest world, that we’re not able to execute this event next month,” he added.

The controversy that has popped up since the news of the cancellation is that teams who have paid an entry fee have the option to either donate it in full to Hoopfest or to request a 20% refund. Why not a total refund?

“Because we can’t afford to. It’s really simple,” Santangelo said. “I hear the frustration. We’re seeing it, hearing it consistently. It’s not from the majority. The majority of people understand, but there’s a good population of Hoopfest registrants, teams and players, that are frustrated with that.”

The simple answer, he noted, is that the event had every intention of going forward.

“So we were spending the money necessary to be ready for the event in September,” he said. “A lot of people just think Hoopfest kind of pops up and goes away on the weekend. But there’s a lot of planning that goes into it and an office and a staff that are here year around working towards it. And ultimately, we are in a precarious position financially as a small nonprofit here in the state that really has us really trying to figure out if we can make it to 2022.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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