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Gus Macker tournament chance to showcase Morris community

Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan and Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland competed in a free throw contest at last year's Gus Macker tournament. The two are expected to face-off again at this year's tournamnet which is set for June 7 and 8.
Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan and Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland competed in a free throw contest at last year's Gus Macker tournament. The two are expected to face-off again at this year's tournamnet which is set for June 7 and 8.

MORRIS – Brothers Matt, Ben and Jacob Paulson have been playing in Morris’ Gus Macker basketball tournament since it began 12 years ago. With registration now open for this year’s tournament, the Paulson brothers will be some of the first to sign up.

“I asked my oldest if he was planning on playing again this year and he just gave me this look like, ‘Duh, of course,’ ” said mother Kara Paulson.

The Gus Macker three-on-three basketball tournament is in the streets of downtown Morris every year, attracting about 8,000 spectators and 1,000 participants annually. Now in its 12th year, the tournament has raised more than $100,000 for local organizations and charities to date.

Jacob Paulson, now 20 years old, said he enjoys meeting new people each year and has made great memories at the event.

“It’s just a great weekend for the whole family,” Kara Paulson said. “We look forward to it every year.”

The event receives sponsorships from about 50 local businesses and is manned by about 10 volunteer organizations. In return for their help, the volunteer organizations receive donations from the money raised at the event.

Each year, about 250 teams from across the area compete, but many more come to watch. Deadline to register for this year’s tournament – to be June 7 and 8 – is May 19.

“It’s a really fun way to get involved in the community,” said Julie Applegate, executive director of the Morris Downtown Development Partnership, which runs the event. “People look forward to doing it each year and we look forward to having it.”  

Gus Macker is a national organization that sponsors tournaments across the country. It began in 1974, when a founder Scott McNeal and 18 friends began a pick-up basketball tournament in their driveway. The organization aims to maintain the essence of a pick-up game even though it has grown to host thousands of tournaments nationwide.

“It’s designed to be a family-friendly event,” Applegate said. “The streets are full of people enjoying the basketball.”

Players of all ages and experience levels are welcome to play. Applegate said they’ve had players as young as six years old participate and have age brackets spanning from 10 and younger to 50-plus.

The teams are sorted by age and matched up by Gus Macker employees based on experience, height and other factors.

Every player in the Macker is guaranteed to play at least three games and is given a T-shirt. Those who make it to the championship rounds will be rewarded with first through third place trophies. Applegate said they also have a “toilet bowl” trophy for the winners of the consolation bracket and sportsmanship medals for teams that exemplify good sportsmanship.

“Some people are really excited to get their toilet bowl trophy,” Applegate said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

But the Macker is about more than the basketball, she said.

“People from all over the area come to watch and enjoy the basketball, but also get to see downtown Morris,” Applegate said. “It’s a great way to showcase our community.”

Despite overwhelming participation and support, the Macker has seen a decline in monetary sponsorship during the past several years.  

“With so many great causes and events happening each year, I think some of our sponsors are just spread too thin,” Applegate said.

So far, Applegate said they have a handful of major sponsors – or organizations that donate more than $1,000 – and have raised just over $5,000. Last year, the event had 15 major sponsors and about 40 court sponsors who donated less than $1,000.

Those who become a sponsor of the event will receive different levels of advertising including their logo or name mentioned on tournament shirts, banners, fliers, announcements and more.

Money raised through sponsorship and tournament fees is divided among the local volunteer organizations who help run the event.

Local group, Prom Fest, has volunteered to oversee registration for the Gus Macker tournament for more than five years. Parents, students and committee members from Prom Fest man the registration booth every year.

“It’s one of our main fundraisers,” said Cathy Burling, head of the Morris Community High School Prom Fest Committee. “We enjoy doing it. It’s a nice event for the community and you see a lot of familiar faces when you’re there.”

Applegate said that while this year’s tournament is scheduled and set up, the amount of sponsorships they receive will factor in when deciding if MDDP wants to host the event in future.

“We’re so grateful to those who currently sponsor the tournament and ones who have sponsored in the past,” Applegate said.

To play
Who: Four-person teams
When: Deadline for online registration is May 19. Tournament will be June 7 and 8.
How: Register online or call Julie Applegate at 815-941-0245
Cost: $140 per team. Each team is guaranteed to play three games.

To sponsor
Who: Local businesses or organizations
When: Sign up as soon as possible
How: Call Julie Applegate at 815-941-0245 for more information
Cost: Monetary donations can be in any amount.

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