Hoopla bringing basketball action back to Salem

Basketball teams converged on the streets of Salem for the annual Hoopla 3-on-3 basketball tournament in 2021. The event returns July 12-17. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Jason Unruh was managing The Hoop, now the Capital Fieldhouse, back in 1999 with his father Charrol when Jim Kniffin approached them with an idea: a three-on-three basketball tournament. 

That tournament became Hoopla and is set to spill out over Salem streets this week with just over 1,000 teams already registered with about half of the teams coming from outside the Salem area and as far away as Washington, California and Arizona. 

“That first year, we had 151 teams,” Unruh said. “We were keeping score by hand and stapling it to plywood.”

Now, referees enter scores into an app on their phones and the streets close down. 

As of 6 p.m. Monday, Northeast Court Street between Northeast 12th and Cottage streets are closed, as well as Northeast Winter Street between Northeast Chemeketa and Court streets. Northeast Waverly Street between Court Street and State Street will also be closed through Sunday, July 17.

A slate of activities will fill the streets beginning Wednesday including the traditional three-on-three tournament spanning several divisions, a children’s clinic and a clinic tailored to students with special needs enrolled in Salem-Keizer Public Schools. 

About 700 volunteers will be on hand to keep score and help maintain courts. Most of the money, Unruh said, goes towards those efforts. 

“I guess you could say it’s not volunteering then, but we partner with local school teams like South Salem High School girls’ basketball,” Unruh said. “They’ll have four courts they’re responsible for and then we pay their programs.”

The money, he said, goes towards uniforms or team trips. 

In the last 23 years, Hoopla has given local volunteer groups $8,000. 

Players don’t necessarily play for money, though some adult divisions offer cash prizes. All divisions, Unruh said, earn a t-shirt and medal.

Justin Lowe has been collecting t-shirts for 17 years as a participant in Hoopla. 

“First and foremost I’d like to say that the directors and volunteers of Hoopla are the real MVPs,” he said. “The environment Hoopla brings is unmatched. To me, it has a Disneyland feel to it. I think I can say that it’s the most magical weekend of the year. I’ve been playing in Hoopla since I was 10 years old and the fact that I see the same faces around after 17 years just shows how prestigious Hoopla is.”

Action will kick off on Wednesday with an invite-only tournament featuring eight men’s teams and four women’s teams beginning at 6 p.m. That event is open to spectators. Wednesday will also see the beginning of the  three-on-three tournament and the unified clinic for special needs students which is in its second year. Activities will stretch over the next four days with registered events like the two-on-two tournament which starts Friday and the free, no registration required children’s clinic that starts Friday at 10 a.m. 

Registration, overall, Unruh said, is about on par or slightly up from last year. 

“It’s an amazing event at how it brings people together,” Unruh said. “The thing that strikes me the most is how even non-basketball players look forward to Hoopla. It’s beyond basketball, it’s like a reunion and that’s what warms my heart.”

Spectators can watch the Hoopla tournament for free, with most of the three-on-three games taking place Saturday and Sunday. For more information, a schedule or to register, visit oregonhoopla.com

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].

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