By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Heavy rain and cold temperatures threw a body slam into Saturday's opening schedule at the Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament in downtown Quincy.
But after a 4 1/2-hour break in the action, the clouds finally parted and the sun started shining once again on one of Quincy's most popular annual events.
"The rain slowed us up, but actually we've rebounded and the crowd has really come back out in force," said Mel Dillman, one of three co-chairmen of the 23rd annual tournament, sponsored by the Quincy Exchange Club.
"The rain hurt us a little bit, sure, but we're going to get all the games in today, and I think the overall effect isn't going to be too bad," Dillman said.
The tournament got under way on schedule at 8 a.m., but by 9:30 rain some lightning flashes prompted tournament officials to halt action temporarily. It wasn't until 2 p.m. that play resumed.
At that point, to help speed up play and get back on schedule, organizers implemented a shortener-game plan. Instead of playing to 15 points as usual, each game was played until one team scored 10 points, and a 15-minute time limit was imposed.
"Everybody was pretty cool with it," Dillman said. He noted that the shorter games moved things along pretty well -- which was a good thing, considering 414 teams and more than 1,600 players were eager to get their games in.
The rain delay causes many teams and spectators to head for hotels, go home for a while or seek shelter in local businesses. This had the making of a financial disaster for vendors in Washington Park, who were prepared to dish out hundreds of servings of food to hungry patrons.
As it turned out, the crowds returned in droves once the games re-started, and the patrons came back hungry -- for food as well as basketball, according to David Liggett, kitchen manager for the Hy-Vee store on Harrison, which is operating a major food booth this weekend in Washington Park.
"When the rains came, everybody just kind of laid back a little bit and relaxed. Then at the last second, they all came back," Liggett said. "At 3 o'clock it picked up, and the crowds just keep on coming. We've got a nice steady stream of people."
The rain didn't dampen any of the enthusiasm displayed by teams randomly selected to play a game on the "Dream Court" -- a place where ordinary players are momentarily treated as superstars.
The Dream Court is a Macker tradition that started in Quincy about 13 years ago. The flag-decked court features a top-level playing surface, and players are introduced with a flourish of hoopla. Parents and fans use their raised arms to form a "tunnel" that players run through as they are introduced. Then a local radio personality, sports announcer Bill Shuler of KHMO, provides a play-by-play while the players are cheered on by crowds sitting on bleachers.
"It's a huge thrill for them," said Rodney Hart, a longtime Gus Macker volunteer who referees games on the Dream Court.
"For the younger kids, it is way cool because they get to play on this special surface, we have starting lineups, and we have play-by-play," he said. "We just try to make it really fun for them, and we try to have a good time."
During one rain-shortened game Saturday afternoon, the Misfits -- a team of 9- and 10-year-old boys from Montgomery County, Mo., -- beat the Quincy-based Wolverines 5-1. While the game didn't last long, it was an unforgettable experience for the kids, according to Matt James, the Misfits' coach.
"It was awesome," James said. "It's special for the families and everybody."
People of all ages descended on downtown Quincy to catch some of the Gus Macker action Saturday. Morse and Darlene White came out to watch their two grandsons play in the morning, but the rain chased them away until they ventured back in mid-afternoon once the games resumed.
Morse White came armed with two umbrellas because he knows, from years of experience, that Macker weekends are frequently full of rain or extremely hot.
"A lot of times it's been sunny the whole weekend and you just baked. So you bring an umbrella. It's either for the sun or the rain," he said.
Not everyone was having a fun time, however. Quite a few players ended up with cuts and bruises and sought medical attention at a first-aid tent staffed by representatives of the Quincy Medical Group.
"We treat a little bit of everything," said Aaron Clark, director of ancillary services for QMG, who was pitching in at the medical tent Saturday. He said they were seeing all of "the normal stuff," which included cuts, abrasions, sprains and strains.
"Occasionally you get something a little more serious than that. But with 1,600 players, the odds of something happening are pretty high," Clark said.
For most players, however, getting to play in the Macker was lots of fun, despite the rain delay. Jo Stahl of O'Fallon, Mo., who coaches a team girls ages 11-12, said her players were having a ball on their road trip to Quincy's Macker.
"This is definitely a different kind of game than regular basketball," Stahl said. "It's a little faster, a little rougher, but it's really good for them."