Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
January 11, 2016
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photos: Jim Minkler
Program coordinator: Brad Stark
          Good start: The club’s fund-raising campaign for Holmes projects and other programs to serve needy kids is off to a good start, thanks to a $1,000 donation from Jim Frank and Greenstone Construction, developer of Kendall Yards.  Fund drive coordinator Jodi Harland shared the good news, and Robbie Jackson said her firm, Winston-Cashatt, has pledged $500, specifically to support the Mobius Science Center night at Holmes.  Club President Lenore Romney and Jodi urged members to continue sending fund-drive letters to potential sponsors, and follow up with phone calls.
For Matt, this job is a slam dunk
          How could a basketball “lifer” and star Gonzaga University player like Matt Santangelo find a better job than Hoopfest executive director?
          Santangelo, a key part of GU’s early NCAA tournament success, and Hoopfest Marketing Director Bailee Neyland delighted the club with their appearance Jan. 11.
          “Basketball has played a tremendous role in my life,” said Santangelo, recalling his upbringing in north Portland, which he described as “a rougher part of town.”
          The youngest of nine children, Matt said he honed his “ability to yell” competing for attention with three brothers and five sisters.  His dad, Nick, ran the bingo games for most of the Portland-area parishes.
          Matt said he has played basketball since 3rd grade and at a competitive level since 7th grade.  His Central Catholic team won the state title in his junior year and he avoided other sports to concentrate on basketball.  Shooting outdoors for countless hours in Portland’s rain, Matt said his goal was to “wear out the net.” 
          Along with GU, Matt was recruited by Stanford, Oregon, Rice, among others.  He said when the late GU coach Dan Fitzgerald visited his home, Fitz told him, “There’s no one bigger than the team, no one, but if I had a ball, I’d give it to you and see where you take us.”
          That was just what Matt wanted to hear, so it was off to Spokane.   After one year with Fitz, the program made the NCAA’s Elite Eight under Don Monson.  Monson left for Minnesota after two years (he’s now at Long Beach State) and Mark Few took over GU’s program.
          Despite having three coaches in four years, Matt said the coaching philosophy stayed the same.  What changed was scheduling tougher non-conference opponents, including Duke, which he said cancelled the game after GU’s rise in the tournament.  “A sign of respect,” Matt said.
          Matt played professionally in Italy, Spain, Greece and Poland, but after seven years returned to Spokane for a job with a financial services firm and family time with his wife and three children.
          In February of 2014 Terry Kelly, a former G-Prep and WSU star player and a Hoopfest director, asked Matt if he was interested in the Hoopfest leadership position.  By April, Matt was on board, leading “the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.”
          Hoopfest, now prepping for its 27th season, has 7,000 teams – 28,000 players – competing.  The event, he said, draws a quarter-million people to downtown Spokane during its weekend run and contributes $46 milllion a year to the local economy.  It covers 42 city blocks and uses 3,000 volunteers. Hoopfest’s annual budget is $1.8 million, with about $1 million in revenues coming from registration.  Sponsors and apparel sales add revenue streams.  Prime beneficiary is Special Olympics.  Hoopfest has also built and maintained permanent basketball courts all over Spokane.
          The event peaked at 7,090 teams, “and we’re not sure we have the streets to put any more people out there,” Matt said.  A similar event in Los Angeles drew 650 teams.
          Last year Hoopfest was featured all weekend on ESPN’s “On the Road” series of five city visits.  Bailee, the marketing director, heard about ESPN’s plans, made a Spokane visit her goal and called a friend who works for the Disney-owned sports network.  When ESPN reps returned the call, Bailee answered, and ESPN came.  Its reporting staff and support crew, Matt said, was astonished by the number of teams, players and city involvement.
          “There’s not a city in America that doesn’t want the Spokane effect, the Hoopfest and Bloomsday effects,” Santangelo said.   Last year players came from 41 states and four countries.
          He adds: “Hoopfest has become a big family reunion event.  A number of families choose Hoopfest over Christmas reunions.”
This year’s Hoopfest is June 25-26.  Registration opens March 11.  Working around the reconstruction of Riverfront Park will be challenging for the next few years, Matt said, “but ultimately this will be great.”