From defeated to undefeated: Spokane Hoopfest gives my son his life back

Two years ago, my son James was in the ER of the very hospital that now sponsored his Hoopfest bracket on a sunny June 25 morning. What a fortuitous coincidence, I thought, as my husband and I cheered on his team, the Frito Layups, toward undefeated victory in Bracket 216 on the last weekend of June.

Comprised of two friends from his Select soccer team in Mukilteo and one new friend from North Spokane, the Frito Layups made history that weekend, rising out of a 16-team (recreational) bracket to win the finals.

We saw gritty hand-to-hand combat, seamless teamwork, unstoppable drives to the net, ferocious defense (my son!), a shoving incident that necessitated a ref lecture, and one perfect, two-point shot that dropped in for a dramatic tie-breaker to send the team to the finals, which they easily won.


After the finals win that second day of the “biggest 3×3 outdoor basketball tournament on earth,” we gathered around the winning team, took a million cell phone shots, and watched the boys do celebratory push-ups at Spokane Riverfront Park’s water fountain in the 90-degree heat, blissfully happy.

Three of the Frito Layups were returning members. They played in the Spokane Hoopfest for many years, since they were little, yet they never won the whole thing. They came close, semis from the double-elimination losers bracket.

By happenstance, the fourth guy on the team couldn’t make Hoopfest this year, because of a school-related field trip to D.C. So they asked my son, who had already played in the finals of his Olympic View Middle School’s 3×3 tournament and finished second overall. James had never played Select basketball, although he did serve as a defensive specialist for his school’s team two seasons in a row, so the team registered in the recreational division.

It was both James’ and the team’s first Hoopfest win. After they received their winning t-shirts and held up the final bracket poster, they turned to James and basically said, “You’re a permanent member.”

A lot has changed in two years.

We love Spokane. We’ve visited the city before for a Select baseball tournament our son was in. We fell in love with the quirky but friendly people, the retro vibe, and the ubiquitous burger joints.

For Thanksgiving 2014, we thought Spokane would make a relaxing five-day getaway from the trauma of enduring back-to-back ER trips for our poor son.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do much relaxing. It was the worst time of our lives as we watched our son struggle to breathe, try to sleep sitting up in his pull-out bed in the hotel, and turn blue as we raced him to another ER.

We spent most of our Thanksgiving break in the Emergency Room at Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital. Our then-12-year-old son had suffered his fifth and worst asthma attack on Thanksgiving Day, right after a but-gusting, all-you-can-eat buffet at the Golden Corral on N. Division. He’d already been rushed to the ER at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a walk-in clinic closer to home four previous times following his first Flu-Mist at the end of Sept., and subsequently, a nearly month-long bout of coughing and trouble breathing.


Doctors at the Seattle Children’s Hospital couldn’t understand how James could have asthma at his age when he’d never shown signs of the respiratory disease before. Treating him took six months of trial and error on various controller medications before his Pulmonary doctor put him on Symbicort in May of last year. His asthma has been under control ever since.

I remember how scared and worse, defeated and weak, my son felt that terrible day. How compassionate and caring the staff was. (The doctor on-call routinely drove over from Western Washington every other week to help out, he told us, like a one-man M.A.S.H. unit.) How one nurse, originally from Pennsylvania, gave us tips as a fellow asthmatic on beefing up his immune system with Vitamin D and reading the peak flow meter at home. How we wound up at a forgettable Mexican restaurant up on Division, completely sleep-deprived, before picking up yet another round of the dreaded Prednisone from Walgreens. How we would later half-heartedly watch downtown Spokane’s River Park Square light up for the holidays, thinking this nightmare would never end.

But miraculously, it did, at a spectacular, unexpected two-day event in Spokane. As my husband and I walked around gawking at all the basketball going on, we also took note of all the places we’d been before under different circumstances, with a cloud over our heads.

On June 25-26, those clouds disappeared in the most spectacular way, as Spokane inadvertently gave our son his life back.

Frito Layups win their first Hoopfest!

We came full circle for two exciting days at this year’s Spokane Hoopfest, featuring over 7,000 teams playing 3×3 basketball on 450 courts. Organizers once again shut down 42 city blocks of downtown Spokane, so that 27,000 some odd people — grade schoolers, college kids, and co-eds, moms, coaches, and war heroes — from as far as Hawaii and Kansas could play half-court in and out of costume.

Co-founders Rick Betts and Jerry Schmidt set up the first Spokane Hoopfest in 1990, with proceeds benefitting the Special Olympics. Ever since, the Spokane Hoopfest Association has raised over $1.6 million for worthy causes like Special Olympics and other youth sports programs. The money from this tournament — held on the last weekend of June — has also gone to fixing up or building outdoor basketball courts for area neighborhoods to enjoy.

Was it a coincidence that the very hospital that took care of my son two years ago was the same sponsor of his 3×3 basketball bracket, the one he and his team would go on to win?

I’d like to think it was divine providence.

Whether he’s invited back on the Frito Layup team or not, we plan to return to the Spokane 3×3 Tournament next year, because it was so much fun — and for sentimental reasons. We owe a lot to this city.

(This is the second of two essays I submitted for publication in a new sports blog. The essays were rejected. But I thought you might enjoy them on my WordPress.)


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