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Wild weather greets Macker hoopsters; Adjustments made, the show goes on

Pam Muzzio arrived downtown at5 a.m. Saturday morning to the sight of Porta-Pottys bouncing through the streets.

Not a great way for the executive director of the Police Athletic League of Buffalo to start her morning, especially with thousands of people converging on Delaware Avenue and surrounding streets just a few hours later for the annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 Tournament.

"It was a nightmare when we got here," Muzzio said. "We left late [Friday] night, and it was a monsoon."

The annual corporate portion of the tournament was lost Friday due to weather, and play was severly hampered early Saturday. Balls bounced through puddles. Any jumper outside of 10 feet didn't have much of a chance.

"Windy. Rainy. Miserable. Not really basketball," was how Jon Plail, who was competing on the top men's court with his Healthy Buffalo team, described the morning conditions.

By about noon, however, the sun began to break through the clouds, and the courts dried out fairly quickly -- thanks in large part to a persistent wind that gusted up to 30 mph, according to a National Weather Service representative in Cheektowaga.

Temperatures never got much warmer than the lower 60s -- and were much chillier before the sun came out -- meaning hoodies and blankets were the preferred accessories.

"It's not the greatest weather conditions to play in or watch," Muzzio admitted, before adding "but we got it done."

Indeed, more than 800 teams took to the 52 courts, and thousands of spectators lined the curbs. One of Buffalo's marquee summer events was on for its 22nd year, even if felt more like November.

The Macker changed weekends this year, moving ahead about three weeks from its usual end of the month start. Muzzio explained the reason for the change: "We were up against [high school] graduation weekend in the past, and we were losing a lot in that age bracket. We thought it was worth taking a chance after so many people in that bracket were out last year."

The Macker ran into another problem because of the shift in weekends. A previously scheduled 5-on-5 charity tournament, "Ballin' for a Cause," is taking place this weekend at the Buffalo Niagara Court Center in West Seneca.

The tournament offers a top prize of $5,000 to the winning team, and had already attracted several of the area's best players, who usually battle for bragging rights in the top men's division.

"It's disappointing. I've been playing in the Macker since I was 9 years old," said 27-year-old Nick Parisi, who last year played on a Timon Canisius team with Fran Snyder, Charlie Comerford and Kyle Husband that won one of the top men's divisions (there are two). "We had already committed to play in this tournament when the Macker changed weekends. It's too bad."

Parisi teamed with Snyder, Damone Brown, Jason Rowe, Shawn Murphy, Ka'Ron Barnes and Ace Narvaez to play in Ballin' for a Cause. They'll be joined today by Comerford, who was in Long Island on Saturday with the Timon lacrosse team. That's a who's who of Western New York hoops -- Rowe, Brown, and Barnes were part of the Darling Paint squad that won the other top men's bracket in last year's Macker.

"We'd love to have everybody play," said Orv Cott, the PAL's athletic director. "We wish we didn't have to crash heads, but we had no choice."

"Ballin' for a Cause" had been played in April last year at UB's Alumni Arena, but Cott said it was his understanding a scheduling conflict necessitated the change to this weekend. The top prize attracted teams from as far away as Maryland and Michigan.

Parisi's team went 2-1 Saturday in the 32-team tournament, advancing to the final 16-team bracket, which will compete in a single-elimination tournament today.

The top men's division at the Macker was thus reduced from 36 teams last year, split into two 18-team brackets, to 24 this year.

"There's definitely some teams out here who haven't been on these courts before," said Plail, 29, who played for Starpoint High and at Brockport State. "There's still some good teams, but you can notice a difference."

Because of the weather, games were reduced from 15 points to 10, or whichever team was ahead after 15 minutes (down from 25). Macker officials are asking all players to report to their courts promptly at 8 a.m. today for the resumption of play, as rainy weather is again expected.

Spotted in the crowd Saturday: Bills coach Chan Gailey and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who was working the grill at the volunteer's tent. About 350 people volunteer over the course of the weekend, Cott said, as the Buffalo Macker remains one of the largest in the country.