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Macker tournament heading to Grand Island

Scott McNeal is known as Mr. Gus Macker, but the owner of the company that runs 3-on-3 outdoor basketball tournaments across the country might be willing to share the Macker nickname with Corey McGowan.

That’s because the Grand Island entrepreneur answered McNeal’s prayers, coming out of the blue and saving the Buffalo-area Gus Macker Tournament stop weeks after the company had announced there wouldn’t be an event in Western New York.

The Gus Macker Tournament makes its grand return Aug. 29-30 along Grand Island Boulevard between Whitehaven and Baseline roads on Grand Island. Four-man teams can register for the event now through Aug. 15 by visiting coreymcgowan.com or macker.com. Cost is $140.

McNeal and McGowan, a 26-year-old who runs Corey McGowan Productions, made the official announcement at the Flower A Day florist before media and various town leaders Thursday morning. Unlike past editions of the Macker, the Buffalo Police Athletic League is not involved with this event.

“It was a goal of Gus Macker to find a long-term solution for a tournament in the Buffalo area, and Grand Island should be a great fit,” McNeal said.

The Macker used to be a fundraiser for PAL to help finance the cost of youth programs. However, PAL lost its main sponsor for financing the event two years ago and the cost to run the tournament on its own proved to be too burdensome in exchange for the slight profit.

That changed last May when PAL and Darien Lake came to an agreement to move the event to Genesee County with Darien Lake covering most of the cost and PAL being the primary charity to receive proceeds. But Darien Lake brought in a new management team last fall and the three sides opted to sever ties, forcing Macker brass to announce there wouldn’t be a tournament here.

The demise of the Macker didn’t sit well with McGowan, who used to watch his brother participate in the tournament downtown. He immediately contacted Macker brass and began talks with McNeal. The sides agreed to a three-year deal.

Since PAL had no agreement in place with Macker, that opened the door for anyone to take over. Corey Macker, er, McGowan pounced.

“Just the history of this being in Western New York … to see something this powerful and meaningful to the community go away just wasn’t an option,” said McGowan as to why he stepped up to take control of the event.

While McGowan’s company has an opt-out clause after one year, both sides sounded like they would be working together for a while.

“We’re excited to be home,” said McNeal. “A couple months ago, this would’ve surprised myself. ... I play a lot of small towns right now, so this community of Grand Island really fits what Gus Macker is all about. We really talk about family, community and charity when we talk about Gus Macker.

“This is like a breath of fresh air. Finding Corey was a big deal.”

McGowan is a graduate of Grand Island High School and Buffalo State. His production group founded the Taste of Grand Island and also organizes the Taste of Niagara Falls and Concert for a Cure at Canalside, among other events.

The Grand Island Macker will benefit the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and Youth Advantage.

While the tournament will take place along the stretch of road considered the Grand Island business district, the Town Hall parking lot will serve as a main hub where the special championship and dream courts will be set up. There will also be an area for concessions.

The tournament, which will have certified referees, will be set up to accommodate between 400-500 teams. Organizers don’t want to push it beyond the 500 threshold in its first year at Grand Island.

Last year’s event drew about 400 teams, but the late start and being in an area not easily accessible by public transportation were among the reasons for the poor turnout.

While Grand Island is no downtown Buffalo, it is in Erie County and the tournament is taking place along a Metro bus route, which should make it more accessible than last year’s.

There are 44 Gus Macker Tournaments across the country. McNeal has run more than 1,700 during his 42-year tenure.

McGowan said he considered Buffalo and several other towns in the county but opted for his hometown for a simple reason.

“I just personally like Grand Island,” he said. “The community means a lot to me. To bring an event like this to Grand Island gives the opportunity to showcase all we have to offer as a community.”

McNeal said the plan is to move the Macker date back to the traditional June spot Western New Yorkers had become accustomed to when it took place downtown.

“We love the Buffalo area and appreciate all the people who put on the event in Buffalo,” McNeal said. “Everyone who’s hosted us over the years we have no ill feelings. ... But we needed a long-term relationship so that players and the public would know where we were going to be and when we were going to be there.”

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com