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Wofford uses basketball on and off the court

Winning in basketball never gets old for Jamestown’s Maceo Wofford, but it doesn’t begin to compare with what he’s done off the court.

Wofford was the standout member of “Team Jock Shop,” scoring eight of the team’s 18 points in its 18-13 victory over “Buffalo’s Very Own” in the top men’s championship of the 24th Gus Macker basketball tournament on Sunday in Grand Island. The former Iona Division-I player used basketball to escape from his own less than ideal situation. Now, he’s doing the same for others.

Wofford said basketball became an outlet for him, coming from a broken home surrounded by drugs in Jamestown in the 1980s and early ‘90s.

“Once I found basketball, there was no stopping me,” said Wofford, 35, who graduated from Iona in 2003. “And of course watching Michael Jordan when I was little. And at first it’s tough so you get discouraged but if you keep practicing and practicing, you see yourself get better so therefore you want to do it more and more.”

Wofford has played to the point where he doesn’t want to stop. And now he’s been able to pass it along to his 7-year-old son, who was out playing with the 10-year-olds in Grand Island.

And his talents aren’t confined to Buffalo. Wofford’s squad, accompanies by family, has traveled and won in Warren, Pa. along with Hornell, Syracuse and Olean. “Team Jock Shop” has won all five Macker tournaments it has entered this season. The team captain, Jamestown’s Steve Breth, can’t even put an exact number on his career Macker championships.

Wofford works at a youth-centered Lutheran Social Services agency in Jamestown. He deals with children and it’s often focused around basketball, because he’s experienced first-handed what the game can do.

“Truthfully in there, once kids found out that I played basketball, that kind of knocks them off that bad spell and gets them back on track,” Wofford said. “Basketball is really an outlet, a way out of doing the negative things in life because most kids, they don’t have anything else to do so they find that negative stuff.”

For many, it is an outlet. For others, it’s a way to stay in touch with old friends – like the case with Williamsville’s Brad Young.

Young, 53, has played in 23 of 24 Buffalo Gus Mackers. He only missed last year’s at Darien Lake because he didn’t like the fact the tournament was moved out of Buffalo. But Grand Island was close enough for him and his team to come out and act like kids again.

“I’ve been playing ball with these guys for 40 years,” Young said. “Getting together, hanging out, playing basketball, talking over old stuff, even if we don’t see these guys for a while, we always do this and then we got time to catch up.”

Young and his teammates, consisting of Chris Pratt, Harry Schatmeyer and Tom Jost, look forward to this tournament every year. And it’s not only because of the basketball.

After the games are over, they go back to somebody’s house, eat food and hang out by a pool.

The tradition has moved on to his children. Young’s second-oldest son, Myles, has played in the Macker before but now opts to spectate. But that doesn’t mean he’s standing still. Myles goes back and forth between his father’s match and his girlfriend, Anna Quinlan, who plays in the tournament.

“I know supporting someone, that’s a big thing,” said the 19-year-old Mercyhurst student, “and I want to be able to support both of them.”

That family culture is constantly on display at the tournament, as Bill Gorman, Gus Macker coordinator and Williamsville North boys basketball coach, said.

“It’s really a reunion for people that may not see each other like people from Clarence or the West Side,” Gorman said, “but they know they can see each other here.”

Also, it gives family members the opportunity to play side-by-side that may be more used to the enemy role.

Brothers Brandon Maranto, 22, and Nick, 17, from Amherst never got to play together at Williamsville North High School. They had plenty of time competing against one another in the driveway though. The Macker gives them the chance to share a uniform.

“There was always a little bit of a competitive edge between us,” Nick said. “So now that we are coming together it’s pretty cool.”

This was the tournament’s first year in Grand Island. It featured 282 teams, far below the tournament’s historical average, but the date was later in the summer. It was canceled back in April before Corey McGowan helped bring the Macker to Grand Island. Gorman, who’s worked with Macker for 15 years, even noted this is the first time he’s seen things like petting zoos and bounce houses at the event.

“Obviously I have concerns at any new city that you go to because you want to make sure things go smoothly,” said Gorman, who travels the country to be at every Macker tournament. “But I will say I thought Corey McGowan and the Town of Grand Island really handled things real well.”

No matter where you play, the tournament is about family.

“For me, really, it’s family,” Wofford said. “It’s a family-orientated thing over here. Obviously some courts are rougher, but even on the courts that are rougher, you see a whole block come watch their team play, so really, it’s about unity.”

It’s been 24 years of unity in the Buffalo area, and Gorman hopes to be a part of year 25.