The Hastings version of March Madness – the Whoopers and Hoopers basketball tournament – is back for its 33rd year.
It took 16 gyms in Hastings, Juniata and Harvard for all 144 teams to play this year. The three-day event draws thousands of people to the area, and has become the largest adult five-on-five tournament in the Midwest.
Tournament Director Mikki Shafer says anyone can put together a team, which means Whoopers and Hoopers features leagues, workplace teams, overseas players, and even alumni groups.
"They graduated from college, they've moved away, but they still want to get together with those teammates, so it's a great time for everybody to just come back and connect with each other," says Shafer.
Keith Lowery, of Team Front Row, has been coming from Iowa to the tournament for 16 years, and says different divisions of play let teams be competitive against others of similar skill.
"It's a first rate organization and it's run great. I think in the league it's more of a tougher competition; we're kind of here just for the weekend and a good time, but yeah, we still like to give 100 percent," said Lowery.
Two Omaha league teams – Team New School Old School and Team Gully – face each other at other times, but squared off again in Harvard on Saturday during their annual trek for a weekend of hoops.
"It is very special, every year we look forward to it, kind of go back and get ready for the next year," said player Lenell Phillips of Team Gully.
New School Old School team member Lawrence Wilson says they're now recruiting their kids to keep their teams going.
"It's cool to have your kids running up and down the court with you, now that they're out of school too and some are in college, it's great," shared Wilson.
Hastings Chamber officials say they use about 350 volunteers to get through the tournament.
While nearly all the registration and admission money goes toward Elite Division winning team payouts and facility fees, they say the effort is worth it.
"It gets right down to the economic impact that it has on a community, because when you have basically 1,000 players here alone, then they bring their families and friends, it adds up to a lot of people coming and a lot of money being spent in this community," says Hastings Chamber of Commerce President Tom Hastings.
Part of the proceeds from Whoopers and Hoopers also goes toward two $500 scholarships. Those are awarded to students from the schools that let the tournament use their gyms.