HASTINGS, Neb. – One of the biggest basketball tournaments in Central Nebraska is set to return to Hastings in March.

The Whoopers and Hoopers tournament will be held March 15-17 in Hastings at gyms all across the city. 

Starting in 1982, and formerly known as the Gary Michaels Invitational, 2019 is the last time the Whoopers and Hoopers tournament in Hastings has been held.

Health concerns due to COVID canceled the tournament in 2020 and 2021. 

2022 saw the tournament change to a 3-on-3 format called the Midwest Triple Threat. It didn’t stick as it was canceled last year due to low enrollment.

This year the Hastings YMCA and tournament committee members are leading the charge to get this 5-on-5 tournament back to life.

"I think the 3-on-3 tournament was a good idea for the time frame, but a lot of people were seeking a 5-on-5 tournament, which is what this tournament has been since 1982." said Committee Member Russ Kulwicki.

Past tournaments have seen plenty of former D1 collegiate players and basketball legends like former Harlem Globetrotters and Husker great Tyronn Lue participate in the tournament. Tournament regulars often consisted of recently graduated collegiate players.

"We really capitalized on a lot of those players that had just graduated, or some of their teams, and it kind of became a reunion for their teams," said Hauli Sabatka, who's been helping organize the event since 1999. "We always knew there was going to be a good Concordia team coming in, or Midland team, or Hastings College and Kearney always were bringing in good teams." 

Organizers are also using their local ties to draw back past tournament participants.

"The committee that I'm involved with, we are all a bunch of former players having contact with other players that we've played with over the years," said Kulwicki. "That's what the committee has tried to do is bring back some of those former players who've played in the tournament. 

Whoopers and Hoopers has not only drawn thousands of people to Hastings for three days, but has provided a big boost to businesses during the length of the tournament

"A lot of businesses really look forward to this time because it is a huge economic impact to them," said Former Tournament Director Mikki Shafer. "One business said after every March they were able to do improvements to their business because that flow of money that came in. The economic impact is unmeasurable most of the time."

Six divisions are available for sign up, with four men's and two women's divisions. Registration is open until March 1st, and volunteers are still needed for the event starting the second weekend of March.

"This tournament cannot be run without those volunteers," said Shafer. "In years past, it's taken over 250 volunteers because it's the little things, like gym managing, taking tickets, making sure players get food and water, that support of the community is vital to it."