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Hoopfest practices servant leadership as it promotes basketball

By Anna Marie Martin

Beyond being a major 3-on-3 basketball tournament that will draw 6,700 teams to Spokane June 27 and 28, and will contribute $35 million to Spokane’s financial wellbeing, Hoopfest exemplifies a philosophy of servant leadership and a commitment to give to charity.

Hoopfest provides a family-friendly, fitness-promoting weekend that generates funds to help build or rebuild basketball courts in the community, replace nets and support the Special Olympics and youth sports programs.

Rick Steltenpohl, executive director for 17 years and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Spokane, said Jesus was an example of servant leadership, because he “led by kindness and was always reaching out to others.

“Kindness matters,” said Rick, whose goal is “to give back more than I expect to receive.”

With excellence in service one of his core values, he said, “a key component of any faith is the way we treat other people. We show people how to be sharing and compassionate by being humble and serving others, which inspires others to become better.”

He describes himself as “a low-key, humble person,” who “leads by example of how to do things in a caring, compassionate style.”

Although Hoopfest is a secular organization, he said, the values of caring and compassion come out in staff and volunteer relationships, and in Hoopfest’s success as an organization.

The architects of Hoopfest started with a dual desire to be the best 3-on-3 basketball tournament and to raise money for the Special Olympics.  Founders decided after much discussion they would focus on having an “excellent event” that would “let as many people play as wanted to.”  That way it would be sustainable.

That Hoopfest is the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the country and world—with more than five times more registrations than the next largest 3-on-3 tournament—and involves 3,000 volunteers is “a testimony to the community,” Rick said.

Hoopfest has donated more than $1 million to charitable organization in its 20 years.  The main recipient of its charity is the Special Olympics.  Other recipients include the YMCA and YWCA to fund sports programs, Spokane Parks and Recreation, the Chase Youth Commission, and the Libby Teen Center. 

As part of its outreach to children, Hoopfest is associated with two nonprofit programs, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Basketball for players in grades four to eight from November through February, and Midnight Basketball, a free program for sixth to eighth graders at local middle schools.

Volunteers do much of the work of organizing Hoopfest throughout the year.  The committee of 27 volunteers organize the courts, recruit and train court monitors, and plan for safety, security, family events, registration and clean-up.  

Throughout the year, Hoopfest renovates and maintains outdoor basketball courts in community parks and schools—building 20 since 1994.

Hoopfest’s newest court will be built this summer in Cannon Park in West Central Spokane, as a way to have a positive impact on neighborhood families. 

Once a year, staff and volunteer teams from Hoopfest go to courts in community centers, neighborhoods and parks to replace the nets.  On “Net Day,” if they spot a basketball hoop in someone’s yard, they knock on the door and ask, “Do you want a new net for your basketball hoop?” 

Rick, who has lived in Spokane since 1987, except for a year in Phoenix in 2005, never imagined that this would become a job for him.  Now he says it’s the job of his dreams, especially with Hoopfest becoming so large and giving money to charities.

“People tell me all the time that their families get together twice a year – for Christmas and Hoopfest,” he said. 

He has a basketball hoop and several basketballs in his office to remind him to have some fun, and to keep him in shape to participate in the tournament every year.

For information, call 624-2414 or visit

Copyright © June 2009 - The Fig Tree