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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Basketball tournament builds camaraderie for all ages

Teams range from kindergarten boys and girls teams to competitive men’s leagues and rec leagues. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

By Raelynn Sheridan

Roger Van Weerdhuizen has played in every Curt Maberry Memorial Classic 3-on-3 Tournament since its inception in 1998.

A tall figure with strawberry-blonde hair, sporting a cut-off Harley Davidson T-shirt, Van Weerdhuizen coaches his sons on the young boys team called RVW Trucking. The team was named after the RVW Trucking company Van Weerdhuizen owns in Lynden.

After 20 years, Van Weerdhuizen’s body can’t keep up with the physical demands of basketball anymore, and he’d rather spend more time coaching.

But he put in one last year.

Braids and sweatbands dominated Main Street under overcast Lynden skies on Friday morning. The scent of caramel corn wafted through the air, and country music blared over a jury-rigged speaker to the sound of basketballs thumping the pavement.

Jerry Blankers, the founder of the tournament and its organizer, is a long time friend of Van Weerdhuizen and coached him years ago. The two were close with Curt Maberry, the tournament’s namesake and a berry farmer and youth sports coach who was well known in the Lynden community.

Maberry and Blankers co-founded the two-day tournament 20 years ago. Maberry was a basketball enthusiast and a giving spirit, Blankers said.

Maberry died in 2007 from a heart attack. He was in his 50s and too young, Blankers solemnly explained.

Blankers and Maberry had 37 teams registered to play during the first year of the tournament, which lost $5,000. Now there are 227 teams registered, and the tournament draws large crowds and a diverse roster of players.

Teams range from kindergarten boys and girls teams to competitive men’s leagues and rec leagues.

227 teams played in this year’s tournament. 2018 was the last year as a player for 20-year vet Roger Van Weerdhuizen. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

“The best part is everyone coming to town,” Blankers said. He said sometimes people get too competitive, especially the parents, but in the end, it’s a good time and brings the community together.

The tournament relies on a lot of volunteer work, Blankers said. The Nooksack Valley High School football team has been volunteering for 10 years.

Junior Matthew Munkres and freshman Ethan Wilson, both from Lynden High School, were practicing early Friday morning. They both play for the team “Merica.” Munkres said he has been playing in the tournament for seven years and started when he was in elementary school.

“It’s competitive, fun and exciting,” both said. Munkres enjoys coming to the tournament not only for the basketball, but also for the food. Vendors lined the streets and cafes and restaurants bursted with people. Berries are sold all day in various forms from ice cream to mojitos to poffertjes, a dutch treat Munkres said is his favorite.

Team Merica placed 3rd in the boys 11th and 12th grade division.

On Saturday, just after noon, the crowd swelled and the tournament was in full swing. Blankers and Van Weerdhuizen remembered Maberry and praised each other’s friendship and respect for one another.

“Roger I appreciate everything you’ve done,” Blankers said. Tears welled as he spoke about the friends he’d lost and the friend he still had, standing beside him in the sun.

“Way to make me cry,” Van Weerdhuizen said, chuckling as he took the microphone from Blankers. “I’ve spent a lot of time out here [at the tournament] and I love you Jerry.”

Blankers said he called Van Weerdhuizen before the tournament and told him, “If I’m going to be here for the 20th year so are you.”

So, Van Weerdhuizen laced up his shoes one last time.

For Kaelee Bungard, playing in the 3-on-3 requires a bit of an adjustment to a regular game. “I think it’s more go with the flow,” Bungard said. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

Teams RVW Trucking and Cloud 9 laced up on Saturday for the semifinals of the men’s rec league bracket.

Along the sidewalks and sidelines, bodies squeezed next to each other, packing in tight to watch the game.

RVW was up by four points eight minutes in at 12-8. Van Weerdhuizen has a decade or two on the others but is dominant on the court.

He plays defense most of the game and takes breaks every few minutes. He remains focused. His eyes never leave the court.

The game is tied after 14 minutes, but Cloud 9 starts to pull ahead.

In 16 minutes the game is over, 19-18. RVW lost by one point.

The teams shake hands and pat backs. The crowd slowly disperses. Van Weerdhuizen sits across the court in a camping chair icing his ankle.

He says they should have won and then mumbles something to himself.

Despite the loss, Van Weerdhuizen says he’ll be back next year, but to coach, not to play.

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