Hoopin' It Up basketball tournament to return in Meriden after decade-long hiatus
By Ryan Chichester, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN - After almost a decade of inactivity, the “Hoopin’ It Up” basketball tournament will return this morning, thanks to the help of former tournament champion Mike Papale and the Meriden Rotary Club.
The tournament will begin at 9 a.m. with the nine and under division, followed by the 10 to 11, 11 to 12 and 14 to 16-year-olds. Each group’s tournament is estimated to last roughly two hours, with each team being guaranteed at least two three-on-three half-court games.
When the tournament kicks off at the Boys and Girls Club at 15 Lincoln St., Papale will be participating in a different light. His In A Heartbeat Foundation was a driving force in bringing the tournament back to Meriden.
“It’s really going to be a special day, to come full circle,” Papale said. “To have those memories of playing with my friends, and now to help make those kind of memories for the kids who will be playing this year.”
Papale was a former basketball standout at Sheehan High School before a sudden heart attack almost took his life at just 17 years old. Robbed of his ability to perform on the hardwood, Papale took to the sidelines, where he served on the coaching staff at Quinnipiac University for seven years. It was on the Hamden campus where Papale met Meriden resident Tom Barton, who was immediately drawn to Papale’s resilience.
“He had a powerful story,” Barton said. “He was talking about starting a foundation as a college kid. When he eventually started (the In A Heartbeat Foundation), we had him come speak at the (Meriden) Rotary Club. We found out he played and won at the old tournament, and we knew we had to get it going again.”
Barton, Papale and Kevin Curry of the Meriden Rotary Club came together to pull the tournament out of its hiatus after Papale’s visit to the club.
“It’s great to have it back,” Curry said of the tournament’s return. “It’s always been a fun event.”
Games were previously held at the Westfield Meriden mall parking garage and on Colony Street.
This year’s tournament has drawn 27 sponsors, and all proceeds will be split between the Rotary club and Papale’s foundation. The cost to enter the tournament is $10 per player, with registration open until the day of the event.
“Meriden has always been a basketball town,” Barton said. “We’re hoping for a great turnout, and we’ll be doing it again next year.”
So far, there is a “handful” of teams in each of the four age groups, and Papale has full faith in the event’s success, having experienced it before at its highest level.
“It’s really something, to still be talking about how fun that tournament was and the atmosphere of it,” Papale said. “It’s cool to bring it back and hopefully get it back to what it was.”
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