Youth hoop tournament generates fan enthusaism and packed Ontario hotels even as the Covid pandemic continues

Covid continues to linger in Oregon and Idaho but a youth sports basketball event in New Plymouth helped boost business for local hotels last weekend. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – A youth club basketball tournament in New Plymouth last weekend injected some needed revenue into Ontario’s economy and more is coming.

Three hotels contacted by the Malheur Enterprise last week – The Sleep Inn, Best Western Inn & Suites and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites – reported a large of influx of customers who planned to attend the tournament.

The Best Western Inn & Suites and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites were booked Friday because of the tourney.

“It is definitely been an increase in sales,” said Ashlee Gripton, receptionist at the Holiday Inn.

More than 30 youth basketball club teams descended on New Plymouth during the weekend to take part in the Western Idaho October Showcase tournament.

The event involved more than 300 boys and girls, age 14 to 16, from Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

The event is sponsored by Oregon Amateur Basketball, a Eugene-based organization and utilizes the New Plymouth high school, middle school and elementary school gyms.

The tournament began the weekend of Oct. 9-11, said Nick Larsen, Oregon Amateur Basketball director.

 “Kids in Oregon and Washington want to play hoops and this is the only option for them right now,” said Larsen.

The three-day tournament will continue this weekend in New Plymouth and in Marsing.

Larsen said 60 teams are scheduled to compete this weekend.

Oregon’s stern Covid mandates restricted youth basketball and pushed Oregon Amateur Basketball to use venues in Idaho, said Larsen.

“This gives them an opportunity,” said Larsen.

Larsen said his organization established its own Covid restrictions for the tournament.

Masks and social distancing are required inside each gym, said Larsen. If a spectator arrives without a mask they are not allowed inside, said Larsen.

Teams must also leave the gym the moment the game ends and no handshakes are allowed after the contest. Teams must also wait outside the gym, he said, until the game is ready to start.

Larsen said the social distancing and mask requirement sometimes “isn’t very popular.”

“But I am not going to argue the politics of it. I am just going to tell you how it is,” said Larsen.

Larsen said organizers take the threat of the virus seriously.

“We know we are one outbreak away or one test away from not being able to do this so we are careful. We are pretty strict about taking chances,” said Larsen.

Larsen said Oregon Amateur Basketball sponsored tournaments throughout the summer in Idaho and “no outbreaks were traced back to our events.”

“It hasn’t been much of an issue,” he said.

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said the Covid risk remains high in both Payette and Malheur counties. That’s why, she said, events like the youth tournament are especially concerning.

Poe called events like the tournament “high risk” for Covid.

“I can’t speak for Idaho social functions, whether or not they should be happening. I can speak to what is a high risk and low risk activity. If I walked into an auditorium where there were more than 50 people who were not wearing masks I would turn around and leave,” said Poe.

Poe said she wants people attending the tournament who are staying in Malheur County “to follow the guidance and wear the masks and social distance and to remember we don’t allow large groups.”

“We ask Malheur County residents that go to Idaho to continue to follow the precautions that keep them safe,” said Poe.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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