For more than two decades, youth teams have flocked to Montana’s capital city for the annual Helena Area Chamber of Commerce Swish Basketball Tournament.
They’re going to be back for the 22nd year this weekend.
“I think we run a good tournament,” said chamber Vice President Mike Mergenthaler. “We have pretty good gyms in Helena that we’re able to utilize, we’re kind of centrally located, and I think people like coming to Helena.
“We typically don’t have any issues, our games go smoothly and people appreciate the effort and hard work.”
This year’s tournament will feature 123 teams of players in grades 3-8, playing in a combined 250 games spread across 13 gyms over two days for an event put together by an estimated 300 to 400 volunteers.
It will be the second-largest tournament in the event’s history – last year’s featured 132 teams, besting the previous best of 108 in 2003. Teams are guaranteed four games, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Games are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, and medals will be awarded to all first- and second-place teams.
Mergenthaler said while it certainly takes an effort, there are always people wanting to volunteer. That’s what has enabled the tournament – believed to be the longest-running in the state – continue on for 22 years.
“People in Helena are very giving, and so it’s great to have them volunteer,” he said. “I think they like giving back. The tournament is a great event for the kids involved, and I think the people realize that.”
Ninety-five of the teams registered for the tournament are from outside Helena, and estimates show an economic impact of anywhere from a $500,000 to $750,000.
It’s a big number, to be sure. But there’s still some room to grow.
Just how much room? Is there, at some point, a limit to how big Swish can grow? Mergenthaler couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought.
“There really is. We do have limited gym space, and you get into some of those smaller gyms and schools, and it is kind of tight,” he said. “But we make it work. I can’t really tell you what the max would be right now, but we’re getting close – there’s no doubt.”