Volunteers make NIT tick

NEGAUNEE – There’s one key job at the Negaunee Invitational Tournament that tournament director John Basolo isn’t qualified to do.

Cut up the onions.

“He can’t stand them,” said his wife, Terry, who does the job herself nearly every day so the hot dogs sold at the concession stand have all the necessary toppings for spectators to enjoy.

It’s just one job among other tasks large and small that have to be handled to make this monthlong event featuring more than 100 teams run smoothly year after year.

The process starts a number of months beforehand with duties such as teams being classified, schedules made and advertisers lined up for the event’s program booklet. And it will go on for weeks afterward as loose ends are tied up.

Since 1979, John Basolo has been the face of the tourney, and the other dedicated core of volunteers say he deserves the focus and the credit, since he spends nearly every waking moment for months on end immersed in the event without receiving a penny in payment.

“John really runs the show. He’s here all the time. He rarely leaves the gym while games are going on,” said Terry Garceau, who estimates he’s been part of that core group for 25 years.

But Basolo, who began helping at the tourney in the early 1970s, credits others who he says work just as hard as he does, allowing him to focus on the competition while the event is on.

And that group includes Terry Basolo.

“John really does love the tournament, and Terry, she loves John,” said Dave Dunstan, who in the run-up to the March 22 start this year was the point man for advertising in the program booklet and with Terry Basolo in putting the schedule together. When he was at the gym last weekend, Dunstan worked at one of the gym entrances and at the concession stand.

Today is the final day of the 49th annual NIT held almost entirely at the Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee. Two games were scheduled on Saturday morning at Negaunee Middle School, a first for the event so there wouldn’t have to be games stretching late into the night.

This last day will be complete with the final whistle in the championship game in Class A, which includes the tourney’s best players, some of whom played professionally and a few who even made it to the NBA.

The event’s 10 divisions also include ones for women, players 45 years and older and others for purely recreational players who might only see the court for their one or two games they get to play each year at Lakeview.

“That’s part of the reason John puts so much effort into it,” Garceau said. “He really believes in the idea that everyone should have a chance to play on the big court.

“John never played in high school, but he did play in the (Negaunee) city league.”

Garceau added that he worries that without Basolo, the tourney might not continue. Both he and Basolo agree that an infusion of volunteers, not just those intimately involved in planning and managing, but who simply provide assistance on game days, is crucial to the NIT’s future.

“This is a great community event and that’s why we all keep doing it,” Garceau said. “I can walk in here and see people (spectators) who are here every day.

“We’re here kind of in-between seasons. Spring isn’t here – especially this year – but the winter basketball season is already over.”

Garceau, a former president and current member of the Negaunee Schools Booster Club, applies his expertise from that organization to handle orders and inventory for concessions.

“I don’t have to get really involved until the tournament starts,” he said.

He got his start when he was a member of the Negaunee city basketball league and players were expected to help out at the NIT.

“Back then, we had 18 teams, so there were a lot of guys to help out,” Garceau said.

He continued helping in various capacities.

“It just kind of fell into place,” he said about his increasing involvement in the event.

Dunstan has been part of the core group “for about 10 or 15 years,” while Dane Nelson is one of several younger people who are more recent additions to the planning group.

“Dane has been working pretty heavily for the last three or four years scheduling the people who fill out the scorebook and work the clock during games,” John Basolo said.

“And he fills in when I’m not here. He’s our link to the younger people.”

Then there’s Sandy Larson, who is in charge of the concession stand and schedules its workers, according to Basolo.

Al Perucco and Don Patierno are long-time school friends of Basolo, all of whom graduated from St. Paul Catholic High School in Negaunee in 1966.

Patierno lives in the Washington, D.C., area and visits during the busy Class A, B and C weekends, helping out wherever Basolo needs it.

“John asked me 20 years ago if I could come and see the tournament, and I finally did,” Patierno said. “Now I’ve been coming for seven years to help out John.”

Perucco is a retired teacher from Oconto Falls, Wis., who actually spends most of the tourney at the Basolo house.

“Al and I set up the gym every day, we’re usually in by about 4:30 in the afternoon,” John Basolo said. “We gets the concession stand ready and do the bookwork for the tickets to make sure we’re on time.”

And he’s there to help John clear out and clean up the gym afterward, too, a long task after the tourney’s busy weekends.

“On Sunday nights, we might be here ’til 2 or 3 a.m.,” Perucco said, “pushing the stands in, putting away all the concessions, because the place has to be ready for school the next morning.”

The gym is part of Lakeview Elementary School.

Lance Peterson is a core volunteer on hiatus.

“Lance had to back off this year, since he’s working two jobs trying to get a business started. Before that for about four or five years, he got us a lot of our sponsors.”

There are a number of others whose volunteer efforts are also much appreciated, Basolo said during a recent game, but he couldn’t think of every possible name while he was keeping an eye on the competition out on the court.

“John would just as soon do everything behind the scenes,” Perucco said. “But a major part of his job is that all the responsibilities, all the coordinating, ultimately fall upon his shoulders.”

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net