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Published: Thursday, 8/12/2004

Post-game dust-ups threaten tournament

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Findlay officials are re-thinking whether the city ought to continue hosting an annual basketball tournament after they came up short on police officers to handle problems that arose after the games Saturday.

Safety Director Eileen Bensen said the violence that erupted after the Gus Macker tournament gives the city reason to re-consider bringing the tournament back for a 13th year. At least 14 people were arrested and three injured.

"Every hotel room in the area was booked, so that's how big it's gotten," she said yesterday. "It might have gotten beyond our capacity to control it."

The city annually closes off several blocks of Main Street in the downtown for the three-on-three, half-court basketball tournament, which is part of the national Gus Macker program. Ms. Bensen said about 8,000 people attended.

Although the tournament is billed as "family fun," the aftermath was something quite different.

Early Sunday morning, Hancock County sheriff's deputies and state troopers were called in to help police when brawls broke out at three spots in the city.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman said his deputies have assisted in past years with bar fights after the tournament, but

there has never been this kind of chaos.

"And when things started breaking loose, it all happened within a few minutes of each other," he said.

Officers were called to a Tiffin Avenue night club, a North Main Street bar, and a Trenton Avenue hotel on reports of large fights within a one-hour period.

Ms. Bensen said that at one point, two officers were surrounded by an angry group of revelers.

"That kind of thing had never happened before," she said. "The mood of the people attending the tournament seemed to be ugly. It's always been kind of playful, collegiate. When officers are threatened and surrounded by an angry mob you need to look at that very seriously."

Sheriff Heldman said law enforcement will have to plan better for the event if it comes back.

"People take this basketball very seriously and they do come from quite a ways outside the city of Findlay. It brings revenue to this area with hotels filling up and restaurants," Sheriff Heldman said. "Unfortunately, the organizers of this need to realize you have to accept the good with the bad.

"If they're going to continue it, I think all the law enforcement agencies need to sit down and say, 'We need to have a plan in place in case this happens again,'‚óŹ" the sheriff said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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