By Damon Markiewicz

For more than 20 years, Springfield College has teamed up with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to present the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Blake Arena during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

The event showcases the best high school basketball players in the country, and places the campus on the national stage with many of the games broadcast on ESPN, and covered by prominent print media outlets such as Sports Illustrated,
The New York Times, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Daily News.   

But, one of the most important aspects of hosting the Hoophall Classic is the opportunity the event provides to Springfield College students to engage in experiential learning, and receive hands-on professional experience that can only happen on Alden Street.

“Our sport management students get the opportunity to be a part of a major event, and take everything they learn in the classroom, and experience it in a real-world setting,” said Springfield College Sport Management Chair Kevin McAllister, who has been a part of leading students at the Hoophall Classic for more than 18 years. “Each year, we have a pair of student leaders who oversee more than 70 volunteers and student workers, they work directly with the Basketball Hall of Fame and ESPN, they have to make schedules for all of the student workers, and they are directly involved in months of planning to make sure the event is a success.”

McAllister noted that the experiences they are part of during the Hoophall prepares them for all of their professional opportunities outside of the classroom.

“The Hoophall Classic experience is another example of what makes the Springfield College Sport Management program standout from other programs,” added McAllister.

Joining the sport management students during the five-day event are students from the communications/sports journalism program, who provide morning to evening coverage of more than 30 games that take place during the weekend. In addition to providing game recaps and player feature stories on a daily basis for the online version of The Springfield Student newspaper, social media accounts, and daily podcasts, the students’ work is culminated with a printed Hoophall Classic special edition of the printed Springfield Student newspaper, that is distributed on the final day of the classic.

“I always tell the participating students that their involvement with this event is basically experiencing a full-time internship in five days,” said Communications/Sports Journalism Professor Aimee Crawford, who was the faculty advisor to the students during the event. “Everything they are learning in the classroom, they have the opportunity to execute during the weekend, and work alongside national media professionals, and make contacts as well.”

Behind the scenes, the planning for the next Hoophall Classic begins almost immediately after the current year’s event is completed. Springfield College Director of Conferences and Special Events Kathy Smith leads a team of student workers, who grind through the 18-hour workdays during the weekend. Working in collaboration with Springfield College alumnus and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Vice President of Basketball Operations Greg Procino ’05, Smith uses 12 months of planning to assure that all of the touchpoints to this event are planned out, and the campus is prepared to host a memorable experience for all attendees.

“It’s always great to work with Kathy (Smith) and her team,” said Procino. “You can’t match the electric environment inside of Blake Arena during the Hoophall. People are so close to the action that you can feel the energy. It’s been a great partnership with Springfield College, and we enjoy working with Kathy and all of the student leaders and volunteers.”

The experiences that Springfield College students have gained in more than two decades of Hoophall excitement on campus has led to direct professional advancement for Springfield College alumni. Sport management graduate Jeremy Therrien ’21 served as head supervisor when he was an undergraduate student in 2020, and the knowledge and connections he was able to develop during that role helped him find his current job as sponsorship fulfillment coordinator for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Because of the experience I gained working with Kathy (Smith) and Greg (Procino) as a student leader, it helped me have the confidence to transition into what I am doing now,” said Therrien. “I have come full circle, having worked the Hoophall as a student, and now being a part of the event in my professional career. I owe my professional growth to Springfield College because this event led me to what I am enjoying as a professional now.”

Therrien wasn’t the only alumnus back at Blake Arena this year, as communications/sports journalism graduate Tarek Fattal ’14 also reminisced about his time as a student working Hoophall, and his return to the Classic now writing for the Los Angeles Daily News.

“It’s always exciting to be back on campus, and have the opportunity to talk with current students and alumni,” said Fattal, who covers one of the most recognizable high school basketball programs in the country, in Sierra Canyon, both the men and women. “In talking with the current students, I share with them the message that everything I experienced as a journalist in the COSJ program, I am doing at the professional level now, I have just had the opportunities to sharpen those skills in my current position with the Los Angeles Daily News.”

In coming to Springfield College, Fattal was able to find ways to dig deep into his craft.

“Initially, I thought my craft was going to be hoops, but it turned out to be radio, writing, broadcast, and things of that nature, and it was all because of the communications/sports journalism major,” added Fattal.  

Annual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Scholarship Presented to a Pair of Students

To culminate the weekend, representatives from Springfield College and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame presented the 10th annual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Scholarship to sport management students and 2023 Hoophall Classic head supervisors Isabella Samse and Jeffrey Madeia. This scholarship is presented annually to both a male and female junior studying a major within the School of Physical Education, Performance and Sport Leadership at Springfield College, and who has maintained a successful GPA and demonstrated a combination of service to Springfield College and the Hoophall Classic.

“This was such an important experience for myself and all of the students,” said Madeia, who is a native of Berlin, Conn. “This experience has given me a lot of confidence as a leader, and this will be so helpful moving forward as a professional.”

When Samse received her honor, she couldn’t help but think back to when she was an accepted student and attended the Hoophall as part of open house in 2020, and she made a promise to her mom, who attended the event with her that day.

“I told my mom that someday, I was going to be one of the leaders for the Hoophall event, and here we are, just a few years later, and I was able to receive the scholarship at center court,” said Samse. “This is an experience you only get at Springfield College, and it’s something I will always appreciate.”