by Eric Oslund
Jan. 18, 2014 marked the day when Hockey Day Minnesota came to Elk River. It was a time for everyone in Elk River and the hockey community to come together and celebrate around the sport they loved, but it was also the day an idea was born.
An idea to have a yearly event to bring the Elk River community together, though, this one would be based around the sport of basketball, not hockey.
“(Justin Femrite) and I, this is kind of the brain child of something him and I have been talking about for a couple years now,” Sam Mottlow said. “We really wanted to do something that was more than basketball, not necessarily about our organization, but more to do with a community event.”
Femrite is the president of the Elk River boys basketball program and Mottlow is the program’s former travel director. Both of them loved the way that Hockey Day Minnesota brought everyone together and really helped out all the local businesses, so they began imagining a Basketball Day Elk River.
They believe basketball is a sport that everyone can play, and is one that everyone has experience playing. Whether it be competitively or just in their driveway with family and friends. Not a lot of skill is needed to just have fun playing, so it seemed like the perfect way to bring the community together.
It took a few years, but in the spring of 2017 they decided they had talked about the idea long enough and really pushed to get it going. And then everything seemed to come together in early June while sitting around at Femrite’s house. They settled on a name, the Huddle on the Hardwood.
“We were originally starting out with ‘Battle of the Elks’ or something competition or whatever,” Femrite explained. “We ultimately honed on Huddle on the Hardwood. Huddle really, trying to encompass our desire to bring our community together, bring our basketball community together rather than a battle-type theme to the event.”
Then, on Saturday, July 28, both Femrite and Mottlow finally got to see their dreams become a reality when they hosted the “Battle of the Hardwood” at Elk River High School.
The primary attraction was a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that had 30 teams ranging through a number of different divisions, but that wasn’t all. They also had a bounce house that was donated to them, and outdoor basketball hoops set up for activities such as pickup games, slam dunk contests, and then half-court, 3-point and free-throw competitions.
They also had grills set up as a way to help give a tail-gating type atmosphere to those who were not participating in a tournament game at that moment.
These were all pieces of the event they once pictured while sitting around talking with one another, but there were some aspects of their vision that didn’t quite become a reality – Mottlow said he one day saw the event taking place in downtown Elk River where they close down Main Street for the day and set up courts in the street – but that’s OK. They know this was just the first annual event, and have faith that as it continues to grow they can further develop it into the community celebration they imagined.
“I’d love to see it where, even if we keep it at the Elk River High School, you have pretty good parking lot full of cars and a couple food trucks there, or local businesses out there – and that was one thing, I was really trying to get local businesses out there to do food,” Mottlow said.
“We also talked about renting the theater and replaying the girls championship game and trying to build on some of that. Getting high school teams there to sign autographs and different things,” Femrite said, building on the vision. “As this event grows and matures, I hope we can build on some of those ideas and get people introduced to our varsity programs and people on our varsity teams just to create a sense of community and build some of those relationships with the varsity teams.”
And even though this event wasn’t originally viewed as a fundraiser, Mottlow and Femrite saw an opportunity. An opportunity to help raise money for the Elk River boys and girls youth basketball programs’ scholarship funds. So they can continue to help families pay for registration costs, allowing their children to continue to play the sport they love.
While the total numbers have not been added up yet, Femrite believes they raised around $1,000 in this first annual event. Now, everyone involved is hoping that the Huddle on the Hardwood continues to grow, continues to bring the Elk River community closer and closer together, and continues helping those in need for years to come.