Will locals’ lunchtime hoop dreams be dashed? | AspenTimes.com

Will locals’ lunchtime hoop dreams be dashed?

The fate of Aspen’s noon pickup basketball is up in the air this week, and lunchtime hoopsters are calling foul.Every Monday through Thursday at noon, anywhere from eight to 30 local basketball players gather at The Aspen Club and Spa for pickup games. The players are predominantly middle-age men, local professionals eager for a game during their lunch hour.The Aspen Club, a members-only athletic club located on Ute Avenue, is an unlikely home for such a public event, but it struck a deal with the City of Aspen Recreation Department four years ago to host the matches. In 2000, noon pickup games were forced out of the Red Brick Recreation Center in order to expand the gymnastics area, so the city agreed to pay The Aspen Club $5,000 a year to rent the club’s court four times a week.Now The Aspen Club wants out of the agreement. The club’s general manager said November will be the last month the club hosts the pickup games.”Every year we look into all agreements that we have and ask whether it’s still working for us,” general manager Linda Schmail said. “The club is running into capacity problems, particularly with parking during the noon hour. Members are complaining about how trashed the locker rooms are during that time. Unless something changes, we are not going to renew the agreement this year.”Schmail said the club’s basketball court, which is currently only used for the noon pickup games and the occasional private function, will be turned into an athletic training room for its members.The Aspen Club’s announcement, posted on the door of the basketball court last week, has angered the ragtag group of men who play pickup. Appointed hoopster spokesman Michael Campbell said in a “player meeting” yesterday that he is in negotiations with The Aspen Club to address the club’s concerns.”What upsets me is that The Aspen Club has just decided to pull the plug without warning,” Campbell said. “If you have a problem, don’t let it get to the point of explosion like that. We all appreciate having been able to play out there and are totally willing to be able to cooperate with what their needs are.””We are pretty devastated by this,” fellow hoopster Carl Heck agreed. “These games are a great activity for the middle-age men in this town.”The hoopsters agreed they were in a strong position to negotiate. The group is strategizing solutions to the parking complaint and agreed to keep the locker room spotless for the rest of the month. Adding to their case, Campbell said several regulars have bought memberships to the club. And almost once a year, the players have pitched in to refurbish the floor.City of Aspen Recreation Department programmer Keith Bulicz said if The Aspen Club drops out, it is “unlikely that another suitable host will be found.” He emphasized that the end of noon pickup, if it happens, will be the result of “a business decision by The Aspen Club management.”Bulicz said the city currently runs pickup basketball games at Aspen High School from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. An organized evening league begins in January.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com

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