Few people have been as involved as Hoopfest volunteers as the Sullivan family. They stand at the front lines of an army of volunteers that keep the heart of Hoopfest beating.
In the beginning, there was a vision of becoming the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament and there were Pat and Diane Sullivan.
Over 26 years ago now, Pat and Diane’s daughter, Colleen Volk, was invited to serve on the founding Hoopfest board. One of Colleen’s responsibilities was hand-painting the backboards for the inaugural event. At the time this required transparent paper printed with the sponsor’s logo or desired design, overhead projectors and lots of hands willing to trace and paint the artwork directly onto the backboards. Colleen recruited her parents to help and the rest of the Sullivan’s involvement in Hoopfest is history.
In 1995, Colleen was diagnosed with terminal melanoma and needed to urgently relocate to Seattle for treatment at the University of Washington. With her spot on the board now open, Diane accepted an invitation to join where she stayed for 12 years.
The Sullivans are longtime Spokane residents. Pat is a Gonzaga Law School alumnus and spent his career at Winston and Cashatt, where he became a senior partner. Diane worked in the juvenile courts system before coming to work in the Hoopfest office for several years.
Service and philanthropy have been a priority of the Sullivans, both in Spokane and around the globe. From starting community theatres to funding scholarships to digging water wells in underdeveloped countries, Pat and Diane take nearly any opportunity they can get to contribute positively to lives around them. Last week, the Sullivans celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary – spend five minutes with them and their love for each other and vigor for life is evident. Read our tribute to them here.
But here at Hoopfest, we feel especially privileged to have received an extra dose of “Sullivan” over the last quarter-century. Hoopfest is certainly one of the organizations that have benefited most from their love and legacy.
With everything done in hardcopy the first several years, the Hoopfest bracketing process required ample space, which the Sullivans volunteered in the form of their living room. Diane and company would spend hours on end sifting through stacks of registration papers.
In the first summer of Hoopfest, the Sullivans entered a team in a family bracket. Pat played but injured his rotator cuff. The next year he retired from Hoopfest play and proceeded to serve as a Court Marshall for the next 20 years, until his knees just couldn’t take the long days on the pavement any longer.
War wounds and all, Pat wouldn’t be stopped from jumping into the full swing of Hoopfest. After he retired from marshalling, he employed the Sullivan’s RV as the “official” Hoopfest VIP bus, and would shuttle people to and from the airport.
The Sullivan-patented VIP bus is also used for local hospital visits during Hoopfest weekend. Over two decades ago, the Sullivans decided they wanted to bring the joy of Hoopfest Weekend to area hospital patients who would not otherwise be able to be in the on the action. Now each year they encourage the winners of the previous year’s elite brackets to join them in visits to Shriners and Sacred Heart on the Friday before Hoopfest tips off. In 2014, Hoopfest executive director and former Gonzaga basketball star, Matt Santangelo, was even able to get some of the current Zags to join in on the rounds.
Plans for hospital visits in 2015 are already once again in effect, as are the plans for rest of the Sullivan family’s annual Hoopfest rituals.
The bracketing committee has come a long way from its early days in the Sullivan’s living room, but Diane remains a constant. She still comes into the office to help (now digitally) assign brackets each year.
Today, Colleen is healthy and continues to live in Seattle with her family, but visits Spokane each June to help with tournament weekend. When the Hoopfest Operating Committee was formed, another Sullivan daughter, Kathleen, joined and took on team check-in as her responsibility. Kathleen continues to be a dedicated OC member, providing her long-stemmed knowledge of the weekend’s festivities and looking at ways to make the event better every year. Pat and Diane’s other daughter Meg and her family live in Los Altos, Calif. and son Kevin and family in Seattle as well. They all come to Hoopfest each year.
There have been years when the Sullivan family has had up to 20 members playing or volunteering at a given Hoopfest. To date, seven of the nine Sullivan grandchildren have played. The two youngest have not only because they have not been old enough, but their long-awaited turn has finally come, so they will travel from California this summer to participate.
“People ask me, ‘why do you keep [volunteering with Hoopfest]?’” Diane said. “I respond, ‘why wouldn’t I want to go into an office where everyone loves you? Hoopfest has created an atmosphere for its volunteers that make them feel of great importance. It’s so different from any other experience in Spokane that hosts volunteers. I can’t imagine volunteering for another organization that creates such camaraderie.’”
In reality, Hoopfest doesn’t happen without its thousands of volunteers. If you’re looking for a fun and meaningful place to plug into the community, sign up to volunteer for Hoopfest 2015 here. If you’re inspired by the Sullivans, you could always turn it into a family affair!
Here at Hoopfest, we’re forever thankful for a young couple that agreed to go on a blind date 55 years ago. From that has come one of the greatest family legacies Hoopfest has ever known. Thank you, Sullivan family, for being the gift that keeps on giving. You truly embody the heart of Hoopfest.