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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

From the Archives: The beginnings of Bookstore Basketball

Diane Park | The Observer
Since 1972, the University of Notre Dame has been home to the largest 5-on-5 outdoor basketball tournament — Bookstore Basketball. This annual tradition during the University’s An Tostal celebrations was created by students Fritz Hoefer (‘72) and Vince Meconi (‘75), who wanted to provide a platform for average students to pursue athletics on a larger scale than interhall competitions. The first tournament in 1972 was a massive hit, and the event allowed students to compete against varsity athletes.Although competitive in spirit, the tournament is all in good fun and is known for its strange occurrences, from teams dressing up in costume to calling time-outs to have study breaks. Bookstore Basketball has become an integral part of Notre Dame culture, with over 700 teams competing at its peak. In this edition, From the Archives looks back at Bookstore Basketball’s memorable moments and how it became a cherished tradition.

What is Bookstore Basketball?

April 23, 1976 | Fred Herbst | April 26, 1982 | Marc Ramirez | Researched by Lilyann Gardner

The largest 5-on-5 outdoor basketball tournament found its origins at the University of Notre Dame in 1972 and has since become an annual tradition during the University’s An Tostal celebrations. Students Fritz Hoefer (‘72), an An Tostal chairman, and Vince Meconi (‘75), president of Morrissey Hall, were the masterminds behind the tournament. The two worked together to create an athletic event that allowed the average student to pursue athletics on a larger scale than would be possible with any interhall competition. The opportunity to compete against varsity athletes coupled with the lack of fervor surrounding spring sports during the early 70’s led Notre Dame students to flock toward this event. “Besides creating interest on campus, it does something more important. It allows the frustrated jocks of the University their chance at the big time, their opportunity to meet a major college athlete on the field of battle. Bookstore basketball is probably responsible for the making and breaking of more egos than any other event on campus,” writes Fred Herbst  (‘77) in a 1976 article from The Observer. Although Bookstore Basketball is known for its competitive spirit, the tournament is all in good fun. Marc Ramirez (‘85), a feature writer for The Observer, recalled some of the strange occurrences that took place at the first Bookstore Basketball tournament he attended. “The Esophagus Constrictors were an interesting team,” Ramirez wrote. “Their uniforms consisted of white dress shirts, ties, thick-rimmed glasses and calculators strapped to their belts. At various intervals throughout the game they would call time-outs in order to have study breaks.”
The Esophagus Constrictors attempt their “Arkansas Wishbone” play against Verkler Construction in the Hall of Fame opener match.
Students have continued to dress up in costume and create ridiculous team names over the years, which has undoubtedly led to the tournament’s growth. At its inception, there were less than one hundred teams competing throughout the months of March and April, but the number of teams had doubled by 1976. The numbers continued to grow with the introduction of a women’s bracket to accompany the open bracket in 1978. 
Gregg Williamson (center) led Full House to victory in the 11th Bookstore Basketball Championship.
The success of Bookstore Basketball reached its peak with over 700 teams competing, and in 1995, the tournament began fundraising for the Jumpball Basketball Programme which supports young athletes in Jamaica and Haiti. The tournament has raised thousands over the past 28 years and there is no denying that Bookstore Basketball has become an indispensable part of Notre Dame culture. 

Bookstore Basketball’s Memorable Moments

April 14, 1977 | Tom Powanda |April 27, 1983 | Chris Needles |April 1, 1987 | Pete Skiko | Brian O’Gara |April 7, 1988 | Jim Winkler |April 10, 2022 | Mike Connolly | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

Bookstore Basketball has a storied history as an all-weather sport in the most literal of senses. But since its inception in 1972, only one game has ever been decided off of the court.In 1988, many of the games in the round of 256 took place in a driving rainstorm. Fans were hard to come by and points ever harder. The blacktop courts were soaked, and the players were miserable. The Wedge, a Hoosier and 3 Other Lame Guys were playing 4 Guys from Air Loomer in the terrible weather when they mutually agreed to suspend play.
Observer Archives, April 7, 1988
A quick consultation with the expert rules officials of Bookstore Basketball informed the teams that a coin toss could relieve them of the miserable conditions. As such, the history books now reflect The Wedge, a Hoosier and 3 Other Lame Guys as the only team ever to prevail via coin toss in Bookstore history.The all-weather tournament has also sustained a few traditions throughout the years. One notable tradition is the annual Hall of Fame Game to kick off each tournament. In 1987, Lou Holtz played on team Verkler Construction, seeking his chance to win the most prestigious honor.Although they received less notoriety for competing than the great Lou Holtz, varsity athletes have participated in Bookstore Basketball throughout the years. In 1977, future NFL great Joe Montana played in the historic tournament, allegedly tallying 2 dunks during a game. Additionally, future multi-time Super Bowl winner Justin Tuck was a force in the early 2000s.Yet, some spectators began to complain about the presence of varsity athletes in the tournament. To their credit, it took 12 years for the championship game not to feature any varsity athletes. Bookstore XII is remembered fondly as the year that finally bucked the trend, proving the possibility of success for the “little guy.” While Bookstore Basketball has become synonymous with world class competition, the campus anxiously awaits to watch athletes, coaches or “little guys” lace up their shoes and hit the blacktop this year.

From Bill Laimbeer to Bill Hanzlik: The Legacy of Professional Players in Notre Dame’s Bookstore Basketball

April 12, 1976 | Rich Odioso | April 26, 1976 | Rich Odioso | April 22, 1977 | Paul Stevenson | April 25, 1977 | Paul Stevenson | April 23, 1977 | Fred Herbst | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

As March Madness heats up, college basketball fans around the country are celebrating their favorite teams, players and traditions. At Notre Dame, one such tradition is Bookstore Basketball, a massive tournament in which teams of students compete against one another in a grueling test of athleticism, teamwork and determination. And while most of the players are Notre Dame students, some have hailed from the ranks of professional basketball.

From an archived story in The Observer, we learn about some of the professional players who have competed in Bookstore Basketball over the years. Two of the most notable are Bill Laimbeer (‘79) and Bill Hanzlik (‘80), both of whom went on to successful careers in the NBA.Laimbeer, who played for Notre Dame from 1975-79, participated in Bookstore Basketball in 1976.  During the ‘76 tournament, Laimbeer “set a Bookstore record with 7 blocked shots.” For his success at the rim, Laimbeer was awarded the “Dr. J trophy.” It’s clear that Laimbeer’s skills were already impressive back then, and his success in the NBA only solidified his status as one of the all-time greats.
Dave Batton and his TILCS overcame an April monsoon and Billy Paterno’s AWT to capture the 5th Annual Bookstore Basketball championship.
Hanzlik, who played for Notre Dame from 1976-80, participated in the ‘77 tournament, where his team also dominated the competition. Hanzlik, a member of “The Chumps,” was the third highest scorer among the “Elite Eight.” Given that Hanzlik notched 33 of 64 shot attempts, it was noted that “The Chumps are awesome on the boards, and that’s where their advantage lies.”
Students competing in the annual Bookstore Basketball tournament with a large crowd of onlookers.
But even with the overwhelming skill and experience of these professional players, the spirit of competition and camaraderie that defines Bookstore Basketball remains strong. For Notre Dame students, nothing quite matches the experience of watching their fellow classmates compete against future basketball legends, even if it means being humbled by their exceptional skills.