Hoops in the Highlands 2012. Photo by Matthew Rader.

Hoops in the Highlands, the basketball fun day hosted by a group of Lake Highlands-area schools since 2004, is more popular than ever with boys and girls in grades 1-8, drawing close to 700 participants and hundreds more spectators. It raises thousands of dollars for school PTA coffers and binds classes and neighborhoods as few community events could.

So why are organizers predicting this year may be the last year for Hoops in the Highlands?

First, some background.

Lisa and Scott Johnson came up with the idea for Hoops 14 years ago after brainstorming ways to raise funds for their children’s school. Integrating basketball popped up as a possible early in the discussions – Scott, a former standout at SMU, was then commissioner for basketball at SVAA and later served as president of the organization. He knew how to coach kids and put together brackets. Lisa, a community volunteer, knew how to organize people and raise money.

“We were trying to come up with creative ways to do fundraising for White Rock Elementary, which back then was a small school,” laughs Lisa. “My how things have changed.”

The WRE auction now makes more than $100,000, and enrollment is expected to top 1,000 students next year.

“We decided to host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, and [then PTA President] Kathy Stewart said, ‘let’s not do this just to benefit White Rock, let’s share the funds with LHJH and all its feeder schools.’”

“We wanted to host a community event,” continues Lisa. “Forest Meadow had Market in the Meadow, and we wanted something to include all the elementary schools. The whole thing blew up from there. We had no idea how much money we would raise. We knew we would not be able to touch Market in the Meadow, but it was always really about community.”

The Johnsons were “shocked,” Lisa said, when the event brought in more than 60 teams the first year and grossed more than $25,000.

“Obviously the event appealed to people, even outside our area,” Lisa said, because there were entries from private schools, Richardson and the Park Cities.

“Little known fact – that first year we had an adult moms’ division,” recalled Lisa, “but those parents were very competitive. It’s comedic now, but there were injuries, and we did not repeat it.”

In 2016, more than 160 4-person team participated, and the event raised more than $40,000.

With growth, though, has come complexity, and organizers are struggling to find volunteers to fill leadership roles. Without event chairmen and committee chairs for 2018, Hoops might not happen.

“There’s major volunteer fatigue,” says Tara Hickman, who is serving as 2017 co-chairman with Merilee Biancardi. “We are working with a much smaller committee, and this event is a beast to put on. People are wondering: has this event run its course? But that’s hard to believe, especially since we’ve had a record number of teams register to play. We’ve also added a free throw contest, which you can enter even if you aren’t on a team, and people are excited about that. We don’t have trouble getting prizes or sponsors or restaurants to donate food for the concessions booth, but you need a committee. It’s a pickle.”

Regardless of what will happen in 2018, plans for 2017 Hoops, to be held Saturday, April 1st, are buzzing along.

The concessions booth will feature food from Chick-fil-A, Primo’s, Mariano’s and One 90 Meats. Entertainment will include DJ Kurt Osterbusch and LH groups including Espree, Limited Edition, Centerstage, Wildcat Wranglers and the Highlandettes.

“My favorite thing about Hoops is all the schools and the people coming together,” says Tara. “There’s no other fundraiser that does that. It’s a special day that’s for the kids and about the kids.”

Hoops in the Highlands runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1st at Highland Oaks Church of Christ, 10805 Walnut Hill, and you can register your 4-person team online here until March 15th (late registration continues until March 23rd). Entrants should be in grades 1-8, and the fee is $100 per team. Also online you may purchase a $10 t-shirt or make a donation, and all proceeds benefit 4 schools: LHJH, White Rock, Northlake and Wallace Elementary.