PENDLETON - One of the first economic boosts for Pendleton this year came this weekend with the Amateur Athletic Union's Clash at the Border basketball tournament, which held games all over town and packed local hotels, restaurants and shops with out-of-town visitors.
"Oh, is that why we're so busy?" said Jody Herriman, assistant retail manager of the Pendleton Woolen Mills' retail store, Friday afternoon. "We have had a nice big crowd today."
Sixth- through eighth-grade basketball players from all over Oregon, Washington and Idaho, as well as their parents, grandparents, friends and siblings, were in Pendleton for the weekend's tournament, the eighth year in a row it's been held here, said Dean Foquette, one of the tournament's organizers and owner of Pendleton Athletic.
"It's always nice to have people in town," Foquette said. "It's good for all of us."
Pat Kennedy, executive director of the Pendleton Convention Center and another tournament organizer, said the tournament brings to town 74 teams, at least half of which are staying in Round-Up City.
"Each team has about 10 kids, plus their parents, grandparents and siblings that come along," Kennedy said. "Games are spread out in such a way that you sort of have to stay in town."
Kennedy said the AAU tournament doesn't have quite the economic reputation as other events that come to Pendleton, such as Round-Up and the Class 2A high school basketball tournament, but it deserves attention.
"It's one of these events that maybe doesn't get as much attention because maybe it isn't as sexy as a convention, but it has the same economic impact," Kennedy said.
Local businesses can attest to this. The Oxford Suites was nearly full this weekend, said Sales Manager Kim Michael, with teams and their families arriving Friday night and staying through today.
"We had almost a full house, but two teams backed out, so we still have a few rooms available," Michael said Friday. "Once people have had the opportunity to stay with us, once they hit Pendleton, they don't want to stay anywhere else."
The Red Lion is also full of basketball players, said Manager Jim Stillman, with about 20 reservations for out-of-town AAU teams and their families.
Hotels aren't the only local businesses reaping the rewards of having a tournament in town. Bank of the West Manager Rich Britton expects his branch's ATM machines will get plenty of use this weekend.
"Being a bank and seeing a lot of people from other cities, if they're anywhere near your ATM, it's going to get hit pretty hard," Britton said. "And when you get off the freeway exit (at Interstate 84 exits 209 or 210), we're the first bank they see."
Pendleton has some restaurants, like Subway and Quizno's, that other towns do not, so some families were more than happy to grab a sandwich and chow down there. Players from Walla Walla munched on sandwiches and chips from Subway in between games at Sunridge Middle School Saturday afternoon.
"The restaurants here are really affected by us because we have to eat," said Denise Jausoro of Walla Walla. "And that's a lot of kids to feed."
Jausoro said that had the weather not been as mild as it was this weekend, her family and team "probably would have decided to stay" in a local hotel rather than commute, which they ended up doing this weekend.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leslie Carnes was optimistic Friday as visitors began pouring into town.
"They're here buying our food and our gas, and using our hotels and stores," Carnes said. "We're very pleased they've brought the tournament here."
Kennedy said getting conventions booked in January and February is usually a difficult task because "most people don't want to travel during the winter time." However, booking an athletic event is no problem.
"It's a great time for athletic events because they're used to traveling in bad weather," Kennedy said.
Carnes hopes visitors to Pendleton during events such as the AAU tournament will encourage out-of-towners to return to the area.
"We hope they'll have a superior experience while they're here, so maybe they'll come back here again in the summer," Carnes said.