Ella Zeff

Ten middle school and eight high school teams played a total of 45 games during the Arizona Hoops for Peace Basketball Tournament, which was hosted by AHS student Ella Zeff (left). 

Ella Zeff has been playing basketball since she was a kid. It’s made such an impact on her life that in her junior year of high school, Ella took the game one step further by hosting her first Arizona Hoops for Peace Basketball Tournament.

PeacePlayers International (PPI) is a nonprofit that uses the game of basketball to unite and educate young men and women and their communities all over the world, in places such as the Middle East, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, the United States and South Africa.

“I first found out about PPI five years ago. Ever since then I have wanted to help promote them and their vision. They believe that children who play together can learn how to live together,” Ella said. “I named this tournament Hoops for Peace since my local community played basketball to help create peace in areas of need.”

This isn’t the first tournament Ella has held for PPI. She did so once before when she lived in California.

“It was a very good start and gave me the inspiration to run this tournament again in Arizona. I love to see sports bring people together, so I felt this would be a great opportunity to do so in my community,” Ella said.

The tournament took place in late April. There were two divisions: middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12), and anybody in those divisions was invited to play; the community was also invited to come out and provide support.

Ten middle school and eight high school teams were formed to play a total of 45 games. Each team had a four-game guarantee and the top four teams in each division moved on to the playoffs. The first 36 games were played round robin style with the playoffs being the elimination round.

In addition to the 3-on-3 games, there was a 3-point competition, with 30 players trying their best to make 10 shots from five different spots. This was Ella’s favorite part of the tournament.

There were prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each division for both the 3-on-3 tournament and the 3-point competition, including sessions to train with local trainer Larry Arnold and a week of basketball camp with Arizona Athletics Basketball and gift cards to local businesses.

Ella said that the most time-consuming part of setting up a tournament is spreading word around the community. Once the appropriate date and time was available, plus securing Arcadia High’s gym to play in, Ella had to contact sponsors and make sure teams were committed to playing. Ella was able to set up the entire tournament in six weeks.

“We are very proud of her. She did the entire event herself while we provided support and encouragement when things didn’t go as planned. It’s a huge accomplishment and has become part of her identity,” Ella’s mom, Nicole, said. “Watching your child take control and fill a gym full of people having fun is surreal.”

Ella’s sponsors for the tournament included Trader Joe’s, The Ice Den, Mod Pizza, Einstein’s, Bodi Scottsdale, Larry Arnold, Arizona Athletics Basketball and the Arizona Coyotes.

Each player received a “swag bag” with a Hint water, Trader Joe’s cereal bar, PeacePlayers wristband, Sports Cuts coupon, Ice Den coupon, Nothing Bundt Cakes coupon, and a Coyotes water bottle in a Lululemon bag.

“The best part is seeing her feeling of accomplishment for another cause and how she can create something from nothing and make an impact. You can see how it empowers and impacts a young person and how it makes her want to do more,” Nicole said.

Ella raised $1,085 for PeacePlayers International and plans to continue holding tournaments for PPI. She would like to major in sports management or athletic training in college and work for a professional sports team or an organization similar to PPI.