On Rubber Chicken Eve, the Lewis and Clark Tigers go loud at practice - one more tradition at a school saturated with it.
Coach Glenn Williams stows his chalk and his players choose the rock. Figuring the only thing louder than a Ferris-LC Rubber match at the Coliseum is an Alice in Chains concert, the Tigers prepared Thursday by pumping Alice in Chains over the P.A. - the volume knob cranked somewhere between 10 and bleeding tympana.
At least, Williams was told it was Alice in Chains.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “I’d deeply offend them if I didn’t know what it was we were playing.”
Actually, it was a medley - Alice, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. “Seattle’s best,” someone called it.
“Spokane’s best” is what you can call the Tigers, at least for the moment. They take an 8-2 record and a share of the Greater Spokane League lead into tonight’s game of Chicken, thanks to a convincing 56-47 victory over Mead earlier this week.
Yes, everybody has to be someplace, but it’s all-toorare anymore when the Tigers’ place in basketball is first. Outside of a 2-0 start in 1989, LC last shared the GSL’s top spot halfway through the 1982 season.
“Our last winning season was in 1983, I know that,” said junior Mike Homer, in kindergarten at the time. “I’d tell people before the season we were going to be good and somebody said, ‘Well, the last time you won was in 1983.’ So we’ve got to deal with that.”
The season is not yet half old, but consider it dealt with. In his eighth year as coach, Williams has a team tall, athletic and skilled, with three scoring threats in Homer, Paul Mencke and Soren Olson - and teammates who care enough not to care who scores.
“We know who the shooters are,” said forward John Kane, “and we really don’t worry about giving it up to them.”
And then everybody plays defense. Mead had a 5-minute run to erase a 13-point lead, but otherwise the basket was mostly a rumor to the Panthers.
As a bonus, the Tigers have perspective.
“There’s not much difference between the firstplace and last-place teams in this league,” Homer said. “It’s not like we think we’re unstoppable.”
Williams doesn’t bother to hide his affection for all these gifts - for the unselfishness, for the support from home and for unsung soldiers like senior Tom Storey, who blew out a knee 2 minutes into his first start and has earned his coach’s admiration for the way he’s handled the disappointment. But the fact that it’s Williams’ first contender is almost peripheral. Sure, he wishes the victory pile could be higher to this point, but if there’s a coach capable of helping a program through a rough patch, it would seem to be Williams.
A 1981 graduate of Whitworth, Williams had five head coaches there in four years - an interim appointment quitting before the first game. Only once in those four seasons did the Pirates flirt with .500, and in the final coaching transition Williams went from the top scorer and rebounder to an ignored resource on the bench - a fate he faced with uncommon dignity.
Degree in hand, he landed at the old castle by the freeway.
“When I first walked into LC 13 years ago, I thought, ‘What a dump,”’ he said. “It didn’t take me long to realize that there’s a real sense of tradition here and that gets inside of you.
“Now, I’d jump in front of the bulldozer. I love this place. There is so much history here.”
The hoops history is mostly ancient. LC has taken 23 trips to state, but none in the last three decades.
“That’s why it’s going to be all the better if we keep playing like we’re playing,” Homer said. “If we win, the guys coming after us won’t be thinking, ‘We’ve never been good - we’re not going to do anything this year, either.’ Maybe we’ll set an example.”
If not, then Williams will deal with it.
“Somehow, there has to be success every season,” he said. “Just because we’re winning now shouldn’t make it any more fun. Oh, it’s fun to win, no doubt. But if it’s just about winning or losing, we’re missing the boat.”
Say it - play it - loud.