Good Times Shared Northport Without A Band And Liberty Without A Team Enjoy The State B Basketball Tournament Together
Two rural Eastern Washington schools, about 150 miles apart. One has a winning girls basketball team, but no band to root them on. The other has a band, but no team to play for.
So they adopted each other. Just in time for the State B tournament.
Now when the Northport Mustangs hit the hardwood at the Arena, the 75-member band from Liberty High School in Spangle belts out fight songs.
“We’ve never played in front of a band before,” said Northport cheerleader Raquel Gallardo. “When I first saw them I got really nervous.”
Northport, a town of 350 people just south of the Canadian border, has an unemployment rate that’s twice the state average. The K-12 public school is so poor it had to eliminate its band program four years ago.
“Life’s hard up there,” said Kathy Jimenez, a cheerleading coach and teaching assistant at the 260-student school.
“Ninety percent of our kids get free or reduced prices on their lunches,” she said. “It’s unreal.”
This winter, the outlook brightened when the basketball team began winning - making the Spokane tournament for the first time in 18 years.
On Wednesday, when the big band from Liberty arrived, players and fans marveled at their good fortune.
A Spangle saleswoman is credited with bringing the schools together.
Debbie Farka heard about Northport’s defunct band program last year while ordering cheerleading uniforms for Jimenez.
As tournament time approached and it became evident Liberty wouldn’t have a team in the competition, Farka wondered if the band could play for Northport.
Farka, who has two sons in the band, talked to school officials, who liked the idea. So did their counterparts up north.
The merger came with a few kinks, evident during Wednesday’s opening game.
As Northport’s four cheerleaders fired up Mustang fans, the band suddenly erupted with a stirring fight song. The Liberty fight song.
No problem. The cheerleaders just substituted “Northport” for “Liberty,” and “Mustangs” for “Lancers.”
Rainier edged Northport 58-54 in that game, but the Mustang players appreciated the high-energy band.
“It was just great,” said starting center Karen Sauvola. “I’ve never played before a band that was actually cheering for us. I could just feel the support.”
Band director Mike Jydstrup was more than willing to loan the services of his ensemble. “I love getting this band out where people can see them. It’s a new experience for them. They’ve never had a chance to play in the new arena.”
Liberty has 200 students and 120 are in the band. Not everyone could make the trip to Spokane, though. They all couldn’t fit on the bus.
The trumpet-playing Jydstrup could have been forgiven had he decided not to join the band. His wife is pregnant and could have the baby any time.
“I’ve told the band that when my pager goes off, I’m out of here,” he said.
Meanwhile, the band is pulling for their new team to win. Another loss in the double-elimination tournament and the Mustangs and Lancers go home.
“This is just too much fun,” said band member Jonathan Farka. “This is both of our big chances to play in the Arena.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo