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Hoop Fever Slays ‘Em At St. George’s State Basketball Tourney Is A Very Big Deal At Tiny School

There were no classes at St. George’s on Wednesday except for kindergartners through fourth-graders. Other students won’t come back until Monday.

Basketball temporarily is ruling their world.

At the small K-12 private school north of Spokane, basketball is so ingrained, there is no pep band because too many kids would rather play hoops.

The school, with 300 students, doesn’t have enough kids willing to be cheerleaders either. But at the state B basketball tournament in the Spokane Arena on Wednesday, there were two goofy guys draped in ‘70s-style polyester warm-ups, leading cheers, clapping hands and bumping chests.

“Basketball is a passion here,” said Errol Schmidt, the eighth-grade girls coach. The school’s tiny gym usually is booked for practices every day from 3:15 to 8 p.m.

That kind of “Hoosiers”-esque fanaticism was oozing from the Arena Wednesday - and not just from the St. George’s contingent. The four-day tournament involves 32 teams from schools with 150 students or fewer in the top three grades.

All but three seventh- and eighth-graders from St. George’s were at the Arena Wednesday. About two-thirds of the 110 high schoolers showed up, said athletic director Claudia Thomas.

Basketball is the only winter sport offered at the private school. Of the 225 students in grades five-12, about 125 play basketball.

On the boys team, eight of the 12 players are 5-foot-11 or shorter. They have nicknames like “Husk,” “Spoon” and “Franchise.”

The star player for the girls team was overcoming the flu Wednesday, but she went on to seal victory with four last-minute free throws against Waitsburg.

Rooting them on was a horde of students, faculty and parents who took the day off.

St. George’s students showed up with painted faces, pigtails tied with red and white streamers, and shirts covered with the Dragons logo.

The school is one of four at the tournament to qualify both its boys and girls teams. Both St. George’s teams play again tonight.

Seventh-grader Sarah Luber and several friends were hopping with anticipation as they waited in line for tickets to the boys game against Snohomish County Christian, which started at 9 a.m.

“Oh my God, I can’t take this anymore,” Luber said when told the score was 16-16 with about four minutes left in the first half. “I’ve got to see this game.”

St. George’s won, 46-36.

When asked if they imagine themselves on the court at the 12,000-seat Arena someday, Luber and Co. simultaneously said, “We all do.”

“I can see myself making a 3-point shot with two seconds left, us down by two,” said seventh-grader Katie Nolen as she mimicked a shooting motion.

St. George’s girls have made the tournament six times in the past 10 years, winning it all in 1994. The boys have qualified four times, most recently in 1996.

But the passion for the sport doesn’t seem to lapse into overzealousness. Parents don’t really razz the officials, other than whining about the occasional traveling call.

They host rotating weekly dinners for teammates to foster camaraderie, and let them play a little Nintendo 64, said Laurie DePonty, whose son Tom and daughter Katie both play for St. George’s varsity teams.

The poised perspective was apparent as the girls team led 27-21 over Waitsburg at halftime. Coach Ross Thomas never raised his voice in the locker room.

“We’ve got to rebound,” Thomas told his team. “If we did, we’d be up about 13 instead of 6.”

The girls listened - and won 54-46.

On the bus back to school, freshman Emilie Sammons brought a backpack stuffed with English, history, math and health homework.

Most of it will be due Tuesday or later, but not Monday.

“It’s kind of hard to concentrate,” Sammons said. “I brought it with me, but I don’t really expect to do it. The teachers are being a little easier on us this week.”

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