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Small schools chase big prize

Thousands of fans bring passion – and dollars

Paul Carlson and Ed Locke of Toutle, Wash., were on good behavior Wednesday at the State 2B Basketball Championships in Spokane.

During the regular season, Carlson and Locke were notorious for putting on their game faces and riding the referees as they cheered their daughters, they said. But school officials asked them to tone it down, to be good ambassadors. So they left the body paint at home and quietly told themselves Wednesday the refs were being fair.

But guys like this cannot be contained.

In Wednesday’s see-saw contest between the Toutle Lake Fighting Ducks and the Entiat Tigers, Carlson and Locke were among the loudest fans at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Toutle Lake won 48-46, advancing to round two today.

“We weren’t expecting to get here,” said Carlson, whose daughter Christian plays guard. Toutle Lake had an 11-7 league record and had to defeat several other good teams to qualify for the 16-school girls tournament.

Carlson, Locke and their families are among 8,000 or so visitors in Spokane this week for the four-day, small-school tournament for boys and girls. Toutle, which specializes in wood products, is along the Spirit Lake Highway to Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington’s Cowlitz County. Folks from Napavine, LaConner, Orcas Island and other spots are here, too. “We are … the Ducks,” cheered the Toutle Lake fans.

Officials estimated that the tournament – in its 53rd year – has a $1.5 million economic impact on Spokane. Suzanne Boyce, of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission, said the impact is based largely on hotel and motel room occupancy. Tournament fans are renting about 3,000 rooms this week.

She said ticket sales appeared to be on the upswing despite the recession. “This is such a tradition,” she said. “If your kid makes it to a championship event, you are going.”

Carlson was joined in the stands by his wife, two daughters, a son and a boyfriend of one of the daughters. Locke’s wife and daughter cheered with him. His daughter, Nichole, played a pivotal role in the post. They said they drove on snowy highways to reach Spokane about 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Reaching the tournament was “a huge accomplishment for the girls,” Locke said. “They really came together as a team.”