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Rogers’ trip to state decades in the making

Wed., March 11, 2009

Pirates far and wide celebrate boys basketball team’s first entry since 1975

The reaction to Rogers making it to the State 3A boys basketball tournament was succinct from the man who was coaching the Pirates in 1975, their last official appearance. “It’s about time,” Dick Kinzer, 78, quipped.

That’s not disparaging to the seven coaches who followed in his footsteps once he stepped down in 1983, because he also zinged himself.

Generally Kinzer manages to make it to a game or two, but he didn’t make it this year.

“Maybe that’s a good thing,” said Kinzer, who had cataract surgery that limited his night driving.

What made the difference is anyone’s guess, but as athletic director Eric Anderson said Monday morning, “There’s definitely a buzz.”

“School was good, we received a lot of props,” captain and leading scorer Jesse Vaughan said before the team departed to Tacoma. “But we all know it isn’t over yet. It’s an amazing feeling. We’ve been playing good. We’re going to surprise some people when we get over there.”

The emotional reaction has come from far and wide.

“After years and years of looking at state basketball brackets, finally being able to see the name Rogers listed alongside some of the state’s perennial powers is really something special,” 1995 grad and uber-fan Mike Schock said.

“I’ll actually have a chance to see a Rogers team play at state,” said long-time S-R sportswriter Bob Payne, who retired after working for the News-Tribune in Tacoma. “I was 1,500 miles away in college when the 1957 and ’59 teams played and was chained to the S-R sports desk in ’75.”

No matter what happens at state – the Pirates play Columbia River tonight at 7 at the Tacoma Dome – it’s been quite a Rogers run, from eighth in the Greater Spokane League to fourth at district to first at regional.

“It was the greatest feeling,” senior tri-captain Zach Nelson said. “I didn’t think it would happen, honestly. When I looked at the scoreboard, it brought tears to my eyes.”

There are five 3A teams in the GSL, with four making the district tournament and automatically qualifying for regional. That’s when the Pirates got hot, beating North Central for the first time in four tries, upending West Valley (Yakima) and then GSL runner-up Shadle Park 61-55 at Hanford High School on Friday night to qualify for state.

“Ever since we were freshmen, this group, the six seniors, told our (previous) coach we were going to state,” captain Jake Partridge said. “It felt like it lifted a weight off our shoulders. It feels good.”

“We talked about it,” first-year Pirates coach Tim Woods said. “We had to be in the top four (of GSL 3A schools) and we knew we were good enough to do that. Once you get into regional, anything can happen. I thought we were going to play well. So did our coaches.

“I’ve received a lot of e-mails from people I’ve never talked to in my life. It’s a good time for Rogers. … Is it surprising? A little bit. Shocked? Not really. This is a good group of kids. All it took was winning at the right time.”

“I do not know Coach Woods, but he had to do a hell of a job just to (erase the past),” Kinzer said.

A lot has changed since Kinzer, who coached the Rogers girls track team to a state title in 1986, coached basketball.

“When I was over there, there weren’t a lot of one-parent families,” he said. “Now most are. That needs to turn back. Coaching and teaching is a kids’ game. I don’t have a feel for the kids right now. In my opinion, in the years I coached, kids were kids, teach them what you want them to do and they’ll be successful.”

State was different three decades ago.

The Pirates lost to University in the regional, finishing third, and therefore couldn’t play for the championship.

“That was the year the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association decided it could do a better job of planning tournaments,” Kinzer said. “When we came out of regional, we couldn’t win state. Consequently we were locked in. As high as we could finish was fifth.

“We went over there and didn’t lose a game. It was disappointing to me, but it wasn’t to the kids. They were over to play and have fun. I think we could have won a state championship.”

Four seniors averaged in double figures, led by Tony Poydras, a 6-foot-6 center, at 14.7. Craig Erickson, a 6-2 forward, averaged 12.1, Ed Poydras, a 6-6 forward, averaged 11.6 and guard Mike Moore averaged 11.1.

The point guard was Bill Wood, now a teacher at Greenacres Middle School, who had to answer a lot of questions from students when he wore his 1975 Rogers T-shirt to school Monday.

“I’m excited,” Wood said. “I thought, ‘Am I going to see them go to state in my lifetime?’ That was a great experience going to state. I know they will look back when they get older and realize it’s quite an accomplishment. Hopefully, it turns around and won’t be another 34 years before they get there again.”

Kinzer had another strong team in 1978, led by 6-5 Paolo Poydras, who averaged 20.2 points a game. But because only eight teams advanced to state from four regions, Rogers was not recognized by the official state historian as a state qualifier.

Over the years fans have debated which team was better, but Kinzer, who retired from teaching in 1992, never took the bait.

“It’s hard to compare teams,” he said. “The league’s different, kids are different. I looked at basketball as a violin. You have to tune those strings just right. If you get them where they’re tuned right, they play beautiful music. Sometimes it gets out of tune and it can happen at any time.”

At Rogers, the current music is sweet.

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