The annual geography lesson otherwise known as the State B basketball tournament kicks off Thursday with a new format that brings teams from the smallest high schools in Washington state to Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Every corner of Washington will be represented.
“Everybody is excited,” said Coach Rob Hudkins of the Rosalia High School boys team, one of eight teams competing in the 1B boys playoff.
“I think it is awesome,” said Rosalia sixth-grader Troy Bittsley.
Rosalia hasn’t won a state championship since 1986.
Rosalia qualified for the tournament last weekend in a come-from-behind overtime win over Almira/Coulee-Hartline High School.
Rosalia, which has only 80 students in grades nine through 12, takes on Neah Bay, another small school located in the far northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula, at 9 p.m. Thursday.
The Arena will host 16 opening-round games Thursday among 32 boys and girls teams in 1B and 2B competition.
Almira/Coulee-Hartline will play Mt. Rainier Lutheran High School of Tacoma at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
This year’s tournament was shortened from four days to three and the fields were cut in half. The 1B teams are moving to Spokane from Yakima where that portion of the tournament was held from 2007 through 2010.
Hudkins, the Rosalia coach, said the new eight-team tournaments are more typical of the format used in other states.
For Spokane, the B tournament is expected to bring some $1.3 million in economic activity through hundreds of hotel bookings, meals and purchases, said Jodi Kayler of the Greater Spokane Sports Association.
It will be the first in a series of basketball tournaments in Spokane this month, including NCAA women’s playoffs at Gonzaga University on March 19 and 21 and NCAA regional women’s competition at the Arena on March 26 and 28.
In addition, the Whitworth University Pirates are playing at home in a second-round Division III playoff game on Saturday.
“March is a huge basketball month,” Kayler said.
Spokane businesses are hoping to capitalize on the influx of players and fans, and local organizations are putting together promotional plans to make sure that visitors feel welcome, said Dana Haynes of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The B tournament is perhaps Spokane’s most beloved basketball event. It dates back to 1958 and brings together a wholesome mix of families and boosters from rural communities as well as parochial schools.
This will be the fourth year in a row that Rosalia has made it to state.
In the previous appearances, Rosalia traveled to Yakima and finished as high as fifth in 2009.
Hudkins said he likes his team’s chances this year because the roster is heavy with seniors and deep on the bench.
Seniors on the team are Nathan Richards, Jared Hereford, Flash Hodges, D.J. Brown, Scott Eberle, Tom Carrothers and Casey Brown.
“It’s just a good group of kids,” he said of his team. Five players recently achieved the Eagle Scout rank.
He credited the players’ parents for allowing them to develop basketball skills over many years and the community at large for its support of the team.
“The past couple of years, it’s been hard to find a spot to sit on our side (of the gym),” Hudkins said.