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Blanchette: Stinson’s “Remembering the B” fulfills its goal

Jim Stinson, longtime basketball coach and B Tournament historian, has written a coffee table book about the B Tournament.  (Dan Pelle)
Jim Stinson, longtime basketball coach and B Tournament historian, has written a coffee table book about the B Tournament. (Dan Pelle)

There are 400,000-some words in his book and even the most devoted reader may not have the capacity to digest them all.

But Jim Stinson didn’t get any as precise, as right, as the ones on the cover:

Remembering the B.

Because that’s what it is – a basketball and social history, yes, but also a paean to a phenomenon now past, and never to return.

Is that why the Washington Intercollegiate Activities Association declined to let him sell copies at the State 1B/2B tournaments here next month – because it’s a reminder of something so perfect that the educrats simply screwed up?

Oh, it’s probably not anything that sinister. But it’s just as misguided.

Stinson’s lovingly told (and copiously illustrated) tale is a tribute to everything good to be found in a high school institution – the soul of rural America (that bigger-city private schools strove to emulate), careers of service by coaches who became symbols of their towns, families whose heritage is marked generationally by their contributions to the basketball team. Also the givens: drama, excitement and opportunity for excellence and achievement.

But mostly the stories.

“Remembering the B” is full of them, extended features setting off the year-by-year chapters that detail the outcome of every boys and girls State B tournament – and, OK, even the first four of the 2B variety when the WIAA split the event in half in 2007.

“There must have been 40 that got left on the cutting room floor,” said Stinson. “There’s enough for another book. But I don’t want to hear (from his grandkids), ‘Papa, when are you going to be done with your book?’ anymore.”

But naturally B characters like Bull Tenoski – the Willapa Valley coach who looked just like his name – made the cut. So did the saga of the 1967 Reardan bank robbery. The family histories – the Wiitalas, the Solidays, the Bannishes. The incredible 82-game Brewster winning streak.

And the photos go beyond basketball to find the tick of the little towns – former B star Monica Van Riper and father Harold displaying the salmon catch from their family charter business in Clallam Bay, or John Thulean and father Gail playing H-O-R-S-E in the second-floor gym in their La Conner dairy barn. Naselle coaching legend Lyle Patterson is shown getting a medal for combat service.

There is no one more steeped in the tradition of the B – as author, historian, coach, parent and aficionado – than Stinson.

He published his first effort, “Tournament Fever,” in the mid-1970s, and an update a few years later. Then life and three children (all B players) took over.

But he never stopped collecting stories.

A couple he lived as a coach – state titles with daughter Jennifer at Davenport, and the electric 50-point performance from his Northwest Christian star, who was fighting a losing battle with cancer.

“That’s the longest story in the book,” he confessed.

Hey, it’s his book.

Summers he would haul himself and his family to the state library in Olympia and all the little towns he wanted to write about. A logger might lay a picture on him. In Fairfield, he’d stumble upon the family of a long-deceased coach of a state champion 300 miles away.

“The connections you learn about by accident – that kind of stuff gets me excited,” he admitted.

The detail is excruciating – there are 12,986 player names in the index, every one who made a box score up through 2012. But it’s almost exhilarating, too. He tracked down – or created – logos for 304 participant teams, including swiping the mule from the old “Barney Google” cartoon strip to represent the long-gone Edison Sparkplugs.

He even induced author Sherman Alexie, whose basketball roots at Reardan are an important element of his work, to do the forward – and republished his poem about Indians coach Gene Smith.

“It used to be up in Smith Gym, but they took it down when they painted,” Stinson said. “So I called and asked Gene if he would recite it to me.”

Smith’s response: “This is embarrassing.”

Selling 3,000 books – the print run is 5,000 – would allow Stinson to break even on his obsession, and that’s not an insignificant motive. But it’s hardly the only one.

“Nobody is going to know the difference pretty soon,” he said. “Changes are made that most people don’t want but the government wants them made – the government in this case being the WIAA. Once you keep on with the new way, you forget the old way.

“High school kids now were in sixth grade when the B went away. I’d like them to know about how it was.”

And he’d like the rest of us to remember.

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