When the Whitman County basketball tournaments tip off this weekend, Melba and Dwayne Shahan can relax.
The retired Steptoe couple can drive to Endicott, sit back and enjoy the games.
That’s a far cry from their usual game night when they jump in their car to go watch granddaughter Trisha Lamb play for St. John-Endicott and then hustle 30 miles to see grandson Clint Ledbetter with LaCrosse-Washtucna.
Those nights are easy compared to the recent Saturday when they watched granddaughter Kayla Ledbetter play a grade-school game in LaCrosse, granddaughter Tracie (Lamb) Arnold coach a Colfax girls C-squad game and then did the Tricia and Clint thing. That day probably followed a doubleheader night for Tricia and Clint, or a trip to Spokane to see granddaughter Jolene Whitney play for University’s varsity, but who remembers?
“We’ve got enough grandchildren, we have to go,” Melba said.
“It’s not very hard to do.” It’s always been that way for the Shahans, both 70, who rarely missed any of their four daughters’ activities and have carried that on with their 10 grandchildren. The dedication extends to choir, dance and drama, but sports have always played a major role in the family.
When the three oldest daughters, Sharon Hankins, Darcia Waples and Leslie Lamb attended grade school in Steptoe and high school in Colfax, girls sports were mostly limited to intramurals. Badminton was a big activity. The traveling began when the youngest, Pam Ledbetter, started showing horses at competitions in Ohio, Kentucky, Colorado and Arizona.
“I’m excited they’re doing this,” Hankins said. “It keeps them young, keeps them going. Sometimes I worry about them being on the road but I’m glad they do it.”
Although Hankins has no children, her parents were there when she coached Ritzville to state championships in basketball and volleyball.
Then the grandchildren became active. The most notorious: Tricia and Clint, four-year starters.
In Whitman County doubleheaders, the girls play first and, with St. John-Endicott home games just 30 miles from LaCrosse-Washtucna home games, the drive was never an issue. The longest foray is Washtucna to Oakesdale, which comes after the original drive from Steptoe.
“The missus here will pack a lunch and we’ll eat it on the road and away we’ll go,” Dwayne said.
Just last year, they put a new engine in their car and have gone through more tires than they can count.
“Dad always gives me a bad time,” Pam said. “He says, ‘Clint owes me two tires and Tricia owes me two.”’
They have, however, more urgent requests.
“They tell me before the game, ‘Blow them away in the first half so we can go watch Clint,”’ Tricia said. “Almost all of the time we’ve been able to make it,” Melba said. “Once in a while we’ve been late, but not very often.”
Clint said, “It would be a surprise if I didn’t see them after a game.”
As they leave Eagles games, fans ask the Shahans where Clint is playing. When they arrive at Tigercats games, fans ask how Tricia did. When the two schools play each other, there isn’t a raised eyebrow when the Shahan’s change sides in the gym. First, though, Melba has to duck into the women’s restroom to change sweatshirts.
Before Clint and Tricia, Darcia’s sons, George and Jon, Leslie’s oldest two, Tracie and Travis, and Pam’s oldest, Cal, were the focus.
One time, Cal, a freshman, got into a football game and lined up against Travis, a senior. In such cases, Melba and Dwayne sit on the senior’s side.
Cal’s best sport was track, so when his meets conflicted with Clint’s baseball game, Cal, as the oldest, got the nod. It helped that often times Tricia was at the same meets as Cal.
But when they can, they make them all. They watched Cal in the Hershey junior track meet in Portland. Another time they roared to Salt Lake City for Clint’s baseball tournament before turning back after seeing two games in one day to see Casey Ledbetter’s tournament in Colfax.
“They haven’t had to make choices that much,” Pam said. “They just try to go to them all. I think it goes back to when we showed horses, they’re used to traveling all over.”
Dwayne and Melba both played sports at Steptoe before graduating and marrying almost 52 years ago.
“The high school (basketball) team wasn’t too good,” Dwayne said. “We had all different age groups, but when we got out, we had a pretty good town team.”
The Shahans raised Hereford cattle before switching to quarterhorses and farmed about 1,000 acres of wheat, peas and barley just outside of Steptoe.
The farm life must seem easy compared to what they do now, although they don’t believe they’re doing anything special.
The grandchildren know differently. Both Tricia and her cousin, Whitney, Darcia’s youngest, love the videotapes grandpa makes for the kids.
At family gatherings, everyone eventually watches one game or another.
“I always looked forward to that,” Jolene said. “I wanted to be a part of that, too.”
The tapes provide a lot of enjoyment and occasionally have the family howling with laughter because Dwayne was yelling without realizing the camera was on or filmed the ground because he was cheering.
“They’re just making a fuss,” he grumbled about his daughters’ public admission. “They get carried away.”
Dwayne and Melba know their sports, although they’ve seen too many great games and great players to pick favorites.
Still, after years of traveling the back roads to basketball games, their introduction to the Greater Spokane League opened their eyes.
“(Basketball) is refereed so much different in Spokane,” Dwayne said. “It’s rougher under the basket. (The country) kids play a much cleaner game, it’s not near as rough as Spokane. The girls are not so much different. I like the country boys … it seems like it’s kind of slam-bang up there in Triple A.”
Dwayne and Melba don’t plan to stop traveling anytime soon.
After Trisha and Clint graduate, there’s Jolene’s senior year, and Casey and Kayla. Also, Tricia is going to play at nearby Washington State.
But even now, when their grandchildren aren’t playing, they have options. Angie Hall at Colfax and Joe Hall at Garfield-Palouse are grandchildren of Melba’s brothers, and if their own grandchildren aren’t playing - well, you know.
“One night we were snowed in and couldn’t get out, we were kind of owly about that,” Dwayne said.
But the Shahans are careful, they’re willing to sacrifice one game to see many.
“Dad always says, ‘Rather grandma and grandpa be late than be the late grandma and grandpa,”’ Leslie said.
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