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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Born into competition

West Valley's Phillip Gannon holds onto Lewis and Clark's Ethan Robinson during the Eagles Sept. 16 homecoming game.
 (Liz-Anne Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
West Valley's Phillip Gannon holds onto Lewis and Clark's Ethan Robinson during the Eagles Sept. 16 homecoming game. (Liz-Anne Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Christilaw Correspondent

Phillip Gannon’s competitive edge comes from the mean streets of Atlantic City.

Boardwalk and Park Place. Baltic Avenue and Marvin Gardens.

“My family is pretty competitive,” he admitted. “Me and my brother (Pat) have competed our whole lives. Nothing is ever just a simple game with us. Everything gets turned into a heated competition. Monopoly is the worst.”

The three-year starter at running back for West Valley doesn’t just come from a competitive family. His father, Steve, and his 12 aunts and uncles make up the first family of Eagle athletics. Phillip is part of Gannon: The Next Generation.

“Our family reunions are few and far between, but boy, when we get together it’s all about sports,” he said. “When we get a lot of us together, there are some true athletes in our family. We get after it. My aunts and uncles, my cousins, all of us.”

The Gannon family is tied to many of the glory teams in West Valley High’s history – from his uncle, Mike, who played on the school’s Border League and District baseball championship team of 1969, to his father, Steve, and uncle Glenn, who wrestled on the school’s state wrestling champions in 1972 (finishing first and third, respectively, in their weight divisions), to his youngest uncle, Ben, a three-year starter at running back who holds school records for rushing yards (351) and points (26) in a single game.

His aunt, Anne, still holds one of the school’s top 10 marks in the long jump. His uncle, Aaron, started in center field for the school’s 1978 state baseball championship team, and uncles Greg and Tom were key members of the 1984 West Valley football team that reached the state championship game.

The next generation, too, has had its glories. Pat Gannon, Phillip’s brother, placed fourth at the 2002-03 State 3A wrestling meet, helping the Eagles to a fourth-place team finish. His cousin, Chris Hilsabeck, was a three-sport athlete and four-year starter in baseball at West Valley while cousin Corinne Gannon played three sports and helped Central Valley win the State 4A 4x400-meter relay.

“I was a little too young to remember seeing my uncles play – maybe my uncle Ben (who graduated in 1991),” Gannon said. “But I went to every one of my brother’s games and I could not wait to get on the field myself.”

Phillip Gannon carries on the family tradition.

“He has that same toughness and dedication,” West Valley coach Craig Whitney said. “I guess when you come from a family that big, you have to be pretty tough just to get to the dinner table.”

During Gannon’s first two years on the West Valley varsity, the Eagles managed just one win – that one during his sophomore year. This year’s 2-2 start, 2-1 in the Greater Spokane League, has invigorated a program already enjoying a renewed optimism.

“This year is far different from any other year,” he said. “There’s a whole new sense and feeling pride in the whole program. You can feel it – it’s a lot better. We were anxious in other years, but we just didn’t have that confidence that we have this year.”

The attitude adjustment at West Valley started long before the first Friday night – long before the team unveiled its new uniforms.

“It’s been building up over the summer,” Gannon said. “This was our first summer going to a team football camp. We went to the Grizzlies Football Camp at the University of Montana. We played a lot against schools our own size and got some really good experience from that. That gave us a winning feeling.

“And I think a lot of the positive attitude comes from our senior class. We’ve got a really strong senior class, and for the first time, we have strong classes right down the line. In the past one class would be lagging. This year we have good turnout right down the line.”

The Eagles enter Friday’s game with Mead coming off a 21-0 shutout win.

“We just had a shutout against Rogers and should have had a shutout against Cheney,” Gannon said. “We were told it had been a long time since West Valley posted a shutout – something like 20 years.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense and our ability to gang tackle.”

Defensively, Gannon switched positions this season.

A safety the past two years, Whitney opted to shift him to linebacker for his senior season.

“We were just short on linebackers this year and I could tackle, so I moved,” Gannon explained.

“We had a couple of seniors who decided not to turn out,” Whitney said. “And we had a young sophomore who could step in at safety, Tim Pring.”

Gannon’s attitude makes him a role model for the team’s younger players, his coach said.

“Phil comes to practice and works hard every day,” Whitney said. “In fact, some days we have to ask him to dial it back a little during workouts. He’s not the most vocal player, but he’s a leader in the weight room and on the field.

“He may not be the fastest kid out there, but he’s going to pour his heart and his soul out for you I can guarantee you that, if there’s one kid who’s totally spent at the end of the game, it would be Phillip. He leaves it all out there on the field.”

Just like the rest of his family.

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