Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 50° Clear
Sports

Invaders band together in final season

So what would “Hoosiers” look like set in 2009?

Well, in 50-plus years, basketball has evolved into a “city” game, so it has to have an urban setting, and yet the school must still be small, overlooked, an underdog. The basketball team isn’t necessarily the social focal point anymore and academics are no longer simply the three traditional R’s, so hoops must compete for a kid’s attention with the steel band and drama. Instead of Myra Fleener looking after Jimmy Chitwood, there’s a family support worker on staff. Economic pressures are blowing up budgets, so perhaps the school is being closed by a cold-hearted board of education. Naturally, to round out the plot the basketball team has to endure its own adversity – say a 1-7 start to the season, and come February it dawns on the players that each game could be their last.

And so they’re determined to postpone that last game until they reach the storied small-school tournament across the state.

Hollywood and Spokane, meet the Summit Invaders.

“One lady was telling me this morning,” said Roger Kirihara, who teaches P.E. at the alternative school in northeast Seattle. “She said, ‘Roger, this is something you make movies out of. You need to call Disney.’ ”

Better yet, don’t wait for the movie. See for yourself this morning at the Arena when the Invaders play Adna in the first round of the State 2B tournament.

Every team at state is on a mission. The Invaders have a cause.

Because school is out at Summit on June 16 – for good.

At a contentious meeting on Jan. 29, the Seattle School Board voted to close five schools, including Summit, the only public K-12 in the city. Students and faculty will be scattered to other district schools and the Jane Addams building that has been Summit’s home will become a traditional K-8 school in September.

“I felt horrible,” said senior Jake Roos, remembering the day the news broke. “Everyone was upset, but we tried everything we could to have the school stay intact.

“We went to meetings, we had signs, we had people talk about why Summit was so great.”

And why is it great? A lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s truly a small-town B school in a big city. Students and teachers are on a first-name basis. Anywhere from two to 12 kids in every senior class have attended since kindergarten. Yet it’s also a magnet for arts-oriented students, and an oasis for those who have struggled to adjust at bigger schools and need a sense of belonging.

“But they didn’t listen,” Roos said of the school board. “They didn’t want to make an effort to keep our school open.”

So all that remained for the basketball team was to keep its season alive, to keep some good times rolling – but this didn’t seem all that likely, either. The Invaders had indeed lost seven of their first eight games, plagued by – depending on whom you talk to – individualism, carelessness, showmanship, tension. Junior Thomas Ovenshine looked at the talent level and couldn’t understand why the Invaders weren’t playing better.

“We just sucked,” he said.

With two games left in the regular season they were still 6-12 and facing the prospect of no postseason play if they lost to either Rainier Christian or Seattle Lutheran.

So they won. Then they beat Nisqually League refugee Life Christian in a pigtail loser-out and split a pair of Sea-Tac League playoff games to reach the Tri-District tournament – becoming the improbable champions with a 53-52 overtime victory over La Conner.

“We’re down by 12 points in the third quarter,” marveled Jay Gahan, a Summit parent who runs a Mission Foods business and has coached the Invaders for three years. “In overtime, we’re down five with 58 seconds left. There’s something about all this that’s a little unbelievable.”

And, as usual, something that’s just about believing.

“People keep saying we’re a team of destiny,” Ovenshine said, “but I think we’re just controlling ours more.”

There seems to be little debate about what brought them together. Gahan recalled that when the school board put Summit on the list of potential closures there was “a lot of hopelessness and despair.” Though students and staff had lived under a similar cloud three times in the previous five years, this had the smell of finality about it – but when it became final, it seemed to steel the basketball team’s resolve.

“We just thought about what we could do to make our last year the best,” Roos said. “This was something we didn’t want to end.”

And they found accomplices. As circumstances for the Invaders grew more desperate, the fan following simply grew.

“This has really grabbed people,” said Kirihara, who has been at the school for 20 years. “Kids who don’t play sports started showing up at games. All the staff. We have a thing, kind of a chant, a rhythm thing that says, ‘Summit … you know,’ and our kids have picked it up each year. I had about 200 T-shirts printed up with that on it and thought it was way too many and almost every kid in school wanted one.

“The school has come alive again. We know it’s going to get low again toward the end of the year, but right now we’re on a high and nobody wants to let go.”

Who says they have to? Would that be Disney holding on Line 1?

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.