The NCAA tournament is one thing, but I like to think that Spokane’s first love in March has always belonged to the State B. And rightfully so.
Over the years I’ve met people who have never been to Brewster, but never missed a game the Bears played at the State B. People joked that the last person leaving (fill in the small town) for a State B tournament game should turn out the lights. And I know some schools where the State B loyalty ran so deep that they could hold their annual reunion right there in the stands.
Former Shadle Park coach Darcy Weisner confided in me that during his first year at Brewster that he had no concept of how deeply State B fever ran in that community.
“I looked at the school calendar and it showed the kids having three days off in the first week of March,” he recalled. “I asked the school secretary what that was for. ‘The State B tournament,’ she said. As the new coach, I was pleased. I said ‘Oh, you think we’re going to be good enough to go this year?’ ”
The coach then scrunched his face into a look of utter disdain at such a question.
“She looked at me for a while,” he recalled, holding the face against a growing need to laugh. “And then she said ‘We. Go. Every. Year.’ That’s the moment I realized I had my work cut out for me.”
To his credit, he went on to win back-to-back State B titles, the second on one of the most remarkable shots the tournament has ever seen.
In the title game, Ritzville had a one-point lead and the ball with 19 seconds left, but could not get the ball inbounds and turned the ball over to Weisner’s Bears. The Broncos had leading scorer Mike Boesel blanketed so that he could not get off a shot, so he passed the ball to Kevin Benson, who launched a shot with 4 seconds left that caromed off the rim.
But the ball caromed straight at Boesel, who grabbed it and launched it back toward the rim from about 10 feet away as time expired. And it nestled through the netcords to give Brewster its second straight title.
I was there the morning Selkirk’s Lynn Nicholas put up 35 points in the 9 a.m. girls game to set a tournament record, only to have Tammy Tibbles break it at 10:30. And I was there for every one of those great Reardan-Creston championship games.
I walked into the Boone Street Barn with Roy Graffis and the Columbia Lions from Hunters when they got their first look at the arena where they would play Willapa Valley in the championship game. To say the Lions were awed would be an understatement. I have never seen that many teenage girls standing slack-jawed in all my life. But Roy, who won a boys State B title at Oakesdale, handled that awe beautifully, taking his team onto the floor to look at the basket. It’s a moment that was captured, years later, by the movie “Hoosiers,” with Gene Hackman playing the Graffis role.
Oh, and just like the movie, Hunters won that night.
But I also carry a lasting memory of those State B tournaments.
For some reason, wherever I sat at the press table for one of those tournaments, a pep band would inevitably show up right behind me to happily blow music in my direction. And I swear, the one kid blowing out of tune would always be right in my ear.
I have nothing against pep bands, having been a music geek in high school myself. Most years I could have picked up a horn and joined the band – in part because even now, even an undisclosed number of decades gone from my band days, they’re still playing the same charts.
We played Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” because it was a hit song. They’re playing it because they think it’s a mysterious math equation. And if you ask the kids if they know Chicago, they’re likely to answer “Well, I’ve been to O’Hare once.”
And you’ve never heard the national anthem until you’ve heard it done by a pep band made up of a saxophone, two clarinets, a flute, a drum set and an electric guitar – the brass players are all playing in the game.
I love it all, even if it did cost a few decibels of hearing loss over the years. I didn’t need to hear that office phone ringing anyway.
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