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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  High school sports

Boys basketball: Oakesdale, Garfield-Palouse clash will feature six sets of brothers

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

Basketball is a family business at Oakesdale and Garfield-Palouse high schools – each team features three pairs of brothers.

Siblings are common to see on teams from small schools, where underclassmen dot rosters as much as seniors – but not usually like this.

The Nighthawks and Vikings clash on Saturday. It’s a moment that has been building since the days of AAU basketball in middle school.

“I coached girls basketball for seven years and then I was an assistant coach with the boys for another 10 years earlier and we have never had this,” Gar-Pal head coach Steve Swinney said. “It is kind of a new experience for us.”

“It is really cool, actually, you get to know your teammates a lot better being family and all,” Gar-Pal senior Ely Hawkins said. “It brings us closer together and I just think that is really cool to have, it’s rare.”

Oakesdale head coach Carl Crider offered his tongue-in-cheek reaction.

“From my standpoint, it makes it nice since there are three sets of families, there are three less families that I have to communicate with or deal with from a coaching standpoint,” he said.

“But when I take a step back at different times of the year, particularly at the end of the season where I am like, ‘Oh, if it wasn’t for those three families,’ there would be years where those three families would be half my teams,” Crider said.

A successful season for the two Southeast 1B schools could come down to a potential league-winning game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

But first, both need to take care of business on Friday as Oakesdale (12-6, 9-1) plays St. John-Endicott/Lacrosse and Garfield-Palouse (11-7, 9-1) takes on Pomeroy.

“Take care of business Friday night, otherwise Saturday doesn’t mean anything,” Swinney said. “Also, it is just another game, try and take the pressure off the kids a little bit. Our saying is, ‘We don’t feel pressure, we apply pressure.’ ”

“This is the game I have been looking forward to since we played them at Garfield. I am excited to go after Gar-Pal,” Oakesdale senior Evan Henning said. “I have a feeling it will be one of the best games of the year.”

“It is cool having to play against each other for the league championship … so it is kind of special,” Hawkins said.

Oakesdale fell to Garfield-Palouse 46-34 on Jan. 11, but both teams are healthy and back to full strength.

That means all 12 brothers will be available for action in the final matchup between the rivals. It also means that competition during practices has been raging at an all-time high.

“It gets pretty competitive in practice sometimes and when one (brother) challenges another, it seems to set the fireworks off a little bit more,” Swinney said. “If a brother blocks another brother’s shot, it kind of makes the other angry and want to do something on the same end.”

There was a time when brothers from both schools battled for each other. When Henning was in middle school, the two schools combined for athletics.

With it, powerful relationships were forged between the two programs that extend beyond the basketball court – with only a 22-mile stretch of Highway 27 separating the two.

“Those Garfield guys are basically a second family. They are great to be around,” Henning said.

For Henning, Saturday will be the final time he plays his former football and baseball teammates.

“Starting in junior high, it was baseball and football. We had an amazing football record,” Henning said. “They were my linemen and I was the quarterback. When it’s game time, it’s game time, but off the court they are the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. It has been a good competition all the way through junior high and high school.”

Swinney is in his fourth season as head coach and he has watched the brothers grow in front of him.

“Well, you know, none of them grew up any bigger, none of them got any taller,” Swinney said. “They filled out, but they have come a long way in fundamentals, work ethic. They are really good kids who are polite and respectful.”

Crider has enjoyed watching the siblings interact and play on one team.

“It is pretty interesting to stop and think about that,” he said. “I think it is a fun dynamic. I think it is a special thing for those brothers to be able to play with a brother on the same team. They all come from really good families and they all are really good kids. It makes it that much more enjoyable to have them part of our program.”

The families will have one final opportunity to see the 12 for Oakesdale’s senior night – one more reason for a promising spectacle.

Henning described his teammates as his brothers, but his actual brother, freshman Ryan, is also his best friend.

“Playing along with my brother has been one of the best experiences I have ever experienced,” the elder Henning said.

“We kind of have that family brotherly rivalry going on during practice all the time, and I am always pushing him to be better and he is always pushing me to be better. He is my best friend and he has been my best friend forever.”

Both teams have been on a collision course since Gar-Pal dropped a game to Prescott the day after its win over Oakesdale.

“When you’re a kid or a senior in high school, at the start of the season you set goals and you have dreams about winning the league and moving on from there,” Crider said. “The fact that it is coming down to the last game of the regular season and here it is, it is a big deal for us.”

Gar-Pal, the more physical team and peppered with football players, isn’t going to be pushed around. Oakesdale is the faster and better-shooting team.

Oakesdale will have to rely on its speed and transition game, but it can’t shy away from contact.

“We have to be willing to absorb some of the contact and dish some of it out,” Crider said.

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