Laura West said she is normally “a pretty chill mom.” But her two sons competing for Northwest Christian in the Washington State 2B basketball tournament is “the pinnacle of my heart racing.”
It’s safe to assume West’s heart rate picked up Wednesday as one of her sons, sophomore Avi West, sank the winning free throw to lift the Crusaders past Chief Leschi 56-55 at the Spokane Arena.
The State 1B and 2B tournaments continue through Saturday, bringing thousands of visitors to the arena and millions of dollars to Spokane County restaurants, hotels and shops. The state tournaments returned to the Arena last March after COVID-19 delayed the competition the previous year.
“We’re just so happy that we’ve made it through COVID and that State B is back,” said Kate Hudson, Visit Spokane public relations manager.
Hudson said she expects the high school basketball tournaments to bring in about $4.2 million and 2,000 visitors this week to Spokane County.
“This is a big event for Spokane, and we love having it here,” Hudson said.
She said Visit Spokane, a nonprofit organization that promotes the city, expects to assist out-of-town basketball players and their families at the Riverfront Park visitor information center in finding restaurants and things to do.
“They’re coming from smaller cities, and so coming to Spokane, the big city, there’s lots of shopping opportunities,” Hudson said. “So I guarantee our shops are probably going to have a good week.”
Hudson said March is a busy time for sporting events in Spokane. She said the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments will be in Spokane next year, “so next March will be even busier.”
“March is always a wonderful time for Spokane,” Hudson said. “It’s the most wonderful time.”
Kyle Gaber, lead bartender at Victory Burger just south of the Arena on Post Street, said he assumed the restaurant would receive an uptick in business because of the tournaments.
“We get busy anytime the Arena gets busy,” Gaber said.
He said Wednesday morning had a few extra customers.
“We’re just excited to get busy again,” Gaber said. “We love seeing the crowds … We have room for everyone.”
Inside the Arena, the crowds, fueled by hot dogs and nachos, were treated to several close games all day.
Northwest Christian, from nearby Colbert, and Chief Leschi, of Puyallup, could not break away from one another throughout the game.
“We’re excited about it,” Kyle West, father of Avi and Asher West, said at halftime. “They’re pretty pumped.”
Kyle and Laura West are Northwest Christian alums. Kyle won a state championship for the Crusaders basketball team in 1994 and Laura teaches at the school.
After Avi West put the Crusaders up by one with under 20 seconds to go, junior Titus Spuler blocked a Chief Leschi player’s shot in the lane to end the game, sending an eruption of cheers from the Crusaders’ student section and other fans donning green and gold team colors.
Northwest Christian plays top-seeded Davenport Thursday morning.
Matt Raby enjoyed the Northwest Christian game with his young son, a student in the Northwest Christian Schools district, and his son’s friend. Raby said he and his wife, who played basketball at Whitworth University, coach their kids’ basketball teams.
Raby said they try to come to the state tournament each year.
“It’s right in our backyard, so why not go check out some of it?” said Raby, noting the tournament’s intensity picks up each day as teams inch closer to a state title.
Rory Rickard was taking in the Wellpinit-Oakesdale girls game late Wednesday morning.
Rickard coached at Republic High School, winning the 1997 boys state championship by upsetting top-ranked Reardan.
Rickard said he attended most of the state basketball tournaments as a player, coach or fan since the mid-1960s in Spokane.
“It’s the Bs,” Rickard said.