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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Best feeling ever’: Wellpinit, tiny community on Spokane Indian Reservation, celebrates its first basketball championship

From left, some of the members of the State 1B champion Wellpinit boys basketball team, Uriah Tonasket, David Wynecoop III, Adam Moyer, Grant Denison, Jeffrey Moyer III and Elliott Rima, celebrate in the school gym Tuesday. After defeating Willapa Valley in the semifinals, top-seeded Wellpinit held off second-seeded Sunnyside Christian 55-50 on Saturday to bring home the school’s first state title.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Wellpinit High School took home its first boys state basketball title last weekend in a 55-50 win over Sunnyside Christian at Spokane Arena. The reality is still sinking in for the players and the small community on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

“Growing up, I always felt like it would happen, but when it happened, it didn’t feel real,” said Jeffrey Moyer III, a senior point guard.

“Winning felt super good, especially when the last buzzer went off, the fans went crazy,” said Frank Wynne, a sophomore. “That was the best feeling ever. All our teammates were jumping around and it was just awesome.”

Spokane Tribal councilman Tiger Peone said it was an emotional moment for everyone watching, even for those from outside of the community.

Excited fans overcrowding the hallway after the game were kicked outside to the parking lot, player Jordan Montgomery said. Everyone was taking pictures.

“It feels good to finally bring something home,” said Grant Denison, junior shooting guard.

The team had a record of 26-1 this year.

“That’s tough to do,” assistant coach and PE teacher Keller Ewing said. “They got better every day.”

The school joined the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s 1B division, the classification for the smallest schools in the state, in 2009.

Not only was this the team’s first state championship, it was also its first appearance in the finals. It is Wellpinit’s only state championship for a team sport, athletic director Clark Pauls said.

“Basketball is like life here,” said David Wynecoop III, a senior guard and leading scorer. “Being able to win my senior year is amazing.”

The traveling trophy made a tour around the reservation early this week. After coach Billy Flett Sr. brought the trophy to the tribal council chambers Monday morning for a photo that was shared on social media, Flett was inundated with requests to see the golden ball. It made about a dozen more stops before landing at the Spokane Tribe Casino, where it will be on display through the weekend. It will spend the rest of the year at the school.

Flett has coached the team for 19 seasons starting in the 1990s. He took some time off to coach the junior high and girls teams before coming back to the high school boys this year.

Basketball has strong roots in the community and in Flett’s family. Flett’s father coached him when he was in high school, and Flett’s son, Brandon Flett, is one of the assistant coaches.

Many of the team members are related. Some of the players are his nephews.

Flett’s brother-in-law Rob Seymour coaches Cusick High School, which lost to Wellpinit in the quarterfinal, but won the tournament last year.

“Rob and I get along real well. We have so much respect for each other,” Flett said.

He wished his parents could have been there.

“I take a step back and I reflect back to those that have passed on: the basketball fans at Wellpinit that did not get to witness this,” Flett said. “That weighs on my heart knowing that.”

Flett said the championship wasn’t just a team effort, but a community effort.

“Without the fan base, it would have been a lot tougher to do what we did. We all did this as one,” he said.

The teammates play other sports together, like football, so they are close.

“On the court, there was no selfishness,” Moyer said. “We move the ball really well. That helped win us the games.”

Wynecoop said their defensive game was key.

“Bringing that defensive intensity the first 2 minutes of every quarter is what got us the win,” he said.

Not everyone is at home to celebrate now. Some of the team members are part of the Spokane Tribal Youth Council, which is on a field trip to Hawaii studying conflict resolution through an Indigenous lens. The community is planning a celebration for when they return next week.

“This achievement that this team has given us is so hard to put into words,” Peone said. “But when you hug and congratulate the boys and the coaches – without saying a word, you can feel the positive energy radiating through them. The impact of winning the gold ball will affect future generations and will spark a whole new level of what it means and takes to reach your goal.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.