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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Basketball champ Wellpinit celebrates State B victory that ‘brought honor and pride to the Spokane Tribe’

WELLPINIT, Wash. – Ambulances pumped their sirens and police cars flashed their lights as town residents cheered on their basketball team in a parade Friday morning.

They were celebrating the first state basketball championship, won earlier this month, for students in the small town on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Riding in a trailer, team members wearing blue and gold tossed T-shirts to the crowds of cheering classmates and parents as they passed.

Later, inside the Spokane Tribe Pow-wow pavilion, elementary school students pounded drums and chanted as everyone stood to recognize the victorious athletes.

“This team has brought honor and pride to the Spokane Tribe, to our community, to all of the past teams that made it to state,” said Carol Evans, Spokane Tribe chairwoman.

“We had a great season,” said David Wynecoop III, a team captain. “We put in the work, the hours in the gym, all the conditioning. We came a long way.”

Smokey Abrahamson, a senior player, thanked everyone for the support, guessing that the number of their supporters at away games rivaled the number for home teams.

“I hope they can do it next year, too,” he said.

Coach Billy Flett Sr. gave a history of the Wellpinit team.

The first time the team went to the state tournament was in 1981, when he was a senior. In 2008, the bar was set higher, when the team took eighth place in the 2B tournament. Then in 2010, the team took third place as part of the 1B conference.

This year, “these guys set the bar once again.”

Flett thanked the fanbase for all its support. Without them, he said, it would have been much harder.

“Basketball brings everyone together in Indian Country,” he said.

Flett commended the team’s academic record as well.

“To me, education and sports go hand-in-hand,” he said. “You can’t do one without the other when you’re in high school.”

Even though the team is losing five seniors this year, there is a strong group ready to replace them. The junior varsity team had a 12-3 record this year.

“We’re not rebuilding next year,” Flett said. “We’re reloading.”

The Spokane Indians baseball team, which has a partnership with the tribe, sponsored the basketball team in the tournament.

Otto Klein, the baseball team’s senior vice president, told a story about making a bet with the players that he would reward them with Spokane Indians jerseys if they won.

One of the basketball players also will throw the first pitch at an upcoming Indians game, Klein said.

“I was really proud to see this community come together,” Klein said. “It was loud, and that meant a lot.”

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.