Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winlock Basketball Tours the Redwoods

Last week, I had the honor to accompany the Winlock Basketball team on a trip to Northern California. I submitted this to my editor with a number of photos that took the experience away from sports amd more towards the team experience. My editor didn't place any of these photos with this article in the Town Crier. Let me know if these were important photos to accompany this story.


It is all about basketball and really it’s not. The Winlock boy’s basketball team traveled to Northern California where they played four games over four nights. 15 boys made up a small Varsity and Junior Varsity contingent that traveled to Fortuna, California for a game against Winlock Head Coach Gary Viggers’s alma mater Fortuna High School. Next, they stayed in Crescent City where they were a part of the 9th Annual Rotary Warrior Classic which hosted teams from all over the region.

One of the challenges this year is to find solid competition for an extraordinarily talented group of basketball players. During the summer, the group traveled as far as Reno to play teams that would prepare them for this season’s WIAA play.

With just 257 students in Grades 9-12, Gold Beach (Oregon)couldn't match athletes with this Winlock Basketball team. The Cardinals polished off the Panthers 75-33.

Winlock Schools Superintendent Richard Conley agrees with the difficulty in scheduling stronger competition closer to home. “A bigger school does not want to come and play a smaller school” he explained. “It puts them into a nearly no-win situation”.

Three teams came from schools with enrollments of 1,000 students or more on the trip. Fortuna presented the Cardinals with its first loss of the season with a miracle shot with 2.2 seconds left in the game. The boys took care of business against Central Valley from near Redding, California with a 64-48 victory that set up a much anticipated match-up with the home-standing Del Norte High School of Crescent City with 1,100 students in which the Cardinals won 52-40.

Winlock's Mike Kent gets an opportunity for a lay-up under the board against Del Norte High School of Crescent City, California.

There are more subtle objectives other than basketball with a trip like this, however. It was the first time that all but one of the boys had seen the massive Redwoods of Northern California. Before visiting the Battery Point Lighthouse, the boys joined a unique chapter of the “Polar Bear Club” by wading out into the ocean surf on a cold December morning. On a Friday night, many of the players tried Thai food complete with the use of chopsticks for the first time.

Cardinal basketball players had to take a dip in the cool Northern California surf during their five day basketball excursion.

Together, they did all of this together.

“What a great experience for them” said Winlock Head Coach Gary Viggers Sr. “Some of these kids will never get to take a trip like this again”.

This particular journey has been a goal of Viggers for four years; the chance to take one of his teams to Fortuna where he played in 1964. Where his brothers could watch his handiwork and his daughter could feed them at her restaurant in Klamath, California. In December of 2007, Viggers made a presentation to the Winlock School Board and permission was granted for a proud coach to take this group of young men on such a trip, in this, his final year of coaching.

There is no doubt that Viggers has the unspoken respect of his players. While there is considerable chiding, kids respond quickly to a reminder (call it a subtle order) to remove hats in a restaurant. This is a coach that clearly has a special relationship with his players.

Sightseeing Winlock Seniors (left to right) Jordan Davis, Jake Brown, Tyler Hertz, Tyler Diamond and Nathan Booth enjoy a calm moment at the Battery Point Lightouse in Crescent City.

“If a bear comes and attacks me, they would fight that bear and I would fight it for them” said Viggers.

The boys, a small group of parents and a few donors raised nearly $5000 for the trip. Together, the boys cut, sold and delivered 22 cords of firewood as well as made and sold original T-shirts. They also pursued a less than successful aluminum drive.

Randy and Jo Booth, parents of Senior standout Nathan Booth, were instrumental in helping make the opportunity become a reality. But the senior Booth was quick to point out that loads of wood were donated by Bob Sherwood and Joe Sickles while delivery was provided by Brad Nailon and Steve Stallman. In addition, Jo Booth and Sue Davis, organizers for the Winlock Rec. Basketball program, acknowledged significant monetary donations by Jeff Millman and Denny McNelly.

The boys also looked, smelled and ate better due to the donations of Bob and Dee Cunningham who meticulously washed the teams’ uniforms after each game and then supplied healthy snack foods among other benefits.

Don’t think that all went perfectly either. Wrong vehicles departed, to be replaced 50 miles later in Kalama. There were flat tires, wrong turns, and hours of icy, snow covered roads. Parents and Coaches tried to fly in on airlines that were reluctant to land in Arcata, the only airport in the region. Most of the chaos went nearly unnoticed by the entire group.

“Despite all of the things that went wrong, twenty years from now they are going to think this experience was pretty cool” said Randy Booth who was one of several parents that followed the team to Northern California.

Superintendent Conley agreed “It is great for kids. It’s a wonderful experience for them”.

Winlock Senior Jake Brown looked at the trip from an elite ball players perspective. “It is good to play consecutive nights. It is just like the experience in Yakima at State” he observed. When pushed, he admitted “the vacation is nice, but I am missing the snow”.

Winlock basketball players (bottom left) Kyle Pohll, Bryson Coleman, Jordan Larson (manager), Nick Hoven, Phillip Smerek and Angel Sanchez pose in front of some California Redwoods.

Seniors Nathan Booth and Jordan Davis were impressed by the scenery of Northern California, but Tyler Diamond couldn’t help mention the bonding time with teammates. “I enjoyed hanging out with the team” he said.

One can only hear the discussions that will take place early in 2009 as school convenes once again. The boys will start to rehash and tell the first of many stories about their basketball tour of the Redwood Coast of California and will do so for years to come.

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