Spirit’s Seasons, A Series – Basketball, Episode II

SPIRIT USUALLY LET the boys shoot around and play one-on-one for a few minutes at the start of practices. Then he directed them to assemble into three abbreviated columns, two deep. He instructed the boys in their stretching exercises, then defensive waves, and passing drills, “Okay you yokels, two lines, ten feet apart, ball in the left lane, run the length of the court getting as many passes as possible, faster, faster. Now, three lines, 3-man weave, quickly, quickly, this isn’t golf.”

Practices were going well in Sinkiuse. All six players were adapting to the change from the gridiron to the court. Spirit worked the boys hard and primarily emphasized running, passing, lateral and diagonal slides, rebounding position and technique, defensive closing, defensive stance and positioning, and help-side defense. He did not think shooting was that important in practice, especially since these boys spent much of their extra time shooting throughout most of the year. And with three seniors, one sophomore, and two eighth graders on the team, these boys would have to be in great shape… they would have to be smart enough to refrain from fouling too.

Whenever Spirit wanted to scrimmage his team he brought in his two nieces, and Ella Kamiakin and Scout Ford. Those four girls lived for basketball so they considered the extra gym time as a bonus. Also, those girls could hold their own against most of the boys. The girls’ coach, Karen Kanaskat, was pleased that those ad hoc practices improved her team as well.

The Bobcat boys’ team included Larry Lillooet at the post position, Sylix and Swift, the Skosum brothers, at guard positions, Tyee Tulameen as the wing or shooting guard, and, one of Spirit’s nephews, either Junior or Five at the other wing. Larry had excellent post moves. Swift and Sylix were competent shooters with great dribbling ability and cagy defensive skills, but Tyee Tulameen was the team’s best shooter. He could shoot the lights out and he got most of his scoring from well beyond three-point range.

The first game of the season was at home against Smohalla High School. Since the Sasquatch played soccer during the autumn season the Smohalla boys were always speedy, in great shape, and free of injuries. Spirit greeted Coyote Chilcotin, the Sasquatch coach, and gave him the locker room key. The coaches had a long-lasting friendship since they had either played or coached roundball against each other since junior high. They respected each other’s athletic abilities, knowledge of the game, and coaching expertise.

Spirit regrettably related that the team and school had low numbers. Coach Chilcotin responded, “We have the same situation at Smohalla but ours is perhaps worse. We couldn’t field a volleyball team or a full soccer squad either. But we forged through with soccer season… five boys and five girls, although we had to forfeit all our matches in order to play 10 on 10.”

“Wow, I thought we had it bad, but next year we might have to combine with Lakes in order to provide any sports for our kids.”

“There’s all kinds a talk about next year for us too. We only have eight kids in high school and just two eighth graders. The State is pressuring our board to consolidate with one of the nearby schools, probably Chesaw. The other option is to disband the district altogether and allow the kids to attend Oroville, Chesaw, or Omak depending on each family’s location. I may be on the market for a new job next year.”

The coaches continued to commiserate regarding the vanishing small schools throughout eastern Washington. Spirit wished Coyote well for his future endeavors and good luck for this game. And then the two coaches each readied for the contest.

Smohalla had no bench, five players on the court, one less than the scant turnout for the Bobcats. Spirit remembered the Sasquatch players from last year’s losses. They still had their skilled junior center, Phillip Pierre, and their speedy senior guards, Caleb Claquato, Levi Loolowkin, and Cole Kelowna. Rounding out their squad was the multi-talented Hondo Chopaka who appeared to play any position on the floor. The Chopaka boy could drive around anyone and reach over the hoop. Also, like the Bobcats’ Tyee Tulameen, Hondo was accurate and consistent from far beyond the arc.