In the late fall of 1970, we, the Kellogg Wildcats, opened our basketball season against the Coeur d'Alene Vikings. It was a Tuesday night game. It was a very big game for the Vikings, not because they were playing the Kellogg Wildcats, but because it was their first game in a freshly built gymnasium in a newly opened high school. Dignitaries were honored at half time. For all I know, the governor was there, or maybe the mayor, probably Red Halpern, but certainly past Coeur d'Alene players. It would be a night to honor the tradition of Viking basketball. They had been state champions as recently as 1963.
It would have been more appropriate if we Wildcats had been nicknamed the Kellogg Sacrificial Lambs. That's what we were that night. In every way, the Vikings were a far superior team to us and they were playing with extra verve because the gym was being dedicated.
But, we Wildcats didn't realize what we were in for. We had had quite a bit of player turnover from the season before. The idea was that with new players would come a new attitude and a fresh start for our team.
But, we didn't have any players who could match Coeur d'Alene. I wish I could remember the entirety of Coeur d'Alene's starting five, but I definitely remember three of them: Dick Schaffer was a tall, fairly elegant inside force at center; the team's leader and one of their guards was Duffy Taylor; I was assigned that night to guard Bryce Bemis, so I know he was one of their forwards. I also know he scored at will against me.
From the game's outset, Coeur d'Alene crushed us. I used to know the exact score, but I don't remember now. Suffice it to say that Coeur d'Alene had the historic pleasure of putting up over 100 points in their first game in their new gym. Yes, that's right. We gave up over 100 points to the Vikings and we barely broke 50 ourselves. The score was something like 106-54. (If anyone could verify the score, I'd appreciate it; likewise, if you know who Coeur d'Alene's starting five was, I'd appreciate knowing that.)
Here are a few things I do know: coming into the 1970-71 season, I had this terribly inflated sense of myself as a basketball player. I had been a very good player in freshman basketball. My success was largely because of my early growth spurt and a deft shooting touch. But, as other kids grew to be as tall as I and as others passed me, it turned out that I had peaked athletically, in the ninth grade.
But, I didn't know that. I entered the Coeur d'Alene game determined to beat the Vikings and to establish myself early on as an all-Inland Empire League player.
So that night in Coeur d'Alene, the game opened and, because in my inflated sense of myself, I considered myself a great shooter. So I shot. And shot. And shot. And shot some more. If you were to look at a shot chart of that game, you would see that I burped up sixteen shots...and made one.
That's right. Mr. I'll be all-Inland Empire League my junior year scored eight points, six were from the free throw line, and I missed fifteen shots from the field. I became the trigger man for the Vikings' fast break. I fired up a shot. It ricocheted off the back of the rim. It rebounded like an outlet pass. The Vikings were off and running. And we couldn't catch up to them.
So, on Tuesday night we surrendered over 100 points to Coeur d' Alene. On Friday night we surrendered another 100 points to Ferris. On Saturday night we actually led Gonzaga Prep at halftime, but collapsed in the second half, but we held them way under 100 points.
A local tavern, the Kopper Keg, decided at the beginning of the basketball season to honor a player after each weekend of play as the Kopper Keg player of the week. I don't know what kind of drunken congregation gathered to decide the first week's winner. We went 0-3. We gave up over 100 points in two games. In one of he games I put up sixteen shots and one dropped.
How bad were things? I was named the Kopper Keg player of the week. I was ashamed and humiliated. I shouldn't have been named even the Not a Pot to Piss In Player of the Week.
Our basketball season limped along. We won a few games. Not many. We were knocked out of the conference tournament immediately.
And, it only took about three weeks for the Kellogg Evening News and the Kopper Keg to discontinue the Kopper Keg player of the week.
It was an ethical decision. And a merciful one.