After cleaning up some stuff around the house, I walked to the high school shortly before 1:00. Today was the annual Kellogg vs. St. Maries Brawl for the Ball, featuring four basketball games (girls and boys junior varsity followed by girls and boys varsity), and competitions between the schools at halftime: a tug-of-war, a game of dodgeball, pep rallies, cheer squad competition, mascot competition, and a Battle of the Bands.
In addition, raffle tickets were available in both towns and both towns competed to see which would donate the most pounds of food to its local food bank.
Both schools racked up points based on the outcome of the basketball games and the halftime competitions and the school with the most points wins THE BALL, a encased basketball, a trophy, that stays for the following year with the team that wins it.
St. Maries and Kellogg's food drives were very successful, collecting over 42,000 pounds of food, with Kellogg collecting slightly more at about 22,000 pounds. Kellogg won three out of the four basketball games (only the boys junior varsity team lost) and the other competitions were split pretty evenly between the two schools.
The raffle raised a few thousand dollars. I don't remember the exact amount.
Kellogg won The Ball.
Whew! What a day! I was at the gym for over six hours. I absolutely loved it.
Let's break it down a bit.
2. I walked into Andrews Gymnasium and I was stunned and had to stand still for a while and survey what lay before me. The stands were at least 75% full. I don't think, since I've returned to Kellogg, I've seen the stands even half full. Usually, both teams are seated on one side of the floor, to the left and the right of the scoring table. Not today. The St. Maries teams sat on one side of the gym, as did their many supporters, and the Kellogg teams sat opposite them, as did their many supporters.
When I arrived, the boys junior varsity game was early in the second quarter. I had to stand and stare for a minute or two at the bleachers on the Kellogg side to figure out where to sit. There weren't that many spots. Furthermore, I hadn't heard this much noise in Andrews Gymnasium since I was in high school -- that dreaded loss our 71-72 team suffered against Wallace was in front of a near capacity crowd and back then the now closed in balcony on the north end of the gym was open. The crowd and the throbbing noise of the cheering and loud reactions to the referees' calls dizzied me for a minute or so. I lost my bearings.
It was awesome.
I regained my equilibrium and found a seat down low on the Kellogg (east) side of the gym. I came to the gym thinking I would leave at halftime of the girls varsity game, walk home, feed the corgis and let them out, and walk back for the boys varsity game. I immediately nixed that idea. No way was I going to leave this seat! I texted Christy and she agreed to take care of the dogs and I only left my seat once to make a pit stop.
I was so happy to be a part of this crowd, to have the feeling that I was in the movie Hoosiers, with the St. Maries student body bellowing out a cheer and the Kellogg student body answering it, each side pumping up the volume and with both sides of the gym holding scores of adults, the St. Maries people (Lumberjack Nation) having traveled the windy roads to Kellogg for an eight hour day cheering, watching the halftime competitions, supporting their teams.
The pep bands played for the two varsity games, the St. Maries side blasting out "25 or 6 to 4" followed by Kellogg blaring out "Born to be Wild" and they continued, back and forth, pumping up the crowd with "Crazy Train", "Low Rider", "Seven Nation Army", and many more rousing songs.
3. And then there were the basketball games.
The Kellogg boys junior varsity team faced a very good and, to my eye, a more experienced St. Maries team. Kellogg played hard, but St. Maries had a marksman or two from outside and featured a 6' 4" kid in the post. Kellogg's team doesn't have one player over 6' tall and struggled to keep St. Maries' rangy center off the boards and from scoring, whether off of entry passes inside or offensive rebounds. The final score was disheartening for us Wildcat fans: St. Maries won 71-41.
St. Maries didn't have a deep bench, but emptied it late in the game. One of the players, to my untrained eye and from my vantage point in the stands, appeared to have Downs Syndrome or was different from the other players in some other way. Late in the game, a rebound fell in his hands and from the side of the basket, about a foot away, from navel level, he heaved the ball nearly straight up and it descended straight into the basket, inspiring the loudest cheer in the gym all night.
The Kellogg girls varsity team impressed me with their discipline on offense and their defensive tenacity. Hailey Cheney hurt St. Maries inside and Erin VanHoose hit some timely outside shots. The Wildcats had built, if I remember correctly, a fourteen point lead in the second half and St. Maries made a late run, narrowing the margin to five (I think) (I wish I'd been taking notes). But, Kellogg's cooler heads prevailed: they stayed organized, made some crucial late game free throws, held off St. Maries, and triumphed 46-39.
I watched the St. Maries boys warm up and I thought to myself that the Wildcats have a stern test ahead of them. The Lumberjacks had a size advantage, particularly with their hefty 6'4" post player, Dan Howard, who looked to me like he might weigh about 220 pounds and, in warm ups, looked like he had a good shot. In addition, St. Maries had defeated Kellogg twice this season. (But, so had Wallace and Kellogg beat them Monday night.)
I saw the Wildcats' boys team play unrelenting defense on both Monday and Thursday nights. I wondered if they might show signs of fatigue tonight, but dismissed that thought because I've been very impressed with what excellent condition this team is in and with Coach Nearing's substitution patterns. He keeps players rested and fresh with nine players sharing playing time.
And, sure enough, as this game progressed, the Wildcats, especially their point guard, Brennen Atkins, got under St. Maries' skin, even, I think, frustrating their coach. At one point in the fourth quarter, after a stellar defensive play and drawing a foul, Atkins had a Lumberjack player come after him. The St. Maries kid lost his temper. The smaller Atkins didn't back down. The referees separated the players, sent both teams to their benches, called the two coaches to the center of the court, let things cool down, and after a delay of about five minutes, the coaches were smiling and patting each other on the back, and, when play resumed, Brennen Atkins cooly made his two free throws.
As I thought he would, the big kid for St. Maries gave the Wildcats some trouble inside, but, as they do so well, the Wildcats scrapped, kept their feet sliding and their hands busy on defense, helped one another, swarmed to the ball, dove for loose balls, jammed passing lanes, forced tie ups and turnovers, rushed St. Maries into some bad shots, and kept pressure on the Lumberjacks all night long.
It paid off. I haven't seen a box score, but I think the Wildcats' scoring was spread pretty well across the team -- possibly Brennen Atkins was the leading scorer. Tyrel Davis played really well off the bench, Gavin Luna and Raiden Ricketts battled the Lumberjacks' big guy all night long, tiring him, and the 'Cats made several important free throws late to ice a 51-45 nail biter.
Earlier in the season, I saw the Wildcats get crushed by two far superior opponents, Shadle Park and Moscow. Watching those games, I did my best to be slow to evaluate the Wildcats. I wanted to see them play again against teams more their equal. Now I have. Three times. Three Wildcat victories.
It's been fun to see them play teams on their level. Against Wallace, Bonners Ferry, and St. Maries, all the excellent qualities of this Wildcat team have had a chance to unfold. The players can have fun. They can play with vigor and be rewarded for their hustle, determination, discipline, and skills. I won't do it, but I'd enjoy going to Spirit Lake on Tuesday to see the 'Cats play the league's top team, Timberlake, again. I will, however, attend the Wildcats' Feb. 14th tilt against Priest River. It will be Senior Night and the last home game of the season.
Right now, this team is on a three game winning streak. They nearly beat Timberlake last week at home. Can they build on the success of the last three games and defeat Timberlake on the road? And, then, can they beat Priest River at home and ride a crest of success into the district tournament and win that? Who knows? I think the Wildcats have more than a fighting chance to turn what as been a difficult season into a memorable one. We'll see.