Longtime Seattle Times editor and reporter Bill Kossen likes history, especially if it’s the history of Garfield High School sports, specifically a game played 50 years ago that he claims changed the world. It’s at least the second time he’s written about it and promises this will be the last time. We doubt that.
By Bill Kossen
Seattle Times staff
I wanted to start this by just saying that I hate basketball. Really hate it. But that was two weeks ago after yet another bitter loss at the state tournament and now I’m over it. For good.
I’m going to enjoy prep hoops the rest of my life, regardless of who wins or loses. And it only took two tough losses spread over 50 years to get to this point.
Guess I owe it all to Mom. She always told me to never hate anything and she’s also the one who helped afflict me with this lifelong thing for prep hoops and Garfield.
Mom let me play basketball in our basement, our hallways and out in the alley in the rain and snow where I not only pretended to be a state-tournament star playing for Garfield in my imaginary one-on-none games, but kept imaginary stats that I still have.
During the 1962-63 basketball season, when I was 7, Mom would sometimes take a big, black Marks-A-Lot and scrawl the score of a Garfield basketball game onto a piece of brown cardboard and set it next to my bed so I could see it in the morning. When Garfield won, which was nearly every game that season, seeing those signs made my day. And took over my life.
The Bulldogs had won the state title the previous two years and seemed to be on their way to a third. Growing up as the son and sibling of Garfield grads, it was a thrilling time to be a young fan of one of the top high-school basketball programs in state history. And I thought they would never lose. Boy, did I have some growing up to do. And it came fast and hard.
This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the first and worst basketball game I ever saw: Blanchet 36, Garfield 29. For the state title. March 16, 1963. I was crushed and felt cheated that in the only basketball game I had ever seen, a team known for winning lost. And that sharp sense of loss was repeated every time Garfield fell short of winning another title.
It got so bad that back in 1992 I tracked down the coach of that team, the late Ron Patnoe, and interviewed him for a story about the state tournament for The Seattle Times. He was happy to talk about it, but told me that the loss continued to haunt him nearly 30 years later, and that he felt as if it was his fault.
So that’s why this year’s tournament held so much promise. Garfield’s men’s team entered it ranked No. 1 in the state and expected by many to take its first title since 1998 (the Garfield girls took state in 2005), an eternity by Garfield basketball standards.
This year, the Bulldogs were finally going to right some wrongs and I would be able to get on with my life.
But like most teams competing in the state tournament, and any tournament for that matter, Garfield didn’t win the title. They got knocked out in a Friday night semifinal game by eventual champion Curtis in a dramatic overtime 70-66 loss so painful that one of the Bulldog stars, Tucker Haymond, openly wept in the arms of head coach Ed Haskins.
Haymond and Haskins had gone to four straight state tournaments together, hoping and working hard for at least one title. That never happened and after the Curtis loss, the Bulldogs were headed for another consolation-round ending to a brilliant season.
I didn’t cry. Just felt sick. Sick of sports. That same night, another team I was pulling for, the top-ranked Mount Rainier girls, also lost a semifinal game. By one point, 51-50 to eventual champion Mead, and prompting more player tears.
I was monitoring the games by computer and shot an email to a friend, whose daughter played for the Mount Rainier junior varsity, bitterly writing in the subject line: “I hate basketball” and then elaborating: “just saw the mead-mount rainier score. and garfield lost in OT. high-school hoops should be banned. the only high-school sport that should be allowed is the academic decathlon.”
“Yep it sucks as the kids say,” came the reply.
March madness? More like March sadness.
But Garfield and Mount Rainier won something much bigger than a state title by coming back the following day and winning third-place trophies in a deadly quiet and nearly empty Tacoma Dome: They won the admiration of their grieving fans who showed up to watch.
It wasn’t easy. The Garfield players walked out on the court before their last game, a sullen, listless group of young men who knew they deserved better in life. They could have easily given up and called it a season as they fell behind a tall, talented and inspired Arlington team which was enjoying its best season ever. Garfield, on the other hand, showed little emotion and no smiles.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the old Garfield spirit took over and the Bulldogs started playing with the enthusiasm and skill of a champ, pulling away to win 80-68 and putting an exclamation mark on their season.
As the players walked off the court after the game, smiles began to appear and the players and coaches hugged. Principal Ted Howard, who played basketball at Garfield during the 1980s and is as big a Bulldog fan as anyone, personally thanked each player for their hard work.
Way up in the stands sat a small group of older men who knew something about state tournaments. Bill Cammel, of Parkland, has been going to them since 1951.
I asked him that out of all the games he had seen over the years, which one was the best. He didn’t even have to think about it. “Garfield-Curtis,” Cammel said and his friend Ed Hallstrom, of Tacoma, agreed.
I told them it sounded like a good, close game but being a Garfield fan, I wouldn’t call it the best game. Cammel understood.
“They (the Bulldogs) were devastated.”
Yeah, so was I. But they sure bounced back, didn’t they?
So take that, you cruel old state tournament. As they used to cheer at Garfield games during the 2004-05 season when the women’s team won the state title – you can-not beat a Bulldog.
Epilogue: I stuck around this year’s tournament long enough to see the Cleveland girls win a state title over Seattle Prep and sat on the Cleveland side with a friend who teaches there. When Prep made a run near the end of the game and the Eagles appeared to be losing the confidence they carried earlier in the game, I assured my friend that Cleveland would win and displayed a Garfield pendant someone had given me as a good-luck charm. I also looked up and asked Mom for any help she could provide, figuring she owed me one. Cleveland went on to win in OT, 45-43.
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