After hard week, Connell just plays ball

By Craig Craker, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 7, 2012 

BURBANK -- After more than a week of playing on computer screens across the world, the Connell boys basketball team played on hardwood Friday.

The Eagles, minus Cole Vanderbilt, played their first game since a video showing Vanderbilt and Kennan VanHollebeke committing six hard fouls went viral on the internet.

Connell lost 47-35 at Columbia-Burbank in an uneventful Southeast Central Athletic Conference East division game played in front of about 1,500, as Connell fans flocked to the gym in support.

"The community is injured; wounded right now," said Michael Davidson, whose son plays for Connell. "The truth is we have wonderful people in that community. I'm proud to be from Connell. I'm proud to raise my family there."

While Connell rallied around the players featured in the video, the uproar caused by the YouTube video which shows six plays from a Dec. 22 Highland-Connell game continued to swirl.

From hate emails to school officials to countless phone calls to the Vanderbilt family to Facebook pages dedicated to the pair to a fake Twitter account in one of the player's names, the controversy raged for another day.

"There were some things there that can't be excused," Davidson said of the Dec. 22 game against the Cowiche team. "You can't defend some of those fouls, but it's over. No one got killed. No one got injured.

"Reading the comments, the whole thing has been blown out of proportion."

Friday's game went off without a hitch. VanHollebeke received the biggest cheer from the large Connell contingent, which outnumbered the Burbank side.

The game was called evenly by the officials, as the Eagles were called for 16 fouls and the Coyotes 13. VanHollebeke fouled out with 5:52 left in the game, after knocking Nathan Roberts to the ground. VanHollebeke immediately helped him up and hustled off the floor.

"I've been playing them my whole life," Columbia-Burbank's Heath Lawrence said. "They play good, tough basketball. They don't mean anything."

Vanderbilt did not travel to the game and it is not known if he will play again this season. Connell coaches were told by school district officials not to speak to the media.

Earlier Friday, Yakima's Michael Christenson -- who made the video of the fouls and posted it to YouTube -- said by email that he sent the video to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Dec. 29. Christenson is the uncle of a Highland player.

Christenson emailed it to Cindy Adsit, the assistant executive director at the WIAA, which oversees all high school athletics and activities in the state.

Adsit told Christenson in an email to him on Jan. 2 that she would forward the video to the local officials' association and the Connell athletic director.

She couldn't be reached for comment.

Christenson did release a statement Friday, saying he hoped internet commentators would stop the personal attacks against the players.

"These young men are not the reason I made the video public. Did the players make some mistakes on the court? Yes. Do I feel there were several other people involved with this game that could have stepped in to avoid such dangerous fouls? Absolutely. They did not however, and that is the real issue here. Player safety was not a priority in this basketball game.

"I ask that people who view the video refrain from making any personal attacks against the players and their families, and not lose sight of the real issue here. I hope the WIAA will make changes that ensure player safety for all of our high school student-athletes in the future."

North Franklin School District Superintendent Gregg Taylor told the Herald on Thursday that he met with the team and the coaches and discussed the situation earlier this week. He is not anticipating doling out any further punishment.