Dayton boys basketball comes full circle

By Craig Craker, Tri-City Herald March 1, 2012 

DAYTON -- Greg Fullerton and Dean Bickelhaupt of Dayton remember the 1995 Class B boys basketball championship game like it was yesterday.

A packed Spokane Arena, filled with screaming fans, watching the Bulldogs win their only boys basketball title.

On the court, Will Hutchens was dominating Toutle Lake, pouring in 27 points and 11 rebounds in the arena he called the High Temple of B Basketball.

And through it all, Fullerton's 9-month-old son slept on a pillow underneath his father's seat and Bickelhaupt's 9-month old boy bounced on his knee.

Seventeen years later, their sons, seniors Hayden Fullerton and Colton Bickelhaupt, get to relive the dream of playing in the state tournament.

Dayton (23-1 overall) again will face Toutle Lake (20-4) at 5:30 p.m. today, playing at the state tournament for the first time since 1995.

Colton has seen the film of the '95 game and one thing has stuck with him.

"Just how hard they played and how much passion they played with," he said. "That is just what we try to play with also."

When the team found out Sunday that it would face Toutle Lake, the news was met with more than a few chuckles.

The players certainly know the history, as the stars of the '95 team are still connected with their community.

Hutchens, who later played at Washington State University, lives in Portland now, but he regularly visits Dayton as his parents and brother, Clay -- who was also on the team -- live there.

"Clay gave us a speech at a pep rally that was pretty good," Hayden said. "He gave us a lot to think about and a lot of advice. I guess it hasn't really hit me yet. I guess it'll hit when we're getting ready to warm up."

While today's game won't be in the old Spokane Arena, the players still are chasing the same dream of winning a state title that Will Hutchens chased down 17 years ago.

"That was one of the best experiences of my life," Hutchens said. "When we were kids growing up, I dreamed about going to state every year. Dayton hadn't gone to state since my dad was in school (1967) and there was almost a burden on if the Dayton boys could make it back to state.

"We finally did, and had some great success."

The rarity of the trip is something that the present-day Bulldogs can understand.

In 2011, Dayton lost the District 9 championship game to Waitsburg-Prescott, then lost to Asotin the next night.

From that crushing defeat, though, coach Roy Ramirez (a 1985 Dayton High graduate), and 11 players have built up a dominating year, losing only once and heading to Spokane as one of the favorites to win it all.

"We have a lot of kids who have played together a long time," said Greg Fullerton, who works for the Dayton Public Works Department. "They've traveled from Missoula, Mont., to Ocean Shores and everywhere in between. They've darn sure put their time in. They deserve it."

Of the six seniors on the team, four of them have lived their entire lives in Dayton, population 2,535, and the other two moved in during grade school.

"If you look at those kids that are here," Ramirez said. "Other than Kroft (Sunderland) and Joey (Schlacht), all their parents are from Dayton. They graduated from Dayton. They have roots here. Their folks grew up here.

"Any way you look at it, it is special the kind of year we've had. And the kind of kids we have. Not just those six seniors, but the 11 on the roster. They are really good kids."

Garrett Turner and Jacob McCleary are the other two seniors on the team.

While Ramirez is focusing on how to win today's game and advance in the tournament, Hutchens had some advice for the present-day Bulldogs.

"Enjoy the moment together as it is happening," he said. "Sometimes we don't always do that. We are so focused on just the competition, that we don't step back and take in the magnitude of it. Walking around the arena and taking in the environment, watching the game from different parts of the gym. It is not something that happens every year, obviously.

"So, just make sure to enjoy the experience for what it is."

Hutchens should know, after all, as he went on to play basketball in the Pac-10 and is widely considered the best to ever play for Dayton.

The 35-year-old is married with two kids and works for a Portland company called PCS Press. In his free time, he writes a blog about coffee and art.

But he still thinks about that March day when he was on top of the world, and he has some parting advice for this year's team:

"If you are going to make it there, you might as well win the thing."

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