The Richland boys basketball team has been built on almost a century of tradition.
But the day-to-day operations of a successful team don’t rely on the three state championship banners hanging from the rafters or the dozens of shiny trophies sparkling in the foyer at Art Dawald Gymnasium. And they won’t wait for someone to delegate all the responsibilities for the Bombers’ latest trip to Tacoma for the 4A state tournament.
“(Assistant coach) BJ (Sorenson) has been really helpful. He said, ‘Just make a list for me,’ ” Richland coach Earl Streufert said. “I said, ‘I’m not making another list. You just make sure we have everything we need to play a game, and I’ll make sure you have everything (the players) need, like hotels and food.’ ”
Every day is a building block toward the Bombers’ ultimate goal of another state title.
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Right now, they’re are as close as they’ve been to that goal since 1998, when they won their first round 4A state matchup against Gig Harbor. At 12:15 p.m. today, Richland will take on Arlington in the 4A quarterfinals at the Tacoma Dome. Streufert puts a lot on his shoulders, for sure, but he will be the first to tell you he can’t do it himself.
It was always Mason Baird’s dream to wear the Bombers’ uniform, including the trademark pinstriped pants dating back to the Frank Teverbaugh days.
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to wear the green and gold. That’s what pushes me so hard each day,” the 5-foot-9 guard said. “You know you’re putting on something very special. It’s important to live up to that tradition.”
After nearly four seasons in the program, Baird couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team. The senior reserve guard knew Richland would be a team to beat, but he and fellow seniors Levi Broeske, Mason Hilty and Spencer Wheeler took nothing for granted this year.
“Obviously, with certain guys you know you have the capability to win, but the season rolls on with injuries and you never know how it’s going to go in the end,” Baird said.
While the quartet of seniors doesn’t put a lot of points up on the board — they average about 13 points a game, collectively — they have given the team its backbone, something it depends on every single day for strength and stability.
“The seniors kind of dictate the culture of the program, and these guys have given our club a personality,” Streufert said. “Over the years, each senior class has given those younger guys something to look up to. They just do things the right way.”
Broeske said every player wants to play every minute, but they all have a chance to be a hero in practice every single day.“I can promise that no one practices harder than we do,” Broeske said. “We’re all so competitive with each other. It’s (about) so much more than just getting into a game.”
Sorenson is one of several assistants Streufert depends on — along with Nate Gray, Kevin Norris, Ryan Oakes and Danny Taasevigen — to keep the Richland program running smoothly, from the daily practices to the summer camps to studying hours upon hours of film for scouting reports.
But Sorenson, a school psychologist at Richland High School, doesn’t think about the 80-plus hour weeks he puts in between school and basketball. He’s looking forward to building more memories for the players.
“I can remember finishing my career at the Tacoma Dome. Getting a chance for some of these kids to do that is fantastic,” said Sorenson, a 1995 Mark Morris graduate. “These kids put in so much time. Most people don’t see it or understand. They do summer leagues and team camps and then go home and practice on their own in the dark. They’ve worked their entire career for this opportunity. I’m very proud of all their efforts.”
The program assistants
While the coaches are paying attention to the game, someone has to keep track of who’s scoring points and grabbing rebounds. For that, Streufert hands the computer over to a dedicated team of program assistants — Bombers seniors Lauren Bell, Tracey Beo and Jackie Gates.
“We don’t call them managers because they don’t sweep the floor and they don’t do laundry,” Streufert said. “They make sure the stats are taken care of, they run the clock during practice and make sure all the gear is accounted for. They’re always doing something.
“I don’t know how many hours they’ve spent in here, but they’re at every practice. We’re really lucky to have them.”
There’s definitely a learning curve to keeping accurate stats, but Bell has gotten good enough that she’s considering a sports information job in college. But she’s had to learn a few hard lessons along the way.
“I lost the computer once. Actually, I just left in on the bus,” Bell said. “But now it doesn’t leave my side at any point. Nobody else can carry it. Nobody else can touch it. It’s mine.”
Streufert wouldn’t have it any other way.
At first, Streufert would turn down the volume during team video sessions for fear that the running commentary from Dave Weikum would affect their self-confidence.
Now, his players demand to hear it.
“He is a true fan. When he videotapes, he’s always got the Horizon Air play of the game, or ‘slice and dice.’ Or ‘Holy Samolis,’ ” Streufert said.
“Holy Cats,” Hilty said, adding another favorite phrase before draining a free throw during Tuesday’s practice.
“Even if we’re bad, you’ll hear, ‘What are you doing out there? Throw the ball to the guys in the white shirts,’ ” Streufert said. “It is without a doubt a piece of the tapestry.”
Perhaps the biggest part of the Richland Bombers’ ongoing legacy is the fans, which have faithfully attended games since before most can even remember.
Even when attendance took a hit in the video game age, fans still flocked to Art Dawald Gymnasium. Streufert, for one, thinks they always will.
“Gonzaga Prep came down in 2005, and the place was packed,” Streufert said. “(Prep coach) Mike Haugen came up to me after the game and said, ‘You know, if we don’t come down here, our kids will never experience high school basketball like it is at Richland High. They’ll never play in an atmosphere like this.’
“That’s really true. It’s a special place to play.”
Streufert, a former standout guard at Walla Walla in the early 1980s, knows first hand what it’s like to play against the Bombers at Art Dawald Gym, but he says it’s a privelege to be a part of the long reach of the school’s history.
“Last week in Wenatchee (after Richland’s regional win over Stadium), I shook hands with more 75-80-year-old people wearing old Bomber hats and jackets than anybody,” he said. “There will be fan bases bigger than ours (in Tacoma) because they’re local, but a lot of people will sacrifice vacation time and make the effort to get over the pass just to support the green and gold.
“And they don’t even have kids playing.”
So next time you watch Richland play, you won’t just be watching five players spending 32 minutes on a hardwood floor. You’ll be watching the end result of thousands of hours of preparation by a family of coaches and teachers, fans and friends, parents and students who came together to make it all happen.
“That’s what makes it a program instead of just a team,” Streufert said. “Everybody’s got a role. They know their role and do their job with a smile on their face.
“If it’s going to help us win, they’re on it.”