Forty years ago, high school basketball reigned supreme in the Mid-Columbia, and there was no hotter ticket in town than the semiannual contests between Pasco and Richland — then Columbia — high schools.
Fans would camp out in front of the host school’s gymnasium all afternoon to ensure they could get a seat for that night’s game. And nothing beat the atmosphere of game night, especially at the smaller Pasco gym.
Of course (Richland) was our biggest rival. I was sitting in class, and seeing the people gather in, just to get in line to be at that game at night, to me that was special. That was big.
Don Vaughn, Pasco High School point guard, class of ‘77
“You knew it was serious when the Bombers came to town or we went to Richland, that’s probably one of the best games in the state back in the day,” said John Mitchell Jr., a 1977 Pasco grad. “I remember, after getting out of school, that I would get off work early enough to get inside the gym. My dad, working at Hanford — Hanford people were leaving work because Richland and Pasco were playing.
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“You better get there early, or else you’re not getting in.”
From 1970-79, Pasco and Richland combined to play in seven state title games — they played each other in ’79, with the Bombers winning their second title of the decade — and earn 12 state trophies.
Donald Bell and Don Vaughn, senior leaders on the 1977 Pasco team that took fourth in state, met at the high school Friday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their final season in the Purple and White — part of their 40th class reunion — and to discuss the program as a whole.
Bell, who still resides in Pasco, organized the meeting, and had a message for present and future Bulldogs.
“I hope to get some of these youngsters that are probably down on Pasco right now, but to get them to understand that real Bulldogs, when stuff gets tough, that’s when we start gettin’ going,” Bell said. “Don’t worry about what everybody else does, or thinks. You do your best, and if somebody else does better than you, I tip my cap to ‘em.
“That doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep working hard to catch up and get ‘em.”
Vaughn was the team’s star point guard, eventually going on to rather successfully challenge future University of Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar for playing time during his career at UW.
Despite playing four years in one of the top collegiate basketball conferences in the country — the Pac-8 became the Pac-10 before his sophomore season — some of Vaughn’s fondest memories on the hardwood come from his days playing for Pasco High.
“One thing I remember really well is when we had to play Richland,” he said. “Of course that was our biggest rival. I was sitting in class, and seeing the people gather in, just to get in line to be at that game at night, to me that was special. That was big.”
Vaughn was one of the first athletes from Pasco to eventually play at the Division I level, and was put on UW coach Marv Harshman’s radar by the suggestion of Michael Jackson, a linebacker on the Huskies football team who graduated from Pasco in 1975 and eventually enjoyed an eight-year career with the Seattle Seahawks. Vaughn was humble about his time spent playing for the Dawgs, but conceded it was a pleasure to represent Pasco while on his journey as a college player.
“It was cool because I was from a little town,” he said. “And I got to see huge quantities of great athletes. Some of those things guys (at UW) did was incredible. I never looked at myself as a great player, but I just knew I loved basketball, and that’s how I looked at it when I saw other people playing it well.”
The final game of Vaughn’s high school career was a special one, as Pasco took on Garfield in the fourth/seventh game in a battle of Bulldogs with purple pride on the line. Suiting up for Seattle super-power Garfield was Alvin Vaughn, Don’s younger brother who was a freshman at the time and also went on to play ball at UW.
“My dad is a minister, and he moved when I was a senior in high school to Seattle,” Vaughn said. “Alvin, being younger, had to move, but he let me stay to finish my schooling here.
“The game was really special because they were also Bulldogs, same color, same everything. And it was really nice to go up against my brother.”
What they were doing and how they were doing it, I was just a kid and I can remember it like it was yesterday.
Tim Sullivan, Pasco class of ‘85, on being inspired by Bulldogs basketball teams from the ‘70s.
Vaughn recalled playing well, but couldn’t remember exactly what he did in Pasco’s 77-74 victory at UW’s Hec Edmunson Pavilion to take fourth in the state, a sweet finish to a season that came on the heels of a one-point loss to Juanita in the ‘76 fourth/seventh game. The Bulldogs lost to Richland by two points in the regional championship — the Bombers went on to lose the state championship game — but beat Snohomish 76-69 in the consolation bracket semifinal to get to Garfield, further proving that the athletes from the small-town Pasco High School could more than hang with the lauded hoops stars from the west side of the state.
“It was nice to see that, from what we were seeing here locally, that we could compete against the guys from the other side of the mountains, with the Seattle schools,” said Tim Sullivan, Pasco class of 1985. “We can compete with the Garfields who have a tremendous number of athletes to choose from, and we don’t have that luxury.
“But we always wanted them to know, you’re gonna recognize us on the other side of the mountains. There’s more than one Bulldog in this state.”
While Vaughn grew up watching and being inspired by Pasco greats like Ron Howard — who played basketball at Seattle University and football for the Dallas Cowboys and Seahawks — play in pick-up games at Kurtzman Park, little did he know that he was setting the stage for the next wave of great players to come through Pasco.
Pasco closed out the 1970s by appearing in four straight state tournaments, placing every year but ‘78, and continued to make appearances throughout the ‘80s. Sullivan, who is now the school district’s director of human resources, was a star on the Bulldogs’ basketball team, and credits Vaughn and the other spectacular Bulldogs of the prior decade with inspiring him to challenge their records and accomplishments.
“To see them play like that — to me, it was nothing special that they were doing, they were just playing the way that they play every day,” Sullivan said. “It was just great to see them on the team representing our little city.
“Seeing them go to the district championships and state playoffs, it was just kind of expected. If you were going to try out and compete, you had to be on your ‘A’ game. ... What they were doing and how they were doing it, I was just a kid and I can remember it like it was yesterday.”