There have always been arguments around the Tri-Cities about which high school had the best boys basketball team.
Was it the 1947 Pasco Bulldogs under Coach Vernon Moreman? Or could it be the 1958 Richland Bombers, coached by Art Dawald?
Maybe the 1972 version of Richland, under the direction of Frank Teverbaugh.
All three teams won state high school basketball championships those years.
“Some might even say the 1978 (Richland) team was the best, but it lost in the first round at state,” said Richland’s Kevin Linn, a 1981 Bombers graduate.
I say — and there are many who agree — that the 1979 Richland Bombers are still the best high school team to come out of this area.
Those Bombers — coached by Phil Neill — went 26-1, losing only their season opener to a Gonzaga Prep team led by a sophomore named John Stockton, and won the 1979 state AAA title by beating Pasco 72-59.
Yes, the one across the Columbia River. It’s the only time that two Tri-City high schools ever played each other in the state championship.
Now, anyone can see and listen for themselves thanks to Linn, a huge Bombers fan and a website developer by trade.
Linn and Dennis Soldat have put together a pretty incredible website of that championship season, called 1979bomberhoops.org.
Linn was the trainer for that 1979 Richland title team. And Soldat, a 1981 grad, was a starter on that ‘79 team as a sophomore, before he went on to play football at the University of Washington.
They have broken the season down from pre-season to post season and filled the site with newspaper stories, photos and programs.
But the real gems are the radio broadcasts.
It seems that Soldat’s father, Joe, would go to almost every game that season while Soldat’s mother, Mary, stayed home and recorded the broadcast on AM 960 KALE, as called by longtime Tri-Cities broadcaster Kirk Williamson.
Yes, Mary is the star of this website, for her recordings are beauties.
For some of us, it’s a reminder of how bad Richland kicked our butts. I played for Kamiakin that season.
And it’s still surreal hearing Williamson — whom I consider a friend nowadays — call my name as I throw a pass away to a Bomber.
It’s great work by Linn and Soldat, who provide Bombers fans, and really all fans of local high school basketball, a great stroll down memory lane of that incredible year.
Growing up a Bomber
“I used to stay at home in my bedroom, shooting Nerf basketball hoops, listening to the radio game,” said Linn. That’s how he fell in love with Richland Bombers basketball.
“My brothers went to Hanford,” Linn said. “They hated it that I went to Richland.”
He was going to be a sophomore at Richland when head football coach J.D. Covington asked him to be a football trainer. He went to summer training camp to get ready.
When basketball season rolled around, “I knew Coach Neill since I was in the fourth grade, and he asked me to be a trainer. My family didn’t travel very much back then, so I hadn’t been to very many basketball games. But I got to sit on the sidelines and watch these guys play. They passed the ball so well. That was a fun time.”
Linn started thinking about creating a Bombers football website in 2007 with then-Richland football coach Rick Redden.
“Redden had these stacks of papers with things like the roster for the 1912 football team,” said Linn, who got the website, bomber football.org, up and running, in 2011.
This newest site has been a labor of love.
“To put everything together, it’s probably taken us a couple years doing it off and on,” said Linn. “Dennis started thinking about the 40th anniversary of it coming up and how we should get it done.”
March 17 marks the anniversary of that Richland-Pasco title game.
Linn had to find a special converter that did cassette to digital. But the research was fun. And Linn forced his uncle in Yakima to take him to the public library there, where Linn spent three hours searching microfiche.
“We have created a USB drive that contains a copy of the website and all of the files and game audio as a small gift for each player, and we even have one for Kirk (Williamson),” said Linn.
Bombermania takes hold
I understand how Bombermania takes hold. My parents were both Richland High grads, I’ve met a lot of their former classmates, and I’ve had numerous friends from over the years who attended the school.
I still remember in the ‘70s — in a time where there was no internet, no cable TV, not many other entertainment options — that in order to get a seat in Art Dawald Gym for a Pasco-Richland game, you had to be there before the junior varsity game started.
So it’s easy to understand what that 1978-79 season meant to people. And it’s easy to get lost for a few hours going through the website.
On the homepage are a few sentences that really ring true.
“(Assistant) Coach (Jim) Castleberry told all of us in the locker room after the game that we would remember this moment our entire lives. He was right. Bombermania is alive and well. Enjoy.”
Now, with 1979bomberhoops.org, everyone can.