With the shadow of COVID finally lifted, the 2022-23 basketball season tips off with some changes that have nothing to do with restrictions, cancellations, or masks.
There will be new facilities, new playoff formats, and new coaches, but some of the biggest changes will occur because of an old problem: the lack of officials.
The most obvious consequence for teams and fans involves scheduling. This season, schools will be forced to play most of their boys and girls games on the same night against the same opponent but with each school hosting a game.
For example, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, the Bellingham boys are at Blaine and the Blaine girls are at Bellingham.
There are a few exceptions, including several boy-girl doubleheaders played at the same gym on the same day. While this is the norm for Lummi Nation because the Blackhawks are farther away from their 1B rivals, it is unusual for the Northwest Conference (NWC) schools.
Here’s a quick look at some of the changes you’ll see when the season starts on Monday, Nov. 28:
Schools to emphasize sportsmanship, honor officials
The WIAA, which governs high school sports in our state, and local leagues have been trying to address the shortage of officials by putting more emphasis on recruiting officials and by offering better wages.
But the NWC wanted to deal with one of the biggest causes of the shortage, which is the way officials are treated especially by fans.
Administrators will be promoting good sportsmanship by both teams and fans as a way of raising expectations of good behavior at games. This, of course, is for all sports although basketball — because of the close proximity of fans and officials — has one of the worst reputations.
While bad behavior has been rare in Whatcom County circles, the NWC schools are taking it a step further and honoring officials. Each school will pick a week during the season to show support through a variety of ways, including writing personal notes of encouragement and reading something during games.
“We have to change our perspective,” Lynden Athletic Director Mike McKee said. “We have to show grace. Just because you buy a ticket doesn’t give you carte blanche to say whatever you want.”
As all our administrators and coaches know, without officials there are no games. So kudos to the NWC for taking a stand, “thank you” to the men and women officials who give their time and energy to support our students and athletic programs, and let’s all show good sportsmanship this season.
Ferndale unveils new gymnasium
The Eagles Nest will have a new look this season as the Ferndale boys and girls teams will be playing in a brand-new facility as part of their school remodel.
The new gym will hold 1,600 fans or about 400 more than the old gym. It will feature a video scoreboard similar to the one at Sehome and two large digital scoreboards on each side of the main court. There also will be two smaller gyms as part of the facility.
The Ferndale girls will have the first basketball game in the new gym on Dec. 6 when the Golden Eagles host Lakewood. The Ferndale boys’ first home game is not until Dec. 10 against Marysville-Getchell.
However, the boys game against Meridian on Dec. 12 will be part of an open house for the community to see and celebrate the new school.
Class 1A playoffs have new format
Although nothing ever seems set in concrete when it comes to postseason formats, it appears that most of our playoffs will be back to “normal.” The exception is the Class 1A setup, which will be slightly different.
Instead of last year’s complicated “district” tournament, which only involves our five Northwest Conference 1A schools, there will be a play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds to get into a four-team, modified double-elimination tournament.
The semifinal winners will play for the district’s top seed, the losers will play an elimination game with the winner of that contest facing the loser of the district championship game. OK, it’s only slightly less complicated.
The bad news is that once again only two teams can advance and even then those two need to win loser-out crossover games with District 2 teams to qualify for state. It’s not fair, but that’s a cause for another rant come playoff time.
As for the other classifications:
Ferndale, our only Class 3A school, will again have to deal with the District 1 RPI rating system and compete with Mount Vernon and Oak Harbor for two spots in the district tournament with the Western Conference schools.
Our Class 2A teams will again battle it out with the WesCo 2A squads for three state berths.
And Lummi Nation, our only Class 1B school, will first look to get through the Northwest 1B League tournament, which serves as the District 1 tourney, and then survive the Tri-District 1-2-3 tournament with the top teams qualifying for state.
New coaches with lots of local ties
Six of our 22 boys and girls teams will have new head coaches when the season begins. Some of them have familiar names and most have ties to Whatcom County basketball.
The biggest name is new Sehome boys coach Brad Jackson, whose 27-year coaching career at Western Washington University culminated with the Vikings winning the 2012 NCAA Division II men’s basketball national championship.
Another coach with a championship trophy is Sehome girls coach Kim Stensgar, who as Kim Preston led Mount Baker to the Class 1A state championship in 2017.
Two Western graduates — Gracie (Castaneda) Phelps and Tony Clark — will guide the Blaine girls and Mount Baker boys, respectively. Phelps, who just got married, was a member of last season’s WWU women’s squad that reached the NCAA Division II national championship game.
Jenalyn Brown and Nate Sullivan, who will take over the Squalicum girls and Blaine boys programs, respectively, are the other new coaches. Brown comes from the other Washington — the D.C. one — by way of Tacoma, and Sullivan was a long-time assistant at Anacortes.
Check out the story on our new coaches: New Coaches.
Check out the photos below of the new coaches and their teams at practice.
Week 1 preview: top games, schedules
Every Sunday, Whatcom Hoops will come out with boys and girls recaps of the previous week that include top games, top individual performances, a summary of every team’s games, and a preview of the upcoming week.
Later this week, Whatcom Hoops will have preseason summaries of all 22 of our teams. But until then, here’s what we have for Week 1:
There are some good non-league matchups including Arlington at Sehome on Thursday and King’s at Blaine on Friday and King’s at Lynden Christian on Saturday. (Note: Nooksack Valley, Mount Baker, and Lynden have canceled their first week’s games due to their football teams’ extended seasons.)
Tuesday, Nov. 29: Lynden Christian at Stadium, Friday Harbor at Meridian, Mariner at Sehome
Wednesday, Nov. 30: Bellingham at Mount Baker
Thursday, Dec. 1: Ferndale at Cascade (Everett), Arlington at Sehome, Cedarcrest at Squalicum, Muckleshoot Tribal at Lummi Nation
Friday, Dec. 2: King’s at Blaine, Mount Baker at South Whidbey
Saturday, Dec. 3: Bellingham at Granite Falls, Bear Creek at Blaine, Kingston at Squalicum, King’s at Lynden Christian
Nooksack Valley and Lynden Christian, the top two Class 1A teams last season, continue their tradition of challenging non-league schedules with their season openers. On Monday, the Pioneers host Archbishop Murphy, which placed fourth at the 2A state tournament last year, and on Wednesday, the Lyncs travel to Snohomish, which took fourth at the 3A state tourney.
Monday, Nov. 28: Archbishop Murphy at Nooksack Valley, Squalicum at La Conner
Tuesday, Nov. 29: Mount Baker at Bellingham, Meadowdale at Lynden
Wednesday, Nov. 30: Lynden Christian at Snohomish, Meridian at Renton, Mountlake Terrace at Sehome, Lake Stevens at Squalicum
Thursday, Dec. 1: Bellingham at Marysville-Pilchuck, Lynden at Cedar Park Christian (Bothell), Muckleshoot Tribal at Lummi Nation
Friday, Dec. 2: Sehome at Edmonds-Woodway
Saturday, Dec. 3: Bellingham at Friday Harbor, Nooksack Valley at Montesano, Squalicum at Kingston
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.