After notching a big Northwest Conference victory and taking a big step closer to qualifying for the district tournament, what were the seniors on the Ferndale boys basketball team worried about?
Being sent back to grade school.
That’s right. They were making plans to go to Eagleridge Elementary and speak to the youngsters about studying, keeping up their grades and dealing with adversity, something this group of Golden Eagles knows all about.
“I’ve been coaching 30 years, and I’ve never had a group like this,” said Ferndale coach Jason Owens. “They have a different agenda: They are preparing for life.”
On Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles used their scrambling zone defense to wear down the visiting Blaine Borderites, pulling away from a two-point halftime lead to win, 60-40. Ferndale (3-3 in NWC play, 8-5 overall) got 15 points from Sequoyah Julius, 13 from Larson Fairbairn and 10 from Jazen Guillory.
Blaine (1-5 in NWC and 6-7 overall) was led by the 12 points of Adam Vega and eight of Hudson Reid.
“They’re really young and improving,” said Owens of the Borderites, who start two sophomores. He also complimented the job of Blaine coach and friend Brett Farrar, who was a coaching colleague with Owens for four years.
To follow the Ferndale boys team, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FerndaleWAhoops. And catch all the Northwest Conference scores and the updated standings at nwcathletics.com.
The win puts the Golden Eagles closer to their goal of finishing in the top six in league and having a winning record. In fact, with another late-season winning streak like they pulled off last season, they could improve on last year’s 11-win record and make some noise in the Class 3A Northwest District tournament.
“Last year was our best year in 12 years,” said senior Stewart Freeman. “We want to see how far we can go this year. We know what we are capable of.”
What make the Golden Eagles dangerous are the intangibles that come from their nine seniors — starters Julius, Fairbairn, Freeman, Sean Le and Watiko Leighton, and substitutes Patrick Bello, Daniel Stewart, Gader Fox and Brady Morrison, all of whom saw plenty of playing time Tuesday.
* They are experienced, more than half having played together since grade school.
“We know each other really well,” said Freeman. “And you can tell it on the court. We have a real chemistry.”
* They are smart, with many taking advanced classes and almost all planning to go to college. In fact, one of them, Le, is already attending Whatcom Community College and plans to graduate this year.
“We want to be known as student-athletes, not athletic students,” said Fairbairn.
* And they get along.
“Our motto is family,” said Owens. “They study together, and hang out together. After a two-hour practice, they want to go play rat ball together.”
Of course, many teams — especially those with seniors who have grown up together — feel like a family. But maybe what sets this Ferndale family apart is that they truly are a “Ferndale” family.
They come from different backgrounds and are as diverse a team as Owens has ever had with four Native Americans and an Asian, all of which embodies the rich cultural heritage of Ferndale itself.
Yet what may be most unique about these young men is not their athletic talent, their grade point averages or even their diverse makeup. It is their willingness to give back to their community.
In addition to speaking at assemblies at the Ferndale elementary schools (not to mention getting to play basketball with the kids), the squad also does what Owens calls servanthood projects. One of the most recent was to help take down the Christmas lights around the city.
“For them it’s more than just us, just the school,” said Owens, marveling at the character of the entire team, not just the nine seniors. “They represent not only their team but their community and their families.”
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.