Considering what both communities have been through the past month, the non-league boys basketball game between host Lummi Nation and Nooksack Valley on Tuesday night, Dec. 7, was a win-win situation for both schools.
The visiting Pioneers came out on the winning end of the score, 64-53, but having seen their families, friends, neighbors, and schools affected by the recent destructive floods, both teams were glad to be doing something positive on the court.
“It’s been tough, but we’ve grown as a community,” said Nooksack Valley’s only senior, Dawson Kimball, of the amazing support for Everson, Sumas and Nooksack. “We’ve tried to help if people needed help. It just feels good to be out there with the guys. And it was good to come off a loss.”
After having school, team practices and even games regularly canceled the past four weeks, the Pioneers finally opened their season Monday night with a 73-35 loss to Ferndale.
“We were just happy to be in the gym,” said Nooksack Valley coach Rich Skillman. “We wanted to have some sense of normalcy that we’ve been missing.”
But while sports are important, both Kimball and Skillman kept it all in perspective.
“Basketball is important, but it’s not the end,” said Skillman. “For some kids (at Nooksack Valley), they’ve lost everything. Dawson was out there helping every day (with the recovery). And he wasn’t the only one.”
While Lummi Nation was not hit as hard by the flooding, the community was often isolated because of closed roads, forcing the closing of school. In addition, the Blackhawks will play an abbreviated schedule because several schools in the Northwest 1B Conference are unable to field teams.
So Tuesday’s game was the first of the season for Lummi Nation.
“We were just breaking off the rust,” said senior post Tyran Lane. “(Tuesday’s game) was a learning lesson. We’ll shake it off and bounce back. We want to get back to the playoffs.”
For Lummi Nation coach Jerome Toby, there was no shame in losing to Class 1A Nooksack Valley, a school two classifications larger.
“That’s why we schedule these games,” said Toby, whose squads have been regular participants to the Class 1B state tournament. “They show us what we might see in the postseason. We had some first-game jitters, but the boys fought hard, and as the season goes along, we’ll learn and get better.”
While Nooksack Valley led the whole way, the Blackhawks kept close thanks to their two seniors. Despite foul trouble, Lane had a game-high 20 points and guard Duncan Toby added 11 points, including a steal and layup at the halftime buzzer to bring Lummi Nation within two. That would be as close as the Blackhawks would get.
The Pioneers’ balanced attack and its bigger and deeper lineup took command with an 8-1 run to start the second half and never let the Blackhawks get closer than five the rest of the way.
Junior Bennett DeLange and sophomore Joey Brown had 12 points each to lead Nooksack Valley, and junior Ayden Roper added 9 points on a trio of 3-pointers.
The Pioneers’ next game is at home on Wednesday, Dec. 8, in a makeup game with Bear Creek. Lummi Nation is off until it starts conference play at Lopez Island on Monday, Dec. 13.
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.