How do you close a fabled gymnasium? You have two long-time rivals join together to put on a grand finale that brings a whole town to its feet.
That’s what Sehome and Bellingham high schools did Saturday, Dec. 15, when they brought the final curtain down on the Mariners’ 51-year-old gym.
The home of 26 state championship teams and countless great athletes, squads, school assemblies and athletic events is being torn down to make parking for the just-completed high school. The Mariners will move into their new facility in January.
“We’re excited for the new facility,” said Sehome Athletic Director Colin Cushman. “There’s lots of nostalgia (with the old gym), but the new one will have its own traditions.”
But Saturday was not about looking to the future so much as it was celebrating the past and enjoying the present. The evening had it all as the two schools held another of their annual “Bellinghome” events before a packed crowd of nearly 1,600.
“There’s a lot of tradition here,” said Sehome boys basketball coach Skyler Gillispie, who as a first-year coach is just learning about that tradition. “We wanted to honor that. This is awesome.”
The main attraction was the varsity basketball doubleheader and, as expected among these two great rivals, both contests came down to the final seconds with the Sehome boys prevailing, 54-53, and the Bellingham girls winning, 54-51.
But while the basketball games may have been the highlight, there was much more to excite the fans:
* Sehome honored longtime coaches and educators from the past by having them sit in the “VIP section” and recognizing them by name.
“This is only my third time back … and it’s great to be back, to see the players and all the people,” said Pat Fitterer, who coached Sehome boys basketball for 13 years. His 1996 state championship squad went 30-0 and is often recognized as the greatest boys team in Washington state history.
“They can tear down the gym. But the memories will never be gone.”
* The Sehome and Bellingham cheer squads and drum lines “competed” with each other by putting on half-time shows and the student bodies each got the crowd going with creative skits. (And you haven’t seen a drum show until you’ve seen a drummer play while being held upside down.)
* And the dance squads from the two schools demonstrated the sportsmanship theme of Bellinghome by declining to compete against each other and instead joining together to do a number that brought cheers from both sides of the gym.
The cheer squads weren’t only ones who got together in the Sehome gym. Red Raiders boys coach and Bellingham alum Brad McKay met his wife, Kristy, a Sehome alum, at a post-game party in the gym when they were in high school.
“The whole Bellingham-Sehome rivalry is different for kids now because there are three (Bellingham) schools,” said McKay of the addition of Squalicum High in 1998. “But it’s still in our blood. And there’s a lot of nostalgia in this old gym.”
In the end, it was only appropriate that amid all the flag-waving, the “we’ve got spirit, how about you?” and the fierce competition between two evenly matched schools, the end of an era for not only a school but for a whole city was filled with smiles, hugs, and cheers.“It’s really not about the building,” said Craig Snyder, who has been directing the Sehome band in the gym since 1983. “It’s the people. And Sehome always was a special place with special people.”
And Saturday was a special way to end an era.
Sehome’s state championship teams in the gym
Girls gymnastics (24): 1973-85, 1987-93, 1996, 1998-2000
Boys basketball (1): 1996
Girls basketball (1): 1983
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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.