Glorious Wins, Heartbreaking Losses -- `You're Just Awed': State Tournament A Shining Moment For Players

Like a presidential candidate, Levi Fisher strides into the Tacoma Dome, shaking hands and waving to the crowd at the Class AA boys state basketball tournament.

Gov. Booth Gardner walks in and takes his seat at a table next to the court, creating less of a stir.

But the governor, an avid sports fan taking a break from legislative battles earlier this week, wasn't a high-school basketball star like Fisher. Balancing a budget is nothing like winning a state title.

For Fisher - who helped Garfield win two state championships in a row and came close to winning a third - competing in the state tournament was a shining moment in his life, as it was for thousands who have played, coached and watched the games.

The tournament, which ends today for boys and girls, is a time of glorious victories that winners cherish a lifetime. It is also a time of heartbreaking defeats that can haunt the losers forever.

"As a player, you're just awed by the whole experience," said Ron Patnoe, who played in the 1952 state tournament and returned as the coach of Fisher's record-setting Garfield teams a decade later.

Radio announcer, March 16, 1963: "Thirty-six seconds to go and Garfield has the ball and obviously going for the equalizer and hoping to go into overtime. All right, here is Levi Fisher set to pass in. And here is the dramatic final 36 seconds."

Patnoe vividly remembers those final 36 seconds of the last high school game he coached.

Garfield, which had a chance to tie Blanchet in the 1963 title game, missed a crucial shot and wound up losing 36-29. Garfield was expected to win, and Patnoe, whose bedroom wall in his Capitol Hill condominium is covered with team photos, still grieves over the game.

"It must have been my fault. I set up a couple of things that didn't work," Patnoe said. "Oh God, it haunts me. But those Blanchet guys deserved to win as much as we did. They did a tremendous job."

Patnoe is fiercely proud of his former players and their tournament performance.

Some of his strongest memories, however, aren't of winning or losing, but of the bond he felt with his players, and of meeting and competing with teams from across the state. And the tournament can bring them together in front of the largest, loudest crowds most have ever played before.

Patnoe has on tape the radio broadcast of the game. After Blanchet snapped the Bulldogs' string of 13 consecutive victories in tournament games - a record that still stands - the radio announcers didn't say a word for 53 seconds as the roar of the Blanchet fans drowned them out.

Radio announcer, March 16, 1963: "(Willie) Campbell drives by his man. The layup is no good! It sticks between the rim and the backboard. He needed about one inch. One inch more and he would have tied it. Garfield had its chance. (Tom) Workman did a fine job defensing Campbell."

For every Garfield, a perennial tournament power, there is a Moses Lake, which this week made its first state appearance in 34 years and was eliminated after three games.

But just the trip to the big city can be a thrill for a team from a small town or even a big suburban school, such as Inglemoor, east of Seattle, which this year made its first tournament appearance, bringing along a boisterous crowd.

Norm Carnovale, who was the coach of the 1958 Moses Lake team, remembers his trip to Seattle as a dream that turned into a nightmare.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime team," he said. "A lot of people picked us to win it all."

But then his star player, Kay Lybbert, sliced open his hand playing with a knife after the first game and couldn't play for the rest of the tournament.

"Our kids were devastated, they relied on him so much," Carnovale said. "I wanted to go slit my throat."

Yet they managed to finish fourth, and the residents of Moses Lake treated them like returning war heroes with a parade and banquet.

"The town went bonkers," Carnovale said. "Thirty-four years later, people still talk about it."

Radio announcer, March 16, 1963: "Garfield trails Blanchet by four and it looks good for Blan-chet."

Far above the student section

in the Tacoma Dome sit Margaret Hunter, Garfield High Class of '56, and her sister-in-law, Alice Hunter, Class of '55.

"That's not a foul! He got all ball!" Margaret Hunter yells at the referees, to no avail.

The two women are avid Bulldog fans, caring as much as the screaming teenagers filling the stands below them. Margaret Hunter remembers well the 1963 loss to Blanchet, but she remembers better the night when her brother Jim Hunter scored 31 points to lead Garfield over Ballard in the 1961 title game, 58-51.

Jim Hunter, who died several years ago in a car crash, just couldn't miss, Patnoe said, calling it one of the best big-game performances he had ever seen.

But that's ancient history to the young players on the court. Garfield's opponents this year don't seem intimidated by tradition.

Garfield barely beat Grandview High from near Yakima in the first game, lost to defending AA champs Mount Vernon on Thursday and edged Gig Harbor yesterday.

Grandview star Chad Stenberg said they were told by their coach before Wednesday's game of Garfield's 10 state titles.

"I didn't even think about it," Stenberg said after the game in which Grandview nearly upset the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 in the state.

But Garfield star Willie Stewart was thinking about it.

"Our crowd has a lot of expectations," Stewart said. "A lot of people doubted us."

After all, even a school with a great winning record like Garfield has lost games it was expected to win. That's part of the tournament tradition.

That doesn't make it any easier to take, though.

Fisher, 46, a program specialist for a division of the federal Health and Human Services Department, said he felt sick for a long time after the Blanchet game.

"I don't think I wanted to win anything as bad as that one," he said, explaining that his goal was to win three titles in three years.

"It hadn't been done before. It hasn't been done yet."

Radio announcer, March 16, 1963: "That's it! The Blanchet team is going hog wild! The Garfield Bulldogs look a little dejected. A heartbreaker for Garfield."