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The East Valley girls basketball team wear “Play for Sather” T-shirts at the recent State 2A tournament in memory of Collin Sather, a West Valley graduate and athlete who died of renal failure in February. In the rear row, from left, are Ellie Stowell, Mataya Green, Brie Holecek, Genesis Wilkinson, Faith Adams, Emma Glore and Anna Syverson; and front, from left, are Anthony Pittman, Destiny Hillyard, Holly Flynn, Hannah Rowland and Ellie Syverson. (Rob Collins / Courtesy photo)

Steve Christilaw: High school rivalries breed serious respect, friendship

I grew up in small-town Eastern Washington.

Depending on which stop along the way, I could have grown into being a Quincy Jackrabbit, a Chelan Goat or an Ephrata Tiger.

In fact, I started high school as a black-and-orange Tiger before we moved to the big city and I became an orange-and-black Eagle at West Valley.

When you bounce around like that, you have to keep familiarizing yourself on the appropriate rivalries. In Quincy, the big rival is just up the road in Ephrata. And vice versa. In Chelan? Hey, if your high school is in a resort town, who has time for a rivalry (OK, it was Manson, but who’s counting).

Spokane was rich in rivalries that occasionally got shuffled as teams shifted from league to league and new schools popped up.

The days of the Border League and the City League morphed into the Frontier League and then the Greater Spokane League, and then the Great Northern League picked up the pieces of the old Frontier League.

But the rivalries stuck, for the most part. They would go dormant when schools switched leagues, but they never went away. Stinky Sneakers and Groovy Shoes don’t go away. Neither do Golden Thrones and Rubber Chickens.

Valley schools have some of the most intense rivalries you can find in the area. Central Valley-University and East Valley-West Valley. Freeman has its own rivalry with Lakeside.

But the same is true across the Greater Spokane area with schools large and small.

We take our rivalries seriously, and more important, we take them where we find them.

No matter who your natural rival may be, every football program takes on an extra buzz the week they play Gonzaga Prep. And while the rivalry games may be with University and Ferris, respectively, Central Valley and Lewis and Clark have played some of the best girls basketball games of every season going back many, many years.

There’s an electricity in the air for these games. Fans sit forward in their seats, just waiting for the game to come.

On the field, on the court or on the mat, there’s a little extra adrenaline running through the athletes, and there is nothing more pleasing than being able to knock your rival on his or her butt.

We take these games seriously. No quarter asked for and none given. Take your very best shot.

This is one of the things about growing up in Spokane and Spokane Valley that I truly love: The rivalry ends when the whistle blows and the buzzer sounds.

Those aren’t strangers across the field. In a lot of cases, they are neighbors who simply live across some imaginary line. They’ve played together as often as they’ve played against one another. They are friends. They are teammates on travel teams and in club programs.

My favorite part of these rivalry games are the handshakes after.

But here’s the thing that puts a small catch in my throat.

Our rivalries are fierce. And our friendship afterward is just as fierce.

We will do our level best to knock you on your backside in the game, but the rest of the time we totally have your back.

That’s the thing about Spokane, and more personally Spokane Valley, that I truly love most.

I will never forget the way the girls soccer team from Rogers arrived at University for the first game after the Titans lost two players to an automobile accident. They brought balloons and flowers and, more important, empathy. They played a spirited game, and then they shared tears and hugs. It was cathartic.

Central Valley’s 2018 girls basketball season was dedicated to coach Freddie Rehkow’s son, Cameron, who was in a pitched battle with leukemia. The girls had special handshakes just for Cam, and they loved it when he would sit on their bench.

University picked up the cause, renaming their rivalry game at CV the “Cam Jam,” selling special T-Shirts to raise more than $3,000 to help with medical bills.

West Valley saw similar acts of support and compassion while football player and wrestler Jace Malek waged a battle with cancer. You still see “Malek Strong” T-shirts at WV events, just as you still see “Freeman Strong” bumper stickers after the entire region rallied to support the Scotties in the wake of a tragic school shooting.

Last week saw the latest example.

East Valley showed up at the State Class 2A girls basketball tournament ready to play a loser-out first-round game at the Sun Dome in Yakima wearing a special warm-up T-shirt.

A day after Collin Sather, a 2018 West Valley graduate and former football, basketball and track athlete, died after a brief battle with renal cancer, the Knights wore T-shirts that read “Play for Sather.”

When you look at them on their face, these have been some incredible acts of sportsmanship.

And at the same time, they are fairly ordinary acts of friendship.

That’s who we are.

Yes, we are fierce rivals. And we take our friendships the same way, fiercely.

We have your back, neighbor. Always will.