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Mountain View’s Thunderdome nears its curtain call

Mountain View basketball alumni pay tribute to 40-year-old gym set to close this year with new campus opening

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
12 Photos
The ball is tipped off as Mountain View takes on Prairie during the first quarter of a basketball game at Mountain View High School on Friday, January 28, 2022. This is the final basketball season that will be played in the schools original gym.
The ball is tipped off as Mountain View takes on Prairie during the first quarter of a basketball game at Mountain View High School on Friday, January 28, 2022. This is the final basketball season that will be played in the schools original gym. (Roberto Rodriguez/ for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Mountain View High School gym represents four decades of Clark County prep basketball history and countless memories among the people who played there, some later coaching there too.

Those memories will live on, but the gym, known as the Thunderdome, will soon be closing its doors for good.

Following the passage of a 2018 bond measure in Evergreen Public Schools, a number of schools in the district, including Mountain View, were tabbed to be rebuilt. Mountain View will move into the new school, next door to its current site on Blairmont Drive, in September.

With the Thunderdome nearing its curtain call, Mountain View alumni and supporters gathered Friday at Main Event, organized by 2004 alumnus Mike Trinh, then attended the Mountain View-Prairie boys game. The Thunder pulled out a 65-64, down-to-the-wire win, stopping Prairie on its final possession as the clock expired.

The Mountain View girls team plans to organize something similar ahead of its last home game, scheduled for Feb. 8 against Kelso, the final one in the Thunderdome.

“It’s a big piece of Clark County basketball that’s going to have a new home, a new look and new memories,” said Mountain View boys basketball coach JC Alexander, a 2004 graduate. “But being able to honor the past to move into the future.”

Many of the mementos that give the Thunderdome its personality won’t be replicated in the new gym, such as the murals on the door entering the gym and the “Welcome to the Thunderdome” spanning the brick wall above the bleachers.

Other things will be moved over, like the neon thunderbolt sign that hangs in the corner, and of course, the many banners that provide a window into the programs’ histories.

Just five years after the school opened in 1981, the 1986 boys team led by Duke Wallenborn took third at the 3A state tournament, the program’s best finish to date. That led into the 1990s and 2000s with the likes of Carson Payne, Raivio brothers Derek, Nik and Matt, all of whom went on to play in college, and some professionally.

The girls program was much the same. In the late 80s, players like Staci Wallenborn, Kelli Keist and Sheri Stemple were among the standouts. The Thunder then finished a program-best second at the 1995 3A state tournament and took fourth the following season with a core group featuring Karrin Wilson, Angelina Wolvert, Stacy Brough and Briana Abrahamson.

Those decades are talked about as the heyday of Mountain View hoops. Those who grew up around it were eager to follow in players’ footsteps.

“My first memories of basketball were at Mountain View in that gym,” said Kristina Wilson, an assistant coach with the Thunder girls team and a 2006 Mountain View graduate. “Growing up, I couldn’t wait for high school, I couldn’t wait to play there because of what I’d seen with my sisters (Karrin and Erika) and their success.”

Others got an introduction to the Thunderdome later, but it left a similar impression on them.

Alexander, for example, grew up in Portland and attended Franklin High School for three years, then transferred to Mountain View as a senior, based on connections he developed with a number of Thunder players through summer camps and tournaments.

At that time, Mountain View vs. Evergreen was the matchup on the east side of town. Union didn’t open until 2007 and Heritage, which opened in 1999, was still in its infancy. The first time Alexander walked onto the Thunderdome floor with his teammates for one of those games was a “jaw-dropping” experience, he said.

“I opened up that door, looked out and I was like, ‘holy (expletive),’ ” Alexander said. I’m just looking around and it’s standing room only, they’ve got ropes off at angles so people are kind of tucked behind. Everybody is just trying to find a seat wherever you can. The second half of the JV games were the most packed JV games I’ve ever been to because people wanted to get there early.”

“I’ll tell you what, I don’t remember too many other gyms that packed in the crowds and the (student) fans that we had,” added Mike Cranston, Mountain View’s head boys coach from 1993 to 2010. “School spirit is always something I’ll remember about that building. Not only was it a fun venue, but the kids and the fans made us just so much more energetic and a fun place to play.”

In the mid-90s, the trajectory was similar for Payne, who grew up in Vancouver going to basketball camps at the Thunderdome, attended Jesuit (Ore.) High School then transferred to Mountain View for his senior season in 1995-96, a team that went on to place seventh at state.

“It was just this far-reaching gym when you’re in your pre-teens, and you finally get to that point where you’re playing on that court that you never thought you would see,” said Payne, who went on to play at Clark College and Central Washington. “To ultimately play there was pretty cool, kind of like fulfilling a destiny, so to speak.”

This ending to a chapter of Mountain View basketball is somewhat bittersweet to those previous generations, whose legacies are intertwined with that gym. Current Mountain View basketball coaches say there’s somewhat of a disconnect between them and the current generation, but continue to remind them of that history while looking toward the future.

“(I) just have them realize, ‘look, those banners up in the gym are old to you guys and there’s a level of detachment, but I personally can tell you I was there, I saw those games and it was a special time,” Kristina Wilson said. “Sharing that experience is definitely something I try to drive home with them.”

With the opening of their new digs, they also hope it marks the beginning of another basketball tradition, much like 40 years ago.

“Our sophomores and juniors get to open up the school next year, make a run and kind of (put) their stamp on the new gym,” Alexander said. “That’s exciting too. As much as it sucks to lose what we have, we get something new and get to start new legacies.”

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