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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Martinez: Another banner year at WSD with national champion honors

High school sports

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: March 28, 2023, 7:36pm
7 Photos
Banners hang in the gymnasium at the Washington School for the Deaf on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Banners hang in the gymnasium at the Washington School for the Deaf on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Shauna Bilyeu, the superintendent of the Washington School for the Deaf, likes to say that Terriers is a perfect mascot for the school.

“Terriers are small but fierce,” Bilyeu said. “And that’s exactly what we are.”

The Terriers grew a bit in stature this past basketball season as the WSD boys basketball team was selected as the national basketball team of the year by the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association (NDIAA) after going 10-0 against other deaf schools from around the United States.

“We’re going to have to make room for another banner on these walls,” WSD athletic director Ron Spratlen said during a school pep assembly honoring the boys basketball team on Tuesday.

Even though the entire assembly was presented in American Sign Language, the event was an especially raucous and loud event.

At events at WSD, the cheer team and staff bang on drums so loudly that the reverberation can be felt.

“Teams in our league are used to it, and they say they love it,” Spratlen said of the banging of drums. “But teams coming in to play us for the first time are like ‘Whoa.’ ”

There was a lot to cheer about Tuesday. The NDIAA honored Spratlen for his 20 years of service as the athletic director and WSD, and it selected WSD’s James Forncrook as the national basketball coach of the year.

“That is a great accomplishment, even though I know you want to poo-poo it,” Spratlen said to Forncrook.

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As any good coach, Forncrook shared the honor with appreciation to Spratlen, the WSD staff, his assistant coach Randall Smith and, most of all, his players.

“This has been the team that has been one of my favorite all-time teams in my nine years here,” Forncrook said. “They’re so cooperative. They worked together as a team. And they’re like brothers, all of them. And they deserve this national championship.”

The Terriers were made up of eighth-graders Michael McCullough and Nathan Yerkes, freshman La’Juan Malone, sophomore Kadyn Carver, juniors Evan Stromberg, Julian Robinson, Lorenzo Fortunato, Kwabena White-Starr, Damien Dieckhoff, Tye Gonzalez, Jorge Barojas-Hernandez and senior Alexz Schaut.

The Terriers won two tournaments for deaf schools this season — the Roadrunner Classic hosted in December by the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe and the Western States Basketball Classic hosted in January by the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem.

Overall, the Terriers went 12-12 on the season, advancing to the Class 1B district playoffs.

“This team had an amazing year,” said assistant coach Randall Smith, who is a 2016 graduate of WSD. “They were just cohesive, they worked together, and they practiced well. They took this very seriously.”

And the commitment went beyond the basketball court.

“They took their schoolwork seriously,” Smith said. “So really, it’s because of them and their teachers that made this happen. They put their academic goals high as well as their basketball goals. They all improved their grades, so they deserve to be national champions.”

Forncrook added: “So we’re very proud of the boys and the work they put in. And I’m looking forward to next year because they will all be back, except for this one (Schaut).”

So there is a lot to be excited about at the Washington School for the Deaf, and all of the Terriers joined in on the celebration on Tuesday afternoon.

But Bilyeu wanted to make one thing clear. WSD’s Terrier mascot has a name — Tuffy, as is tough-y.

“People mix it up all the time, but it’s Tuffy, not Fluffy,” Bileyu stated — fiercely.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow his handle @360TMart on Twitter and Instagram.