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Friday, January 22, 2021

Storied history drive Whatcom county’s biggest rivalries

Lynden-Lynden Christian, Western-Central highlight biggest rivalries in Whatcom County

The crowd was packed before last year’s Lynden-Lynden Christian girls basketball matchup Photo: Brian Roper

By Jordan Stone

Fans putting cow manure under the opposing team’s bench; fish guts under the bench the following year as retaliation; throwing toilet paper on the court after a game.

Those are just some of the shenanigans that make the rivalries for Bellingham and Whatcom county’s teams continue year after year.

There are several big high school rivalries in Whatcom county, alongside Western Washington University’s rivalry with Central Washington University, said Jim Carberry, longtime Bellingham Herald sports writer. Those rivalries include Bellingham High School-Sehome High school and Lynden High School-Lynden Christian High School. Lynden and Ferndale High School are rivals in football.

The best of those?

“I would probably have to say Lynden-Lynden Christian basketball because they fill up a gym,” Carberry said. “They have more people in that gym than they do at [Sam Carver Gymnasium].”

There is more to the rivalry than the amount of people who show up to the games, although both schools sell out their gym when the two teams meet.

Coaches from both schools said there are often relatives playing against each when the two schools meet, which makes the rivalry special and more meaningful.

“You know, there are cousins and family members and neighbors playing against each other,” said Brian Roper, Lynden’s boys basketball coach. “They don’t want to have to face their buddies at the coffee shop for the rest of the year, knowing that their team lost.”

Some families have had three generations of kids taking part in what Roper called, “the best basketball rivalry in the state.” That longevity has made the rivalry mean more to everyone involved.

Roper recalled an exchange he had with his athletic director that encapsulates just how important the Lynden vs. Lynden Christian rivalry is.

“I asked my athletic director before the game if he would be upset with me if we lost the game for the third year in a row,” Roper said. “He said, ‘Brian, I won’t be upset with you. I’ll just miss seeing you around.’ I’d like to think he was joking, but I’m not sure.”

The rivalry has evolved over the years, beginning with true hatred between the schools that sit just miles apart.

Now it has evolved into more of a friendly rivalry between two great basketball programs, Lynden Christian’s girls basketball coach Brady Bomber said.

“The rivalry is very healthy,” he said. “I think it is a healthier rivalry now than it was years ago.”

Pranks, like throwing toilet paper on the court after a game, are a memorable part of the rivalry, said Blake VanDalen, head football coach at Lynden. Now, they use the rivalry for a good cause. 

VanDalen said they host the annual Coaches vs. Cancer night when the two rivals meet and raise money for cancer awareness and research.

“It’s a great night to take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm to raise money for a good cause,” VanDalen said.

Following the 2012 basketball season, there was a celebration in downtown Lynden after a year which saw both boys’ teams win the state championship in their classifications. Lynden is Class 2A and Lynden Christian is Class 1A. 

For some who were involved during the days when the rivalry was fiercer, this was surprising. Roper recalled something that long-time Lynden coach John Clark said to him at that celebration.

“Hey, what’s all this kumbaya stuff? When I played against them and coached against them, they hated us and we hated them,” Clark said to Roper.

Lately, there is not hate between the two schools — just a lot of respect.

“From where I sit, I have a lot of respect for Lynden Christian and the way their kids play,” Roper said.

Bomber feels the same way.

“It’s not just a game; it’s an event,” Roper said.

Roper recalled one interaction he had with Lynden Christian’s coach during the game that captures how fun rivalry games are for everyone involved.

“We were playing at Lynden Christian and it was a back and forth game in a packed gym,” Roper said. “With about a minute to go, it was tied and it was a dead ball. I heard him calling my name from just a few feet over. It’s unusual for a coach to call your name during the middle of the game.

“I looked at him, and he says, as he puts his hands up in the air, ‘How fun is this?’”

The rivalry that persists between these two schools goes beyond just basketball. It finds a home in all of the sports these two teams meet in. One significant sport that the teams do not face each other in is football. Instead, Lynden considers Ferndale High School its big football rival, VanDalen said.

There was a time where the Lynden vs. Ferndale matchup usually decided who would get into the playoffs. 

“The Ferndale game, that one is just a bloodbath,” Vandalen said. “It’s your old-school rivalry where it’s them versus us.”

Another one of Whatcom county’s classic high school rivalries is that of Sehome and Bellingham.

Anye Turner, Sehome’s girls basketball coach, has fond memories when it comes to the Sehome vs. Bellingham rivalry.

“It was the last game at old Sehome,” he said, referring to the former site of the school. “That was pretty incredible. We had a packed house — 2,000 people, and it was awesome.”

Despite that game ending in a loss for Turner’s girls team, it was still a special moment.

Turner said that when Bellingham and Sehome play, it’s not just the fans who get excited for the competition. It’s the players who really get into it and really relish it when they come away with a victory.

“Last year we beat them twice,” Turner said. “The girls kind of joked around like, ‘Well you know, it doesn’t matter how well we do now, now that we’ve got Bellingham.’”

There are three high schools in Bellingham: Bellingham, Sehome and Squallicum. While Sehome considers Bellingham to be its biggest rival, Turner was quick to note the longevity of the rivalry between Bellingham and Sehome is what makes it bigger than the rivalry with Squallicum.

“It’s one of the best parts of sports. It’s a classic rivalry, where you have that in-town feel,” Turner said. “The kids can battle on the court and then hang out or play on the same team in the summer. I love that.”

Another thing that makes the rivalry between Bellingham and Sehome so special is that it is not just a competition between the athletes. The two schools get the student body involved as well. They call it the Bellinghome event.

“At halftime, they do a kind of dance. You get points for whichever school does a better one,” Turner said. “It was just a fun thing to watch. Our students made a huge boat that was pretty creative. It’s just that the spirit behind the rivalries has been awesome.”

Western’s biggest rival is Central, said Paul Madison, Western’s sports historian.

One of the best things to come out of the rivalry with Central was the Battle in Seattle, Madison said. The Battle in Seattle was the meeting of the two football teams, held annually in Seattle.

“It drew 16,392 to what was then Qwest Field,  now [Lumen],” Madison said. “It was a record, and I’m sure it still stands in any sport for a non-Division I game.”

That game paved the way to a meeting between the two schools in Seattle in a second sport.

“An offshoot of that, although it just happened for one year, was that we played a men’s and women’s basketball double header at Key Arena,” Madison said. “You’ve had ROOT Sports doing regional TV games, and a staple of that was always the Central-Western game.”

Madison recalled one memory that showed the passion for the competition between the two schools, when they were set to play a big game in Bellingham in the 1980s.

“We decided to have pre-sale tickets,” Madison said. “Your presale wasn’t where people could phone up or do different things, it was pretty much you show up at the old ticket booth in Carver. So we did that on a Sunday afternoon.

“It sold out in less than eight hours. When you are doing it manually, that’s amazing.”

He also recalled a series of pranks students of the two schools pulled on each other before football games.

“I remember one time our team was going over to Central for a game,” Madison said. “We noticed that when we got there that there was an interesting odor around our bench. Some students from Central had, overnight, put some cow manure around the benches.

“A year later, it was at Bellingham Civic Stadium. All of a sudden there was a little bit of an odor going on at the Central bench. It was from fish guts that had been placed there overnight.”

Even amongst all the pranks and the rivalry, there was still great respect between the two schools.

“As intense as the rivalry was, the sports administrators of both schools were always very friendly toward one another,” Madison said. “There was always a camaraderie between those people and I think that is a big thing to make a rivalry.”

There have been times in the past where schools like Seattle Pacific University and University of Alaska Anchorage have been rivals to Western. Even through the ebbs and flows of success, Western vs. Central has remained a spectacle for both sides.

“Even at its low ebb, it’s still as good as about any game you’re going to go to on our schedule,” Madison said. “It didn’t matter what the records were. It didn’t matter what was going on. That was the one they circled, and that was the one they were going to be there.”

Whatcom County has enjoyed a long history of quality rivalries, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

The teams should still check under their benches just to be safe.

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