Annual hoops gathering is a treasured tradition

They came from Torrence, California, from Toledo, Ohio, from Spokane, and many places in between. They came as if they were on their hajj, filing into the hardwood court at EvCC with their complimentary t-shirt stating: “Tradition”—- tradition with the classic blue and gold tri-striped socks that to this day keep showing up on the feet of the Everett High players.

This was their annual search for divine play — the Everett High Alumni Basketball Tournament. If you can find 60-plus graduates who gather at one school in search of the truth and meaning of life in Snohomish County, I’d be surprised.

This was pure basketball for three hours, with no television interruptions or corporate sponsorship. There were a couple of Division 1 basketball players who did everything in their power to carry their flock to the promised land. There were a couple of families that had second generations playing as if paying homage to filial piety. There was the captain from the 1979 team who has made the pilgrimage nearly every year for the past thirty-plus years. And there were plenty of those who pulled open the doors to simply come and bear witness to what was taking place in their backyard.

For every graduate, there was a story. Here are two.

1) The Circle of Life — As a second-generation player, Riley Rettenmier is one of those who “gets it.” As a high school kid, he was your average hoopster; but as a sibling of two older brothers who were also playing in the tournament, and as the son of an Everett High all-state basketball legend whose playing days are over, Riley has a unique perspective.

Who knows if his own kids, who were running around the gym on New Year’s Eve Day, will be basketball players in high school. That doesn’t seem to be a burning issue for Dad.

What does seem to be important is that his kids are exposed to the Everett High tradition. His observation that this event is “like the circle of life,” is profound. And accurate.

There is something about a legacy out there, a passing of the torch, a responsibility to validate what was and still is important in this north Everett community and school over the past 100-plus years. What Riley, and his two brothers, Casey and Cory, understand is how special this community is, and how this event has become part of the foundation around which a culture and a community was built.

And that awareness comes from their parents, Judy and Ross Rettenmier. I vividly remember watching their father play in that glorious run to the state championship game back in 1975 as if it were yesterday. Throughout my 30-plus years of knowing the Rettenmier family, basketball and Everett High have been two constants. Ross was the long-standing president and driving force behind the very successful Blue &Gold Club. Judy, meanwhile, was in charge of the health center at EHS for a number of years, the perfect role for her nurturing personality.

On this New Year’s Eve Day, grandpa Ross, whose knees are the victims of playing too many games over the last forty years, embraced his new role as shepherd of Riley’s two young kids who scooted around the gym and ran laps on the running track situated well above the playing court while their dad played.

I could almost hear their grandpa singing, “Hakuna Matata.”

2) The Lion Kings of the Game – One came from California where he works as a special education teacher after two decades of playing basketball around the world. The other flew in from Ohio where he is early in his career in the automotive industry after earning his degree and playing hoops at Lehigh University.

At 6’11” and 7’0”, they both command attention on the court.

So, naturally, when the “Dinosaur” team (all of those players who played prior to 1991) which, for the first time included David Vik—- the outstanding center who went on to play at Washington State University and then in Europe where he is considered a legend in Portugal — was matched up against the young guns who graduated from 2006 and included David Safstrom, the 7-footer who is 16 years younger than Vik, everyone in the gym knew it was going to be a treat.

From my vantage point — which consisted of a couple of minutes on the court in mop-up time — it was one for the ages. Vik kept the Dinosaurs in the game with his uncanny outside shooting while Safstrom worked the ball down low and scored at short range, including a thunderous dunk.

In the end, youth prevailed, but no one can fault the heart of the old guys who had between 15 to 35 years on the victors.

Even icons can start to lose a step as they enter their 40s. But, as one of his former coaches from his high school days, I can attest that it doesn’t look as if Vik has lost much in the past 24 years. In fact, he left some wondering if he hasn’t found the fountain of youth.

Maybe this is part of that reimagining that we can do with our lives as we age. If you find something you love doing, you can stay young in spirit. As David noted at the gathering afterwards, “Basketball has taken me lots of places. I’ve been fortunate.”

All who gathered on that New Year’s Eve Day were fortunate in some way. That’s part of making the hajj.

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