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Hometown VS Harlem

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Lade Majik. Photo courtesy CopperasCove Lade Majik. Photo courtesy CopperasCove

Stars to shine at SHS benefit for Wishing Star

Clark Fork’s Bob Hays was the first one to say yes, which won’t surprise anyone who knows him, because Bob Hays has a hard time saying ‘no’ to a good cause. And Wishing Star, by any measure, is a good cause. Established in 1983, Wishing Star has just one purpose—to grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. The Sandpoint chapter, established 21 years ago, has helped dreams come true for 20 children since their inception, and to further that goal, they decided on a unique fundraiser that offers something a little bit different to a community with a lot of good causes to donate to. This year, Wishing Star’s Sandpoint chapter is bringing the Harlem Ambassadors to town, for a little hoops action against our Hometown Heroes. Bob Hays, of course, is one of them.

Bob is no stranger to basketball; a former coach at Clark Fork, he’s a main force behind the school’s annual Alumni Tournament, where hundreds of Clark Fork graduates and friends turn out each March for basketball and volleyball. At 72, he not only still plays the game, but is a tough opponent on the court. Even up against the semi-pros on the Harlem Ambassadors team, Clark Fork’s “Hazey-Bob” has a few tricks up his sleeve. “I’ll just throw a Missouri hook shot on ‘em,” he laughed.

Eric Plummer, sports writer for the Daily Bee, is the team’s reluctant second recruit. He appreciates the work of Wishing Star, but is not as thrilled with putting his basketball skills, which he refers to as “rusty,” to the test. “Of course, they’re just a bunch of ex-NBA and college players,” he laughed, and added, “We’ll be the Washington Generals.” The Washington Generals, of course, were the exhibition basketball team given the dubious honor of spectacularly losing in games against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Eric, who said he “used to play a ton” of basketball, admitted that his recent forays onto the court have resulted in some sprained ankles; he’ll share that weakness with Ambassador’s star Lade Majik, who played collegiately for University of Missouri and played pro ball in Israel. Lade, called “the Queen of show basketball,” was out most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Eric expects backup, however, from his brother “Jake, the Snake,” of NFL fame. “He’ll be great,” Eric promised, though admitted that “like all of us,” retirement may have dampened Jake’s skills a bit.

Clark Fork High School Athletic Director Brian Arthun, a basketball monster at alumni games, has declined to play himself, concerned about scouts. “You know, if I go in there with my A game, there’s a problem with the scouts,” he offered. Almost a cockily arrogant is Melvin Speelmon, boys’ varsity basketball coach at Clark Fork, who is stepping up to play. All 5 feet, 6 inches of him. He has no worries, not even if the Ambassadors play 6’8” center Daytona Burch, or 6’9” center Dan Jean. “I can hold my own,” Melvin promised. “I’ve been small my whole life, so I’ve played tall guys before.” A former high school and college player who’s managed to keep a hand on the ball pretty much since graduation, Melvin says he’ll bring “speed and ball handling,” to the team. “We’re gonna have fun,” he promised. “This is for a great cause.”

America’s sports authority, as named by KPND deejay Jonny Knight, is Chris Chapburn, Program Director and number one sports guy for KPND and 106.7 local radio. Chris is also the JV girls’ basketball coach at Sandpoint High, and assistant coach to the varsity team. He’s no Lady Bulldog, though, as he’s quick to point out. “My number one goal is to get through this game uninjured,” he said, and asks that no one judge his coaching ability by what they see on the court in November.

“I like to shoot,” he offered, and while he doesn’t classify himself as a three-point specialist, he acknowledges that his size (5’10”) leads him to prefer shooting from the outside. Given that none of the Hometown team has any height to speak of, that might make for an entire team of outside shooters. “Well, we’re not exactly overflowing here with giants,” he laughed, but Coach Chris has confidence that Bonner County can show Harlem a thing or two about basketball.

And if they can’t... he doesn’t mind humiliating himself for a good cause.

A star for the hometown team might well be Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Dick Cvitanich, who’s hoping he can hit the boards wearing his lucky, Adult Spelling Bee costume—Mr. Incredible.

“I’m a lousy ball handler,” he admits, “but I bring a gritty defense and persistence to my team.” He said his main objective on the floor will be to “get in their way.” Not his own team’s way—the Ambassadors’ way.

Dick said he agreed to play not just because he believes in the mission of Wishing Star, although he does believe in it, but says he’s still trying to make up for getting cut from his junior high basketball team. He’d prefer it if that information, however, “stayed on the QT.”

“I learned in playing donkey basketball to always look forward,” he said, and also learned that sometimes the laughter of the crowd is the greatest reward for playing. And he’s hoping he has a secret weapon on the court—his assistant in the LPOSD office, Doug Olin, a member of the Idaho state Hall of Fame for referees. If the unsaid rule is you don’t call your boss for a foul, then having Doug in the stripes might well be an added benefit for our Hometown Heroes.

“I’m not sure who sent me the email,” explained Verna Lutes of Wishing Star, “but it asked if there was a group in the area that would be interested in bringing the Harlem Ambassadors in for a game. I thought this would be a great fundraiser for Wishing Star, and a great thing for the area, too.”

Verna immediately got to work and enlisted the help of Jason Wiley, Recreation Manager for Sandpoint’s Department of Parks and Rec, and Lance Bruce, girls’ varsity basketball coach at Sandpoint High School.

“We had to have a gym; you can’t play a basketball game without a gym,” Verna said, “so I called the high school and they were all for it from the beginning.”

Jason “I’m-not-the-coach” Wiley and Lance Bruce were in charge of recruiting players of the team and, as we went to press, still didn’t have the line-up finalized, though Jason hinted he’s hoping to have a brother/sister pair on the team who are “awesome” players. Their hard work and support in making this event happen is predicated on the same values of the players—that the cause is a worthy one.

Those already confirmed to play appear to be a group well versed at performing with the Harlem Ambassadors, whose tour materials promise a lot of “spontaneous improvisational humor.” In Sandpoint, the Ambassadors might just find themselves being challenged at a level they’re not quite used to; and I’m not talking about basketball.

The Wishing Star website lists a number of children who have seen their wishes come true. Like 9-year-old Alex. They write, “On Thursday, June 12 Alex lost his 9 year battle with neurofibromatosis. Alex’s wishes were simple. He wanted to meet his grandfather, or go to a petting zoo or listen to a country and western concert. The family traveled to Modesto, Calif. to see grandpa. They were guests of Modesto and Merced. Those communities opened their arms and hearts while granting the other two wishes. So many people took part in the granting of Alex’s wish.”

Ambassadors only play in small communities, and all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the charity that brings them in. The host has to provide lodging for the team, and Verna says La Quinta stepped right up and donated rooms. They have to provide water and sports drinks, and Safeway took on that role. And they have to provide a dinner; volunteers are taking care of that aspect. (If you’d like to sit in and eat with the teams, call Verna to reserve a space—cost is $250.)

This year the Sandpoint Chapter of Wishing Star is looking to send a 7-year-old boy with cancer to the Oregon Coast, where he’d like to go crab fishing. Proceeds from this event will help make that wish come true. That’s what it’s all about for each of the Hometown players, none of whom expect to come out of this game looking like a basketball star.

Tickets to the game are available in Sandpoint at the Bonner County Daily Bee offices, at the Meriwether Inn in Clark Fork, or at Sandpoint Sports in Ponderay. Cost is $5 for seniors and students $7 for adults. Or you can wait ‘til game day, and buy your tickets for $10 at the door.

The Ambassadors all sign a complimentary basketball that will be available for raffle, and Wishing Star gets a percentage of any of their promotional materials (photos, etc) that are sold at the game.

To help cover the $3,300 cost of bringing the team in, Verna is looking for business and individual sponsorships for the game. There are three sponsorship levels: $500, $250 and $100, but anyone can make a donation of any amount to help make this happen. Donations can be mailed to 2206 Aspen Way, Sandpoint, ID 83864. Anyone interested in sponsoring can call Verna at 263-7638, or Sandi Hoge at 255-5347.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, Clark Fork, basketball, Bob Hays, Dick Cvitanich, Wishing Star, Eric Plummer, Jake Plummer, Brian Arthun, Melvin Speelmon, Harlem Ambassadors, Chris Chapburn, Doug Olin, Verna Lutes, Jason Wiley, Lance Bruce

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