Commentary: From Hermiston, a love for basketball, family, and friends


A school in Oregon influenced the rest of Paul Valencia’s journalism career, and now that school is a member of the WIAA

It was a three-hour drive that took me back more than 25 years.

I witnessed a little history, right there in the present.

Paul Valencia

And I watched, in awe, a girls basketball program that meant so much to me so long ago, earn another big win.

In this journey, I had time to reflect on another journey of mine. 

I’ve covered elite girls basketball in Clark County for more than 20 years. My first full basketball season as a reporter in the county? Prairie lost in the 2002 Class 4A state championship game. A year later, the Falcons avenged that loss to Central Valley with a victory.

In 2012, Prairie got another crown, this time as a Class 3A school. On that same day, on the same court, the Skyview Storm won a Class 4A state title. Clark County was the center of Washington’s girls basketball universe. 

In 2019, it was Prairie again — with its seventh state title in program history — cutting down the nets in Tacoma. That same day, 150-plus miles away in Yakima, the Washougal Panthers were winning their first state title in the Class 2A tournament.

Friday night, the Camas Papermakers hope to begin a magical state tournament run with a Class 4A state regional game against Inglemoor at Battle Ground High School. A young, talented team, a state championship or two certainly is in play in the next few years for the Papermakers.

On Saturday, Hudson’s Bay and Washougal play in 2A state regional games and both teams have already qualified for the Yakima Valley SunDome. Wouldn’t be surprised if one of those teams is playing for a state title next week.

It has been a thrill for me to report on all this Clark County excellence in the past 20 years.

Earlier this week, though, I just had to reach back to the 1990s. I headed to Hermiston High School, a campus in Oregon with Washington ties. 

My first high school sports beat as a journalist came in Hermiston, where I was hired after my days as a U.S. Army journalist. (Shockingly, there was not much need for a high school sports reporter in the Army.)

Anyway, the first great team I got to cover as a professional journalist: the Hermiston girls basketball team.

Hermiston High School in Oregon has a shot clock, an Oregon state flag, and a WIAA banner. That’s right. Oregon does not have a shot clock, but Washington schools do. And these days, Hermiston is an Oregon school that competes as a member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. Reporter Paul Valencia had to take in the first Washington state playoff basketball game to be held in Oregon, at a place that remains special in his career, in his heart. Photo by Paul Valencia
Hermiston High School in Oregon has a shot clock, an Oregon state flag, and a WIAA banner. That’s right. Oregon does not have a shot clock, but Washington schools do. And these days, Hermiston is an Oregon school that competes as a member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. Reporter Paul Valencia had to take in the first Washington state playoff basketball game to be held in Oregon, at a place that remains special in his career, in his heart. Photo by Paul Valencia

The coach at the time gave me access to practice, to watch what the squad was trying to accomplish. Then, when watching the games, I could gain a deeper understanding. Through the years, I’ve been granted that access to practices in Clark County. I’m grateful for every opportunity to observe, to learn.

Those days in the 1990s helped make me a better journalist for my time here.

It certainly helped with my comprehension of basketball.

So in the mid-90s, I watched a girls basketball team become THE EVENT in what was then a small town in eastern Oregon. Big crowds. Energy. It was not just the winning, but how that team played. Run and gun. Nobody in those parts had seen anything like that. 

Those teams made it to Oregon’s state tournament. Never won any championships, but trust me, they were Showtime for eastern Oregon girls basketball. In fact, Hermiston girls basketball made it to state 23 consecutive seasons starting in 1996. 

Which leads to this week, my return to watch Hermiston girls basketball, to celebrate the game. And how life just comes full circle in the craziest ways.

In 1996, Angela Edwards was a senior leader and her sister Alissa was a freshman protege. Edwards would go on to play at Pacific University, and Alissa, after her high school career, played in the Pac-10 with the Oregon Ducks.  

Fast forward to 2022, the last names have changed but the talent remains.

Angela Young has a daughter, Bailey, who is a senior starter on this year’s squad. Alissa Simmons’ daughter Izzy is a freshman starter.

In my time in Hermiston, I became friends with the whole family. I hadn’t seen them in a while, but I asked if I could crash the party for Tuesday’s Class 3A state regional play-in game.

Pre-game introductions? The same Jock Jams music from the 1990s. (I learned that the team recently brought back that music for the intros. It was a way to get the crowd into it, but I also think it was in homage to the great 1990s teams.) The style of play? The same as from the 1990s. Up-tempo. Fast break every opportunity. 

At one point, Bailey got an offensive rebound, kicked it out to her cousin, and Izzy buried a 3-pointer. My head was spinning as I watched their moms – Angela and Alissa – celebrate in the stands.

(Also, yes, if you are wondering, I am, officially, old.)

The large home crowd erupted in cheers all night as Hermiston beat Peninsula, a team from Gig Harbor.

Oh yes, the historic part of Tuesday’s game. A team from Gig Harbor, in Washington, played in Hermiston, in Oregon, in the Washington state girls basketball tournament.

What?

A few years back, Hermiston joined the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association so the Bulldogs could play in the Mid-Columbia Conference, with most of its teams less than an hour away. Had Hermiston remained in the Oregon Schools Activities Association, it would have been in a league where the closest team was a three-hour drive.

It was only a matter of time when a Hermiston football team, or soccer team, played a home state playoff game. This year, the Washington Class 3A girls basketball tournament changed, and the first four state regional play-in games would be at home sites.  

Well, as fate would have it, Hermiston was one of those four home teams. The WIAA believes Tuesday was the first Washington state tournament playoff game ever played in Oregon.

(By the way, there are a couple of small schools in Washington that play in the OSAA, but Hermiston is the only Oregon school in the WIAA.)

While I was not “covering” this game for Clark County Today, I felt compelled to be there. 

I had to visit my old friends again. I had to be in that gym again. I had to experience a Hermiston Bulldogs girls basketball game.

And yes, I just had to take a picture of the banner in Hermiston, in Oregon, showcasing that the school is a member of the WIAA.

That 1996 basketball team will always be special to me. And in so many ways, that team directly led to my passion for covering basketball.

The Edwards family will always be special to me, in more ways than anyone could possibly imagine.

And now, Hermiston and that family are part of Washington high school athletics, the state that has become my family’s home.

That is a journey I never could have imagined.

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