ROYAL CITY — In 1975, Gerald Ford was in the White House. Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” ushered in the new year at No. 1 on the charts. A postage stamp cost 10 cents and the price of gas was 53 cents a gallon.
It was also the last time the Royal boys basketball team won the SCAC East conference championship. It’s been 43 years since the Knights have moved on to the postseason. They’re back, so how’s that sound?
“It sounds like it’s been too long,” senior Corbin Christensen said.
It might take some time, if ever, to turn Royal City into a basketball town, having won three consecutive 1A football state championships. But what was once a sparse fan base on game night has turned into a capacity crowd and a following in support of a team with just three losses on the year.
“After games, I would get phone calls and texts from community members and fans saying the boys are playing well. Some people would give me advice (on how to coach),” Knights coach Ray Valle said with a laugh. “I don’t mind the Monday Morning Quarterbacks. At least they’re paying attention to Royal basketball and they’re there on game night.”
By June 7, 1975, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” had moved to the top of the music charts and that’s a little more in tune to the way things get done on the Royal Slope.
“I would say the intensity and the work ethic is a lot different than last year,” said Christensen, who played on the three state football championship teams. “This is the farthest I’ve ever made it in basketball. A lot of our swag comes from bustin’ our butts in practice. Having that confidence is because we work just as hard in practice as we do in a game. It helps to come out with a little bit of swag and confidence, because we’ve earned it.”
The Knights (17-3) are in uncharted waters, but did beat La Salle in the first round of the SCAC District Tournament. They march on together, according to senior Owen Ellis, the team’s leading scorer.
“We’re all very competitive and nobody likes losing. So that’s the one thing we all have in common,” Ellis said. “The energy we’re playing with is what’s exciting to me, and I think people are starting to notice. Last year, it was more like no one cares, and now we’re playing in front of full gyms and people are coming out to see us.
“We’re all really close and I think we represent Royal well. It feels like we have a good shot at making it to state and that’s what we’re working hard to do.”
What’s happening in Royal City is more of a state of mind, than a we're going to state, Valle said.
“We’re all working hard and having a great time and all that feeds into our game plan,” he said. “It’s day and night from years past. The kids are looking out for each other. Some of the kids are coming off of successful programs and they know how to win.
“We had to translate that into basketball, which we did. And now we have the edge and are going in the right direction.”
It’s the first time in 43 years Knights basketball has ventured off the Royal Slope to take on the best of the 1A basketball teams. They’re going to see just how far a little swag, a little confidence and a whole lot of hard work can take them. Royal faces Naches Valley in the district semifinals on Saturday. The venue and time is still to be determined.
“ … Well life on the farm is kinda laid back,
Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack.
It's early to rise, early in the sack,
Thank God I'm a country boy … ”
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org