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Tuesday, January 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sideline Smitty

Giant-killing team made history 70 years ago

Seattle Times staff reporter

Q: My dad said there was a small-town basketball team that won the state tournament during the Depression when there weren't separate tournaments for big and little schools. Tell me about it.

A: We're talking about the Willapa Valley team of 1936. It's the greatest David vs. Goliath and "Hoosiers" story in the history of Washington high-school sports.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the remarkable triumph.

"The Little School that Could" is in Menlo, south of Aberdeen and east of Raymond. It was called "Valley High School" at the time and had an enrollment of 96.

The farm boys went to Seattle and upset Lewis & Clark of Spokane 43-39 and pre-tournament favorite Walla Walla 34-33. On Saturday morning, they slipped past another huge school, Everett, 32-31 to reach the title game. That night, a standing-room-only crowd in what was later named Hec Edmundson Pavilion watched them beat Hoquiam 32-28 in overtime for the state title.

"We thought we'd play two games and go home," reminisced Joe Drazil last week. He is one of two surviving members of the team.

Drazil, a sophomore reserve, said his most vivid memory of the tournament was coming from behind against Everett.

"With about three minutes to go they were ahead by six or seven points," he said. "That was a lot in those days because there was a jump ball after every basket."

That was the last season of basketball for Drazil, now 88. His father became ill and Drazil dropped out of school and went to work in a sawmill to help support his family. He still lives on a farm outside Raymond.

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The other surviving player is Don Evavold, 86, a retired rancher and Gonzaga Law School employee who recently moved from Whidbey Island to Sumner.

"We were called the giant killers and all that stuff by the news media," Evavold fondly recalled.

"After we won, we went wild and the town went wild," he said. "Those were the happiest moments of our lives."

The team was coached by T.A. Brim, whose use of a zone defense was considered innovative.

The hero of the championship game was Ray Kraus, who died eight years later as a Marine officer in World War II.

Other team members were Elmer "Bud" Alexander, Bob "Buck" Tisdale, Russell Eyer, Johnny Rosentangle, Carl Wiseman, Stanley Domin (killed on the battleship Arizona in the Pearl Harbor attack) and Al Belmont.

The story goes that Gov. Clarence D. Martin came to town, took a look at the run-down school and said, "You need a better school." So, with Works Progress Administration funds, a new school and gym were built in 1937.

The gym and school are still standing but are showing their age. Next month, the community will vote on whether to build a new school and gym.

If the levy passes, one item sure to be featured prominently in the new school is the old black-and-white photo of the team standing in front of a bus.

Any state is fortunate to have a "Hoosiers" story in its athletic lore and the Valley boys of '36 provide it for Washington.

Valley's small-school magic apparently was contagious. The following year in Oregon, tiny Bellfountain duplicated the feat by winning that state's title. Bellfountain, a now-defunct school south of Corvallis, had 27 high-school students and beat Lincoln of Portland, with an enrollment of 1,728, in the Oregon title game, 35-21.

Q: What is a good assist-to-turnover ratio for a high-school point guard?

A: The boys team coaches we talked to like the ratio of three assists for each turnover. Coaches of girls teams said a 2-1 ratio is good in girls basketball.

Smitty advisory : This season marks the end of an era in Class B basketball. If you're a fan of the B boys or girls tournaments, you should consider making the pilgrimage to Spokane for the March 1-4 events. Starting next season, there will be two B classifications — 2B and 1B (the smallest schools) — and they will hold separate tournaments.

A lot of fans of Class B schools say it just won't be the same. Of course, the teams that win the 1B titles next year won't complain.

Have a question about high-school sports? Craig Smith will find the answer every Tuesday in The Times. Ask your question in one of the following ways: Voice mail (206-464-8279), snail mail (Craig Smith, Seattle Times Sports, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111) or e-mail csmith@seattletimes.com

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