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Collective Spirit 

The Spirit of the Inland Northwest award got us thinking about where that spirit comes from.

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Last week, a group of us from The Inlander attended the Spokane Regional CVB Inland Northwest Tourism Awards at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel. We’d been nominated for an award a couple months back and had recently been notified that we were finalists for the Spirit of the Inland Northwest award.

As I sat enjoying the program — sipping beer donated by Coeur d’Alene Brewing — I started wondering what people around here think the spirit of the Inland Northwest really is. Over the past 18 years, while The Inlander has grown from just an idea to a readership of more than 210,000 adults, I’ve met so many incredible people and been witness to so much that I think I’m finally qualified to comment on the spirit that drives our region.

I would guess some people, not from around here, might think we’re hopeless optimists. They might think we shrug off a long, cold spring, or multiple feet of snow dropping in a week’s time, as just something that happened — no big deal. They might question why we, as a community, almost always offer standing ovations to nearly every performance — whether it’s a kindergarten concert or the Best of Broadway. They might see our friendliness as a weakness. They might see our willingness to help one another (and we do) as unnecessary in today’s world.

What they can’t see is that we’ve actually got something here that other communities don’t. We have a collective spirit as a community that steps up when needed, and a pride in what we do that pushes us forward. When we set attendance records for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships (twice), or put on one of the largest road races in the world every year in Bloomsday, we do those things as a community. It’s pretty clear to me that Gonzaga basketball wouldn’t be the envy of all mid-major programs without its incredible support from the Inland Northwest. All of those successes are shared by the community and matter very much to all of us.

The awards program was nearing the end, and they were giving Rick Steltenpohl, director of Hoopfest, a sort of lifetime achievement award for all he’s done in making Hoopfest the largest three-on-three basketball tournament in the world. When he spoke, everyone listened closely because you could hear the sincerity in what he was saying. In typical Inland Northwest fashion, he said Hoopfest isn’t successful because of him; it’s because of us. Instead of claiming his success — he was the one receiving the award, after all — he spread the credit to everyone involved. I think the spirit of the Inland Northwest is knowing that we believe in each other, and that we can count on each other. That whenever the community is needed, the community will be there. It’s pretty incredible what we’ve got here.

To finish the story, we ended up winning the award.

I won’t lie, it felt good to win. We work hard every week to represent our community as best we can, and the recognition was gratifying. What I really care about, though, is that people think The Inlander is a part of the spirit of the Inland Northwest. That means a lot, because the Inland Northwest is like nowhere else.

Jer McGregor is the general manager of The Inlander.

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