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Two Decades in the Game 

How sports became part of the Inland Northwest identity over the past 20 years

click to enlarge This illustration appeared in our March 14, 2002 issue. - CHAD KRUEGER
  • Chad Krueger
  • This illustration appeared in our March 14, 2002 issue.

Most weekly papers don't bother covering sports. They figure the daily rag has that market cornered.

That's never been the case at the Inlander. For the past 20 years, the paper has never featured a "sports section" per se, but we've always had our eyes on the region's teams, mining the college squads and minor league clubs for fascinating stories. The past two decades have been a transformative time for sports in the Inland Northwest, and at least one of our region's teams helped the nation realize that the "a" in Spokane is not a long vowel.

It began in the Nov. 17, 1993 issue of the paper, when we previewed the Apple Cup, which the Cougars would go on to lose. We kept our eye on the Cougars, printing for years the insight of Tony C. Duarte — the "C" stood for Coug, editors joked — as he profiled some amazing years of WSU football. That included contributing to a cover package on Dec. 24, 1997, when the Cougs made their first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years behind Ryan Leaf's cannon-like arm. When WSU rose back to prominence in the early 2000s, we featured coverage of Jason Gesser as a star quarterback, and also wrote about him when he was a coach at Idaho. It wasn't just the Cougs in our pages, though. In 2010, we wrote about an Eastern Washington University football team that won the FCS national championship.

The Inlander was familiar with Gonzaga basketball in the paper's earlier years, but in the March 17, 1999 issue, publisher Ted S. McGregor Jr. summed it all up when he wrote that the weekend to follow would be the biggest in Gonzaga basketball history. You know the story — the day after publication, the Zags beat Florida and went to the Elite Eight. Since then, we've profiled a long list of Gonzaga players as the team became a national powerhouse. Howie Stalwick laughed with Ronny Turiaf and got serious with Blake Stepp in the mid-2000s, then talked with the nation's leading scorer, Adam Morrison, for a Jan. 11, 2006 profile. In March of this year, we detailed the rise of the Zags in a cover story when the team was ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time. Gonzaga's women's team also got some much-deserved ink, as they've risen to become a perennial West Coast Conference force.

All the while, we've written up the Spokane Indians as they've rolled long-shot rookies and major league prospects alike through Avista Stadium. We even sent Luke Baumgarten on the road with the team during the 2008 season. When the Spokane Chiefs won the Western Hockey League championship in 2008, we were there.

In an August 9, 2006 story, we did our best to explain the seemingly inexplicable phenomenon that is the Spokane Shock, a then-minor league arena football team that was selling out the Spokane Arena. Five years later, the Shock were on the cover of the July 7, 2011 issue, a season after winning the ArenaBowl.

Yeah, we cover the symphony and rock bands and review local plays, but we're not too cool to ignore what happens on the field, the court and the ice — and we never will be. ♦

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