Okay, so Spokane doesn't have its own professional football team. Nor do we have a baseball team that could end up at the World Series. The Olympics have never been held here. And yet, Spokane has had the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, the Sneva family, John Stockton, and a horse named Turbulator, all at critical junctures in their athletic careers.
Their stories, and many others, are spotlighted in 120 Years of Inland Northwest Sports, by Bill Elston, author of Golf History of Spokane, Washington. Although Elston's golf book came out almost two years ago, the two could be considered companion volumes.
"This book came from a lot of the research I was doing on the golf history book," says Elston, who will be autographing copies of 120 Years at various venues through the holidays. "I thought it would be nice to write a book on all, or let's say most, sports in Spokane. I was really doing both books at the same time."
While the book is thorough, it's not meant to be the authoritative source on Inland Northwest sports.
"I didn't write the book to be the definitive guide to sports in the Inland Northwest," says Elston. "I wanted to show what a great sports town this is and to inspire people with what we did find and to let them know what a real champion is."
One of the champions Elston refers to is John Olerud, who came from Bellevue to join the WSU Cougars baseball team in the late '80s. During his sophomore year, he batted .464 with 23 homers, pitched 15-0 and was named NCAA Player of the Year. In the middle of what looked to be an unforgettable college career, however, Olerud collapsed during training and was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
"He recovered from this setback, this brain hemorrhage," says Elston. "He was up at Sacred Heart for a few days while they tried to figure out what was wrong. The important thing is that he bounced back. He returned to WSU, and he went on to play professional ball. And he plays with the Seattle Mariners now."
Some names show up repeatedly in 120 Years of Inland Northwest Sports, including Bill Frazier, who coached football at G-Prep for more than three decades. "I have what I believe to be the last interview with Bill Frazier in the book," says Elston. "He's another one who had a lot of setbacks to overcome. He grew up in Moscow, Idaho, and had a really strict father who didn't want him to have anything to do with football. He went on to become an incredible coach at G-Prep, and although he was a strict disciplinarian as a coach, the kids really learned to love him."
Although Frazier had retired long before John Stockton attended G-Prep, his legacy of discipline was not lost on the would-be basketball player.
"I had Stockton in my geography class," says Elston, shaking his head. "And he was so small. We knew he had talent, but he was so little and skinny. And then when he said he wanted to be in the NBA, well, it seemed out of the question to me."
Stockton, of course, went on to become the No. 1 draft choice for the Utah Jazz and the league's all-time assist leader.
Not all the athletes whose stories are told in Elston's book are contemporary. A picture of Spokane's 1890 Pacific Northwest League professional championship team shows that baseball was alive and well long before the Spokane Indians were packing in crowds at Avista Stadium. Turbulator, who had been sick with pneumonia and suffered from a bum knee in his youth, went on to recover and win nearly all of his races at Playfair in the early-1970s. Even the story of Gonzaga University's once-touted football team, including All-American football star George "Automatic" Karamatic, is told in Elston's book.
"They wanted to be the Notre Dame of the West," says Elston. "There was a football stadium on the G.U. campus and everything." In spite of having an initially winning team, the university's hopes were dashed when the stadium failed to make enough money to keep the program afloat. "I think if we'd had Joe Albi Stadium sooner, it would have made a world of difference," says Elston.
The stories in 120 Years aren't limited to boys and men either. From the Edwardian big hair and even bigger skirts of the 1907 Spokane High girls' basketball team to the lean athleticism of the 2000 St. George's School girl's basketball team, the photos alone tell the story of how much women's sports have changed.
"The female athletes in this area have taken Title IX and really run with it," says Elston, of the 1972 statute that required schools to offer equal athletic opportunities for girls and women. "They have shown what's possible."
If there's anything that Elston has set out to do in this book, it's to show what's possible, and to give examples of championship behavior. He refers to Bill Frazier's definition of a champion early on in the book and points out that Spokane helps breed young talent. "Spokane embraces its champions," says Elston. "We don't give up on these people, even if they have a bad match or a bad year. They're always our people."
& & & lt;i & Bill Elston autographs from 120 Years of Inland Northwest Sports at the Shadle Hastings on Nov. 20 at 6 pm; at Barnes and Noble in the Valley on Nov. 21 at 7 pm; at the Valley Hastings on Nov. 22 at 5 pm and on Dec. 9 at 4 pm; at the South Hill Hastings on Nov. 24 at 4 pm and on Dec. 15 at 5 pm; at the North Division Hastings on Dec. 2 at 4 pm and on Dec. 23