Whitworth University spent half a day as 'Spokane's Men's Basketball Team' - but it was a mistake

Earlier today, Whitworth University shared some exciting news: The Spokane County Board of Commissioners would name the Pirates "Spokane's Men's Basketball Team."

In another city, this might make a lot of sense. In the last decade, the Pirates have made nine Division III tournament appearances, including one Elite Eight and four Sweet Sixteens. From 2010 through 2020, they're the winningest program of the decade in NCAA Division III men's basketball, going 245-43 during that stretch. And they were doing damage in the tournament this year before it was canceled by the pandemic.

But this is Spokane, a city that — as some larger publications have argued — lives and dies by the success of the Gonzaga Bulldogs men's basketball team. Wouldn't Gonzaga be the logical choice for this honor?

As it turns out, the county says its intentions were never to choose Whitworth over Gonzaga. Spokane County spokesperson Jared Webley says the version of the proclamation naming Whitworth as "Spokane's Men's Basketball Team" was sent to them mistakenly. The goal, he says, was to recognize several successful programs throughout the region, including Whitworth and Gonzaga, but never to choose one as "Spokane's Team."

"It's a shame this is the story because all we're trying to do is recognize everyone's great season," Webley says.

Whitworth President Beck Taylor agrees, writing on Twitter, "the frustrating part about today's confusion re Spokane County's recognition of Whitworth's men's basketball team is that the team's achievement as the decade's winningest program in NCAA Division III is being overshadowed."
The final proclamation notes the Whitworth men's team's impressive accomplishments this season in going 23-6, winning the Northwest Conference and having coach Damion Jablonski win coach of the year of the West Region.

"All Whitworth University students, teachers, parents, alumni and residents of the greater Spokane County region should be inspired by their accomplishments," the proclamation says.

That language is similar to a proclamation for Gonzaga that was also read today by the Spokane county commissioners. But the earlier version, which was still uploaded to the online agenda this morning, instead said that commissioners "proclaim the Whitworth Pirates as Spokane's Men's Basketball Team."

Trisha Coder, a spokesperson for Whitworth, says it was that version that was sent to them on May 22. At first she thought, "that's kind of weird," she says, but then they wrote the press release issued this morning on the university's website. Now, Whitworth is sending out a new release.

"It was clearly a mistake," Coder says.

The three county commissioners — Al French, Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney — celebrated the updated Whitworth proclamation this afternoon, right after the proclamation honoring Gonzaga's men and women's teams for their success. Eastern Washington University got its own proclamation for winning the Big Sky regular season title in a 23-8 season. The commission also recognized the Central Valley High School girls and boys teams, who got first and second in state this year, respectively.

So while nobody won the honor of "Spokane's Men's Basketball Team," in a way, everyone got an award.