When the University of Idaho women’s basketball team opened the 2016 NCAA Tournament going into the lion’s den — visiting No. 1 seed Baylor on its home court — the majority of the nearly 5,000 fans who attended that game in Waco, Texas, cheered vigorously against the Vandals (who lost by 30).
But even in that charged atmosphere, Karlee Wilson — who was a junior point guard on that UI squad — could still hear her coach’s instructions from the sidelines.
That wasn’t the case for Wilson several years earlier when she played in the Golden Throne basketball game — an ongoing rivalry between Lewiston and Clarkston high schools, held annually since 1994 and at the Lewis-Clark State Activity Center since 2005. The 3,500-seat venue is always nearly full during this game.
“I still to this day don’t think I’ve played in any atmosphere like that,” said Wilson, who played for the Bengals from 2010 to 2013.
“Maybe (at) Baylor, in the NCAA tournament. But even playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the stadium at Baylor was not as loud as the Golden Throne game.
“I could still hear (Idaho coach Jon) Newlee call plays. In the Golden Throne game, you can’t hear your coach call plays.”
That will no doubt continue to be the case when the Lewiston and Clarkston boys’ and girls’ basketball teams stage their annual Golden Throne contest tonight at the Activity Center. The girls’ game will tip off at 6 p.m., followed by the boys’ game at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $5.
A former prep teammate of Wilson’s, Tisha Phillips — who went on to play at Eastern Washington and professionally overseas — called the game the second-loudest she’d played in.
“I would say the (loudest) atmosphere I played in was against Gonzaga in college, when we played in The Kennel,” Phillips said. “But (playing in the Golden Throne) felt similar to playing in one of those atmospheres.”
Former Bengal girls’ coach Pat Teichmer said the Golden Throne’s environment is “unmatched.”
That is “unless you play high-level (NCAA) Division-I (sports),” Teichmer added.
Even high-level D-I coaches have been impressed by the Golden Throne’s atmosphere.
Erstwhile Bantam girls’ coach Scott Thompson remembered an assistant from Oregon State coming up to him after the 2011 Golden Throne contest to share that he was as blown away by the atmosphere as the prospect he was scouting — Clarkston’s Jamie Weisner. Weisner went on to join the Beavers and led them to the 2016 Final Four before graduating and embarking upon a professional career in Russia.
“I can’t remember the assistant’s name,” Thompson said, “but he said the atmosphere is better than the college games.”
In such an atmosphere, verbally calling plays can prove almost impossible above the crowd’s commotion, so teams often resort to hand signals to call their sets. Coaches will also pipe in loud music during practices to simulate the environment. Some things are impossible to prepare your team for.
“It was 2 degrees outside,” recalled Dave Cornelia, who was the Lewiston boys’ coach in 2007 when a fire alarm went off during the Golden Throne game. “Shad Strerath had hit a 3 and the fire alarm went off and it was loud.
“They wanted us to clear the gym and I have guys in (jerseys) and basketball shorts, so we kind of cheated.”
Rather than go outside, Cornelia had his players wait in a nearby auxiliary gym.
“So the crowd filed out, came back in, and then we (played) for about a minute and went into halftime,” Cornelia said. “That might’ve been the loudest it was, but that wasn’t the crowd — it was the fire alarm.
“But they’re all loud.”
So loud in fact that it’s difficult to hear what someone’s saying — even when they’re only a foot away.
“Even in the timeouts, it’s just hard to talk over the noise,” said Clarkston girls’ coach Debbie Sobotta. “It’s just hard to talk over the noise since you’ve got both sides constantly cheering and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s what makes it great.”
BACKGROUND NOISE ONCE THE GAME STARTS — Lewis-Clark State men’s basketball players Trystan Bradley and Jake Albright — who played against each other in the 2016 and 2017 Golden Thrones — both made an interesting point: The atmosphere of the gym kind of fades away for players once the game starts.
“It’s obviously a huge event and a ton of people are watching,” said Bradley, who went to Lewiston, “but once we started playing, we didn’t really think about it much and just focused on what we were doing.”
Added Albright, “You only really notice the crowd during warmups.”
Former Clarkston coach Brendan Johnson agreed.
“The noise, you definitely have to have your act together as far as your play calls with physical signals,” he said, “but when you get into the heat of the game, it’s almost a background aura that’s there.
“Most kids settle down and you really don’t notice the noise until a timeout, or coming out of the locker room at halftime or the pregame.”
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