Can you feel the noise vibrating in the walls of Ted M. Natt Court? Can you hear the student sections screaming chants in the gym discord? Can you taste the animosity in the air?
Here we are again. It’s time for the 143rd meeting between RA Long and Mark Morris, battling for the hearts and minds of Longview since 1958, when Mark Morris started his men’s college basketball program. Mark Morris won that year, earning his first win in program history and has been winning (mostly) ever since against the rival Lumberjacks with a 103-39 all-time record.
That excellent mark of rivalry includes an 81-9 streak from 1978 to January 13, 2020.
Ahh, but things have changed lately.
Jeray Key, a former Monarch player who now coaches the Lumberjacks, has turned things around. His RA Long program has won the last six meetings between the two schools, including all three last season en route to its second state tournament trophy. Now, the Jacks look for a record seventh straight win over Mark Morris and head coach Bill Bakamus’ legendary program.
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Last year, Cavin Holden scored a game-high 37 points and RA Long dropped 39 points in the fourth quarter in the first meeting with the Monarchs to earn an 85-72 comeback that extended the winning streak to four. The streak became six when Holden’s team won the showdown with MM at the district tournament three weeks later.
The two programs enter Wednesday’s matchup ranked among the top 10 2A teams in Washington state: Mark Morris at No. #5 and R.A. Long at No. (Mark Morris and RA Long play every Monday night after the print deadline.) Not since 1976 has that been the case at the time of their meeting.
The 143 version of Longview’s greatest rivalry should be more like those of yesteryear, when games were played in front of standing-room-only crowds with boisterous fans filling the rafters shoulder to shoulder and condensation dripping off the walls. The 2021 COVID-19 restrictions are gone according to Mark Morris athletic secretary Chandra Peters, and have a good trip. The Monarchs’ gym is likely to sell out to fill its 2,600 capacity.
Yeah, it’s time for the Longview community to come together once again for some good old-fashioned hardwood brawl between brothers, bad blood and all.
“Nothing compares to a Civil War, it just has a little more to it,” Bakamus admitted. “It really is the best sporting event we have here in Longview… Just from the perspective of a pure sports enthusiast or a casual fan. This is the red dress gala.”
There’s heat that comes along with the drama, and there should be.
“You pick a team when you’re young,” said Rem Bakamus, a Mark Morris player from 2009-12 who is now an assistant coach at the University of Arizona. “You start at Cascade or Monticello (middle schools) and they always say, ‘We’re better than you.’ Of course, it took them to hire one of ours in Jeray to change their program.”
Rem’s dad, Bill Bakamus, has seen it all when it comes to rivalry games and there’s one word that comes to mind when he remembers it all as a whole.
“There’s no question about it. This game, the best way to describe it is that it gets pretty frothy,” the Monarchs’ hall of fame coach said.
Walking through the community, talking to fans and alumni from both sides, memories of the old classics abound.
Like the meeting on January 28, 2017 in which RA Long broke a hellish 28-game losing streak spanning 13 years. The Lumberjacks prevailed 62-56 thanks to performances from Coby Rothwell and Marcus Maryott.
Or the 1989 iteration when RA Long finally pulled off a win against the 1980s giant that was Mark Morris with the game-winning free kick of Wes Armstrong (now Kalama’s head coach).
In 2011, Mark Morris returned the favor when Ryan Littlefield (now RAL baseball coach) hit a game-winning reverse layup that must have scraped sweat off the roof of the Lumberdome before falling through the net with just seconds remaining to go. throw a celebration from the Monarchs faithful at the Jacks’ beloved Joe Moses Court.
Other games were historic for different reasons. There was the 1985 game that Mark Morris won 18-16 before the use of shot clocks came into play. RA Long took the air out of that contest, concerned about the Monarchs’ size and athleticism.
And there was the game on February 19, 1991 that ended in three overtimes and Mark Morris finally prevailed, as he has so many times, 79-69.
The two school campuses are separated by less than one mile as the crow flies. Somehow, though, there’s a perceived notion of a separation in the class: the old narrative pits the kids of the hill, all dressed in their fancy Columbia, don’t call it “baby,” blue against the kids of the Lands. High in your job. red and black flannel
But it’s not just the colors of the schools or the waters of Lake Sacajawea that separate them, it’s decades of history.
And underneath it all is a community that still cares. Just ask Mickey Polis, the current Lower Columbia College men’s basketball coach and another Monarch alumnus.
“That’s what makes it special,” said Polis, who was part of four Mark Morris state tournament teams from 2002-05. “Otherwise, it’s just another game. It’s not just another game.”
Polis grew up watching the games when his father, Mike, was the head coach and played in the years before the fire marshal dictated the attendance limit. Back then it seemed like the whole city was piling into the claustrophobic Lumberdome, filling the loft and hanging from the railings.
“It was really intense,” Polis recalls. “It was incredible.”
Mark Morris’s public address announcer, Dave Andrew, has been coming to the games since the 1960s, when his father was assistant manager at Mark Morris. Now a 35-year veteran behind the mic, wait for another.
“I’ve seen a lot of those games. I enjoy them,” Andrew said. “I like the rivalry. I don’t like it when it gets poisonous sometimes. That for me is simply not necessary. I just like a nice, wholesome high school, a rivalry between having fun and then shaking hands when we’re done.”
High school rivalries possess the power of infinity. They continue even as classes graduate and players move on to college and careers. They carry on through recessions and pandemics, giving alumni on both sides a reason to return to the old halls to see what has and hasn’t changed.
And they will do it again on Wednesday for the last chapter between RA Long and his Mark Morris relatives. Except this time they will play to determine which team is the “little” brother in the future.