Sports

Oliver hopes swan song will be at state

"CHICO - Everything after the opening tip was strictly a laugher.Most of the emotion in Gundy Hall Thursday afternoon was spent before the King's West School girls basketball final home game of the season actually started. Coach Tom Oliver ended months of speculation about his future, and that of his staff, when he announced they would not return next season.After a ceremony to honor the Warrior girls' four seniors, Oliver told the hushed crowd - most of which came expecting such an announcement - that the school would not be offering him a contract for the 2001-02 school year.I think we've built a great thing here, said Oliver, in his 11th season as the Crista Ministries school's athletic director and girls hoops coach. But the reality is, they're de-emphasizing athletics. One of the things they're doing is to eliminate the athletic director position.I would've liked to have stayed, said Oliver. But it was a decision that was made for me.Oliver told the crowd that this was not the kind of exit he would've wished for, but reminded both the fans and the team that their season is far from over.We have a long way to go, said Oliver, who has taken the Warriors to the state Class B tournament in Spokane four of the last five years and is gunning for a fifth trip later this month. We have a goal to end up east of the mountains again, and that's what we want to focus on.That being said, the Warriors easily crushed Christian Faith 68-35 in their final tune-up before the Sea-Tac League championship game Feb. 10 at Bush School in Seattle, against an as-yet undetermined opponent. The league champ gets a more favorable seed into the Tri-District playoffs, the final obstacle before the state tourney Feb. 28-March 3 at the Spokane Arena.Oliver, who also taught some classes and served as transportation director, was dismissed by King's West last summer as a cost-cutting move to counter decreased enrollment. Student and parent protest, however, prompted the school to bring him back for this school year.Though he said earlier this week he would've liked to stay beyond the end of the school year, he never felt it was in the cards. He was informed last weekend in an e-mail from King's West principal Nick Sweeney that he would not be offered a new contract.He told the Warriors at the end of their Tuesday practice session, according to four-year varsity senior Bekah Walker.We knew what was going on, but it still took most of us off-guard, said Walker, whose father, Rick Walker, is the King's West boys basketball coach. All of a sudden, it was actually happening, Bekah Walker said. I think it's going to bring us a lot closer as a team. Through adversity, you can experience a lot of growth.She said the Warriors' goal all season has been to get back to state, but that Thursday's announcement would offer another source of inspiration.It's just one more reason for us to want to go very far (in the playoffs), she said.During Thursday's pregame, a subdued Oliver also announced that his long-time assistants, Norm Goldstein and Jim Zinter, also would not return next year, along with a number of volunteers who have helped with game-day operations - both at Olympic College, where the Warriors played until two years ago and at Gundy Hall, which opened for the 1999-2000 season.One by one, he thanked those who had helped him, many since his arrival at the school a decade ago, turn the Warriors into one of the state's best-regarded small-school girls programs.Then his wife, Frani, took the microphone and tearfully added her husband's name to the list of those who wouldn't be returning.We're going to go where the Lord wants us to go, Frani Oliver said of the family's future.All three of the Olivers' children currently attend King's West. The eldest, sophomore Ryan, played in the boys game which followed the girls contest. Oliver said it's the family's wish to remain in the area and allow their kids to continue at the school, but that the job market might make that impossible.Oliver repeated several times his regrets over not being able to leave King's West on his own terms, but added that he wants to concentrate on taking his final team to state.We've got a great group of girls, and I think we all want to get to Spokane and finish what we've started, he said.Beth Grams led the Warriors' romp with 18 points. The other three seniors - Marica Bulette, Walker and Natasha Beals - added 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively. "

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