Two of last Saturday's state high school basketball championship games had a White Salmon presence in them.
Dave VanLaar and Jim Anderson, members of the Columbia Gorge Officials Association, each tossed the ball up for the opening tip and served as the lead official of three-person crews that worked state title matchups in Yakima and Spokane respectively.
For VanLaar, the Class 1A boys contest between Brewster and Toledo was his second state championship game in 15 years of officiating. Four years ago--the last season Washington used two-person crews--he called the Class B girls championship game between St. George's of Spokane and Almira/Coulee-Hartline.
Anderson, for his part, capped his eighth season as a basketball official by working the 2B girls title game that pitted Mossyrock against defending champion La Salle of Union Gap. (He called a B girls semifinal game in 2006.)
All told, VanLaar and Anderson both officiated seven games during their respective Feb. 28-March 3 tournaments. Moreover, each earned recognition among his peers by being selected as his tournament's top-rated official.
"That's pretty good for the smallest association in the state to have two guys calling the finals this year," said VanLaar.
Anderson agreed, adding that their selections gave recognition to the fact "we have quality officials doing the games in this area."
The Columbia Gorge Officials Association, an affiliate of the Washington Officials Association, receives two tournament assignments each season: one on the boys side, the other on the girls..
Selection for a tournament is made by the association's board of directors, based on a number of criteria.
"To be eligible for a state tournament, an official has to be certified by the WOA, have attended a three-person camp and completed an online clinic," VanLaar said. "Then, they have to have worked at least 10 varsity games, boys or girls, during the season and be selected for the district tournament."
VanLaar has been tapped for a state tournament six times, while Anderson has garnered two state assignments.
This year in Yakima, VanLaar worked the 1A boys final with Suzanne DePoe-Thompson of Seattle and Jordan Haak of Sunnyside. Thompson, in a bit of history-making, became the first woman official to call a state boys championship game.
"Both very good officials," VanLaar said of his colleagues.
The trio earned the chance to work the final on the basis of their performances in three previous games. A panel of observers evaluated those performances, then ranked the officials accordingly.
"Officials are evaluated on their mechanics, positioning on the floor, game management skills, appearance, how they deal with players and coaches," VanLaar noted. "Then they're ranked 1-12 and the top six get to call the semifinals. Those six are evaluated again during the semis, with the top three going on to the final."
VanLaar learned about his 1A championship game assignment--via a cell phone call he wasn't expecting--as he drove home to the Columbia Gorge last Friday.
"I was so satisfied with the semifinal game I'd been in that I didn't care if I got called to work the final," he said. "When the call came, it was a total shock. I had to pull over because I was pretty excited. It's always a great feeling when you get to go to the final."
Anderson, too, was excited when he saw his name at the top of the assignment list in Spokane. He said he wanted to pump his fists and let loose a whoop right there, but instead waited until he called VanLaar to share the news.
"Last year, when I got to do a semifinal game in my first tournament, I accomplished everything I wanted to," Anderson said. "This year I was hoping for the final but I wasn't sure. But when the assignments for the semis were posted, I saw I was ranked No. 2 as lead (official) for the second semi and I knew I still had a chance."
Anderson said he took the same approach to the 2B girls title game as he would to a seventh-grade girls contest, even though he would be working in front of his largest audience ever.
"It was a thrill," he said, "but once the game got going, the crowd faded into the background and I just went about my business the way I always do. And the best part was, the players decided the game."