A slam dunk

Washougal seniors and graduates share a love for basketball

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Matt Rotundo and Michael McElory showed what they could do if they had played on the same basketball team for Washougal High School Friday.

McElroy, a 2013 graduate, stole the ball, dribbled down the open lane and tossed it up to Rotundo, a current senior at the high school, following close behind. Rotundo grabbed the ball in midair and slammed it through the basket.

“I knew he was going to throw it up. We do that in open gym all the time,” Rotundo said. “I gave him the look and he knew what to do.”

Fans in the Washougal jungle gym were hooting and hollering. If they didn’t believe what they just saw, Rotundo gave them an encore. On the next possession, he jammed a pass by Alyssa Blankenship, the school’s second all-time leading scorer.

These were just two of the countless highlight reel plays that occurred during the seniors and alumni basketball game Friday. Rotundo, Blankenship, RaeAnn Allen, Daniel Davis, Curtis Crosby, Sarah Shilling and 2013 graduates McElory and Jaden Jantzer teamed up against 2015 graduates Haley Briggs, Brenna Vargo, Noah Prangley and Ryan Taylor, 2013 graduates Sean Guthrie and Nathan Adams, 1995 graduate Todd Watts, 1991 graduates Kelly Anderson, Brad Bea and Jason McEathron, and 1976 graduate Mary (Schulze) LaFrance.

McElroy, Jantzer and Davis drained threes from well behind the line. Prangley, Vargo and Guthrie nailed baskets from long range. Allen and McElroy turned several steals into fast breaks for points. Anderson and Bea proved they could still rebound and put the ball back through the net.

“If we do this again, I’m going to come back and play,” Rotundo said. “This was a big night for Washougal history. To be a part of it is something I’ll never forget.”

A torn ACL sidelined Vargo during her senior year at Washougal High School. Getting to play ball again with her best friends was vindication after a long road to recovery.

“To be here with the community and teammates was a wonderful experience,” Vargo said. “It felt like I was home again.

“Tearing my ACL was depressing, but I couldn’t let myself get down. I had to build myself back up and get stronger,” she added. “Alyssa [Blankenship], Rae [Allen], Haley [Briggs] and Crystal [Chase] kept me on the right path. I am a better athlete now than I was before the injury.”

Vargo just wrapped up her freshman season at Pierce Community College, in Tacoma. She also earned a scholarship to play for Robert Morris University, in Chicago. She has one more quarter to finish up before moving to the Windy City in June.

“Ever since I was 5, I wanted to play college basketball,” Vargo said. “Just to get this opportunity is an honor and a blessing.”

Vargo learned to never take this game for granted again. She wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning and shoots 500 baskets.

“Basketball gives me a smile that nothing else can do,” Vargo said. “It’s my passion. It’s helped me make a lot of friends who are like family. It’s my whole life, and it keeps me focused on my goals.”

LaFrance, 58, was the oldest graduate to play in Friday’s game. She was on the first girls basketball team at Washougal High School in 1974.

The Panthers won the South Trico League that season. LaFrance recalls hitting a 3-pointer from half court with three seconds left in the first half of a game against Castle Rock. She still works at the school as an ASB tech.

“I’ve seen a lot of games,” LaFrance said. “To work here and still be a part of this, it’s like winning the lottery and not getting the money. It’s better.”

LaFrance was a high school senior when teammate Ruth Peake scored 46 points for the Panthers on Feb. 2, 1976. It’s still stands as a school record for most points in a game to this day.

“She was so driven,” LaFrance said of Peake. “There was just no stopping her.”

Friday’s Washougal High School senior and alumni basketball showcase was all about Panther pride. The event raised $388 for renovations at Fishback Stadium.

LaFrance knowns what it means to be a Washougal Panther.

“Integrity, hard work, camaraderie and hometown feel.”

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