Fans of the highly successful Washougal girls basketball team probably suspect the players have a few “secret weapons” in their playbooks, but one they may not know about is the team-building that takes place each summer at the Skamania County Fair.
Walk inside any of the 4-H animal barns during the fair, held Aug. 14-18 in Stevenson, and you are sure to see several members of the team helping each other care for farm animals. The fair has become a sort of “family affair” for the team, considering the fact that nine varsity players are involved in 4-H, and four of the nine are actual family members.
The Panthers’ star player, 6-foot-tall senior Beyonce Bea, who recently committed to play basketball at the University of Idaho, has been showing 4-H animals since childhood. Likewise for Bea’s younger sister and teammate, Skylar, who will be a sophomore at Washougal High this fall. The girls’ cousins, incoming Washougal freshmen Jaiden Bea and Savea Mansfield, also are seasoned hoopers who belong to the 4-H family that shows in Stevenson each summer.
Beyonce didn’t show her animals at the fair this year, because she’s been playing club basketball in tournaments across the country, including events in Chicago, Kentucky, Las Vegas and San Diego, but said she still wanted to support her teammates and family members.
“I wanted to be here and help support all the younger 4-Hers,” Beyonce said.
The oldest Bea started her 4-H fair path showing goats. Later, Beyonce — along with starting Panther guard Ashley Gibbons, a lifelong neighbor and friend to the Bea family — started showing sheep and raising pigs and cows.
Gibbons has shown sheep at the fair for nine consecutive years and said the practice helps her when basketball season rolls around.
“4-H isn’t an individual thing,” Gibbons said. “(It’s the) same with basketball, which isn’t an individual sport: you work as a team, and with all of us being in 4-H, that really helps us build stronger relationships with each other.”
Other Panthers in 4-H include McKinley Stotts, Maddie Gehrke, Taylor Gibbons, Brenna McEathron and Siarrah Pilar.
Incoming freshmen show leadership
Inside the sheep barn on the opening day of the fair, incoming Washougal freshmen Savea Mansfield and Jaden Bea were busy developing leadership skills by helping younger 4-H members trim their sheep and prepare for the show.
“The animals feel how you feel, so if you are scared, they will be scared too,”Jaiden explained. “So, it relates to life in general, because people are the same way. This experience helps us emotionally with basketball, and life in general.”
Jaiden’s parents, Brian and Jody Bea, created the Silver Star Stockman 4-H Club and helped the girls prepare their animals inside the family’s barn, east of Washougal. This is the same barn where Beyonce, Skylar and nearly the entire Washougal High basketball team have worked on their shots and moves for years.
“Having Beyonce on this team is an absolute edge. You have someone who plays basketball all over the country and acts as a leader and mentor to everyone in the program,” Brian said of his niece. “She does the same thing in 4-H. All these girls want to grow up and be like Beyonce.”
Beyonce says she’s excited to play with her talented freshman cousins and sister, Skylar, who is already getting some notice from college scouts this year. The Panthers won the league championship and went to state last season, but lost in the first round to the Lynden High Lions from Northwest Washington.
“I think what happened last year lights our fire,” Beyonce said. “We just want to win this time. It’s my last chance to do it. We want to go further, and show what we can really do.”
An emotional team-building exercise
The fair is fun, but, just like in basketball, there are a few tough spots.
All the girls agree the hardest part of showing their 4-H animals at the fair is the point when their animals have sold and are going off to market. The girls describe this as an emotional time filled with tears, but also intense bonding.
“It’s hard, but everyone goes through it,” Stotts said. “We are all here for each other, and it makes our relationships stronger.”
Those relationships will be tested during the upcoming season. Expectations are for this year’s Panther girls varsity basketball team to not only have a winning season, but also a successful run at the state trophy.
Of course, family members may see it a little differently than mega-fans.
“Personally, I hope Beyonce just relaxes this year and has fun,” Brian Bea said. “She’s played all over the country, and everyone knows what she’s capable of doing. I just hope she has fun, so there isn’t so much pressure.”