Washougal’s pride

Town, students turn out to celebrate champion basketball players

A roaring crowd greets the Washougal girls basketball team as they arrive in downtown Washougal behind a police and fire escort.

The Washougal cheerleaders help the Washougal girls basketball team exit the bus to visit students at Columbia River Gorge Elementary School.

Standing in the cold rain doesn't feel bad when you have a state championship trophy to warm you up. Senior Beyonce Bea (center) walks through a crowd in downtown Washougal to show off her team's addition to the Washougal High trophy case.

Head girls basketball coach Britney Knotts (right) is warmed up by a cheering crowd in downtown Washougal.

The Washougal girls bring the state championship trophy into downtown Washougal for a celebration on Friday, March 8.

Members of the Washougal girls basketball team wave to fans from a school bus, led by police and fire department escorts on Friday, March 8.

Skylar Bea (left) and her cousin Jaiden Bea (right) make friends with a fan's dog in downtown Washougal.

Beyonce Bea thanks a local fan for all the support while Mayor Molly Coston (Orange shirt) records the moment on her cell phone.

Clutching the state championship trophy, senior Beyonce Bea spends some time sharing her experience with community members who gathered in downtown Washougal to celebrate the girls basketball team's historic accomplishment.

The Washougal Panthers 2A state basketball champions experienced a hero’s parade last week.

Proud Washougal basketball fans lined the streets of downtown Washougal Friday, standing in cold rain and wet snow to meet the girls who captured the town’s first ever state basketball championship.

Coaches and players cruised into the town’s downtown core in a school bus, their hands waving from the bus windows, behind their official police and fire escorts, who had lights shining and sirens blaring.

Fans in Reflection Plaza waved, held signs and cheered the champions as they pulled into downtown. Washougal Mayor Molly Coston greeted the girls first.

“I know what they did takes an enormous amount of hard work and thousands of hours and an enormous support team, so I really wanted to let them know how proud we are of all of them,” Colston said.

Washougal’s all-time leading scorer, Beyonce Bea, was first to exit the bus. She cradled the huge championship trophy with both hands. The entire team then met with fans and posed with the trophy for pictures.

“I thought it was really special that the community put on a parade for us so we could spend time and share our experiences with them,” Beyonce Bea said.

The senior’s younger sister, Skylar, explained how touched she had been by a Washougal woman who approached her in Reflection Plaza to tell her she had watched the playoff games online and was excited to finally meet her.

“She said she just sat by the computer waiting for Twitter updates on the tournament games,” Skylar Bea said. “And I even got to meet her dog. It was really special.”

For many community members who do not have children in school, the Washougal girls basketball team has been a way to connect with the town’s younger generation.

“The fact that they are integrating into the community and becoming community members is remarkable at their age,” Colston said of the Panthers girls. “When you think about it, isn’t that what it’s all about — building a strong community?”

Champions visit Washougal schools

The championship parade didn’t end downtown. In fact, it was just getting started on the caravan’s journey throughout Washougal School District, where the basketball champions would visit every school in the district before the day was done.

The Panthers started at Hathaway Elementary School.

“It’s awesome to know those kids really do care and it shows that they look up to you, which means you have to set a good example because you always have those kids who want to be like you,” Beyonce said.

After hundreds of high fives at Hathaway, the girls hopped back on the bus and headed east to Columbia River Gorge Elementary and Jemtegaard Middle School.

Inside the attached schools, cheering students holding “congratulations” signs lined the hallways.

Seventh-grader Isabella Albaugh was among the cheering crowd at Jemtegaard.

Albaugh, who traveled to Yakima, Washington, with her family to see the state championship game against East Valley High of Spokane, said she dreams of one day being part of a team that brings Washougal another state championship trophy. She has been playing basketball in Washougal since first grade and will play on the eighth-grade team next season.

“This is so awesome,” Albaugh said of the Panthers visit to her school.

And what did she think of the trophy winning game? “It was really cool, but it was very tense because the score was close the entire game,” Albaugh said, adding she looks up to all the girls on the championship team.

After visiting the schools, the basketball players returned to a school assembly inside a packed Washougal High School gymnasium — the same place where the team went undefeated in league play this season.

Similar to what happened at their home games, the gym lights went out and a loudspeaker announced the players’ names as Washougal High students waved their glowing cell phones as if waving lighters at a rock concert.

“It’s definitely even better than I imagined,” Beyonce said. “I’ve wanted a state championship for so long. All the work we put in and to have it all pay off at the end is incredible. And I think we all still can’t believe that we are state champions.”

Skylar Bea, who will be a junior next year and who hopes to earn the school and town more state hardware, said the day taught her a valuable lesson.

“It was so cool to have the little kids look up to us like that,” Skylar said. “So I’m going to keep trying hard to set a good example for them.”