High School Basketball

Talent, titles, respect — what makes Lynden’s storied basketball rivalry so special?

Why Lynden’s basketball rivalry is so intense

The basketball rivalry between Lynden and Lynden Christian High School existed even before the two team's first official matchup in the 1960-1961 season.
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The basketball rivalry between Lynden and Lynden Christian High School existed even before the two team's first official matchup in the 1960-1961 season.

Only in Lynden, or so it surely seems.

Somewhere in small-town America, but certainly not anywhere else in Washington, there may be two defending boys basketball state champions who will meet deep into a season with a combined record similar to 34-0 and the top state rankings in their respective classifications.

Somewhere in a farming community with a population of fewer than 15,000, two such teams may attract a sellout crowd of more than 3,000 — with advance ticket sales only.

Somewhere, two such longtime rivals may play a showdown for their likely conference title with admirable sportsmanship and an absolute minimum of trash talk.

But all three?

Well, perhaps not, but now you know why Harlan Kredit, a highly respected board member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, calls the Lynden vs. Lynden Christian game “the best of small-town America.”

It’s the best in so many ways, emphasizes Kredit, LC Class of 1957, a much-honored teacher for more than half a century at LC and an athletic director for more than 30 years. He was only one of hundreds of students who graduated from one of the two schools in the 1960s and have been fans seemingly forever in this rivalry, which began in the 1960-61 season.

The score of Class 1A Lynden Christian’s 75-57 win over Class 2A Lynden Friday night at Jake Maberry Gymnasium only begins to tell the latest tale in Whatcom County’s — and arguably the state’s — most storied basketball rivalry. And not just because coaches Brian Roper of Lynden and Roger DeBoer of LC are already in the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame and several players on both teams are again candidates for high honors.

“I still think Lynden is one of the best teams in our state,” said DeBoer, who called Lynden the best statewide recently and was the epitome of bliss in the final minute Friday night. “If we played them 10 times, we might get one or two wins. But this was that one. … It was definitely our best game.”

Lynden basketball players huddle before the Lynden vs. Lynden Christian basketball game at Lynden High School on Jan. 25. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

‘It’s such a good brand of basketball’

One of the most enthusiastic fans of both teams, spirited 84-year-old Gerrit Kuiken, Lynden Class of 1952, has faithfully attended games for more than three decades after his 30-year career in the Air Force and six years as a businessman in Saudia Arabia.

“I came back to Lynden in 1988, and I’ve been a fan ever since. My brother Eugene founded Lynden youth basketball in the 1960s, and Hub DeJong took it over,” Kuiken told The Bellingham Herald in an interview. “I was Rollie DeKoster’s best friend since we met as 2-year-olds. I didn’t get my height and weight until after high school, so I was too small to play football.”

But he showed his spirit by serving as “water boy” and team manager.

Jerry Blankers, Lynden Class of 1974, said, “Our community is so excited because it’s such a good brand of basketball. It’s such a good bunch of kids at both schools. It’s a lot of talent and so much fun.”

The head football coaches at the two schools — Lynden’s Blake Van Dalen and LC’s Dan Kaemingk — were multi-sport standouts for their schools and remain deeply involved with the basketball community.

Van Dalen’s team went 12-1 last fall, winning the NWC 2A title and losing only in the state finals by five points, and Kaemingk’s team finished 10-3, advancing to the state semifinals and tying for the NWC 1A championship.

Lynden Christian fans and cheerleaders cheer together during the Lynden vs. Lynden Christian basketball game at Lynden High School on Jan. 25. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

‘Such a blessing’

“This basketball rivalry is just such a blessing,” said Van Dalen, an assistant basketball coach who scouted LC‘s recent 73-71 win over state 2A trophy contender Anacortes.

Kaemingk echoed that thought while serving as radio color man for that game.

“It’s so much fun for so many who grew up in our community,” said Kaemingk, LC Class of 1981. “I think the sportsmanship has improved. I got to know all these kids in Lynden youth sports. And since we’re now in different divisions, we can all root for each other at state in Yakima. And we do. It’s a really good concept of what sportsmanship really is.”

Van Dalen, Lynden Class of 1990, agrees whole-heartedly while saying the Lions coaching staffs “do a really good job of sharing our athletes” since so many are needed for multiple sports.

“These are wonderful young men who play the game the right way,” Van Dalen said. “There’s a ton of pride among the students.”

Lynden announcer Lawrence Honcoop, who began his announcing career with Lynden’s 1977 football season and later took on basketball, was honored with a plaque before Friday game. He pointed out that “the coaches (all 11 of them between the two teams) have a lot to do with the sportsmanship.“

But the sportsmanship extends into the stands, as well. There’s a mutal respect between the two schools, whether you wear green or blue.

When late, legendary Lynden football coach Curt Kramme was enshrined in the Lynden Hall of Fame at halftime, LC supporters supplied a large percentage of the cheers. Kramme himself received a heartfelt ovation when he was an honored speaker at a Coaches vs. Cancer game in the 2017 version of the all-Lynden showdown.

Fans pack the Jake Maberry Gymnasium during the Lynden vs. Lynden Christian basketball game at Lynden High School on Jan. 25. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

‘Filled to the rafters’

Lynden athletic director Mike McKee told The Bellingham Herald recently that “our place has been filled to the rafters the last four times we’ve played here,” all of which were Lynden home wins before Friday’s game.

But a matchup of unbeaten defending champs? McKee said that was a first between these friendly rivals.

This was LC’s second consecutive win over Lynden, which had won eight of the previous nine before 2018.

“I can’t ever remember back-to-back wins over Lynden,” Kredit told The Herald. “It may have happened, but I don’t remember it.”

Only once before, the year after the 2011-2012 season in which both teams won state titles, had the rivals met as defending champions.

This winter, Lynden is seeking its 10th state title and LC is chasing its seventh.

Lynden and Lynden Christian players shake hands after the rivalry game at Lynden High School on Jan. 25. Lynden Christian took home the victory, beating Lynden 75-57. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

‘We all knew we had to play our best game’

Cole Bajema, bound for the University of Michigan, had game highs of 32 points and 10 rebounds Friday for the Lyncs (18-0, 11-0 Northwest Conference) in the showdown, and fellow senior Luke Bos shot 6 for 9 with five 3-pointers.

Christian Zamora scored 21 and shot 6 for 9 with four 3s for the Lions (17-1, 10-1), and fellow senior Clayton Whitman scored 19 with three 3s and three breakaway dunks. LC junior Andrew DeVries, shooting 3 for 4 and passing superbly, had eight points and a team-high four assists.

Junior Bryce Bouwman, who didn’t take a shot in the first half, scored seven points with 5 for 5 free throw shooting under pressure, as the Lyncs raced from a 47-40 lead after three quarters to a 66-50 advantage with 3:19 to play on a pair of clinching free throws by Bouwman.

LC ‘s win Friday was all the more impressive because the Lions came in averaging nearly 75 points and allowing an average of 44.

The Lyncs have similar season averages, but the defenders for both teams were so quick that this was among the lowest-scoring games for both.

“We all knew we had to play our best game,” said Bos, whom DeBoer noted has been at his best in LC’s biggest games.

“Luke just doesn’t get nervous,” said DeBoer, who also pointed out how well Bouwman came through when needed most by the Lyncs, who led 26-24 at halftime.

“Luke was spectacular,” said Bajema, praising his whole team’s effort. “This will help us a lot.”

Roper met with his team long after Friday’s game.

The much-honored coach said recently that “We have wonderful kids. I love to see them in practice. They’re such good friends.”