High School Basketball

Cultural diversity: Storm’s powerful trait

Coach David Dickson, center, talks to the Squalicum basketball team during a timeout against Shorecrest during the second quarter Saturday, Feb. 20, at Mount Vernon High School.
Coach David Dickson, center, talks to the Squalicum basketball team during a timeout against Shorecrest during the second quarter Saturday, Feb. 20, at Mount Vernon High School. For The Bellingham Herald

Squalicum High School’s hallway walls in past months have been adorned with posters celebrating different cultures and societal contributors from various ethnic backgrounds.

Black heritage month is being recognized now, Chinese New Year was featured a couple weeks before that and a Hindu holiday was commemorated following a Mexican-American celebration.

The goal’s simple, and no doubt important — help expose students to this diverse world by showing them how special and unique different cultures are.

But nearly every day after school inside Squalicum’s gym, a pure, real-life exhibit of cultural diversity and its benefit is on display.

“We have a real objective as a team — to get better, to become close,” Squalicum coach Dave Dickson said. “Those objectives are not contrived. They are not something that sometimes happens when people try to engineer integration. When young people come together for a common goal, that goal supersedes all the diversity, so truly they rub shoulders and get to know each other if they are brothers, and that’s invaluable in this society.”

Dickson, in the midst of his 22nd season coaching, has never led a team as culturally diverse as the Storm’s 2015-16 squad.

Squalicum’s 12-man varsity roster is one, large melting pot.

It features players with predominant roots from Africa, India, Italy and Hawaii, and there are players of mixed racial background including Japanese, Mexican, African, and white European.

Dickson’s squad isn’t defined by the various ethnic backgrounds of its players. In fact, thanks to the progressive world we live in, most might overlook how diverse Squalicum’s team is.

The Storm (19-4) is known for its on-court work, and it can flat-out play. Squalicum is back in the state tournament and faces River Ridge in the regional round at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, at Puyallup High School where a Hardwood Classic berth will be on the line.

The Storm is getting a top-notch basketball education from Dickson, a Class of 2016 WIBCA Hall of Fame inductee, but the team’s also gaining invaluable experience working with others whose roots stem from all over the world.

“It’s kind of cool because everyone has a different story coming from different places,” senior Connor Sage said. “Once we get on the court we are one, we bond and those stories get left behind.”

But back off the court, those unique, cultural attributes show up in the team’s various personalities.

Players have enjoyed learning Italian phrases from foreign-exchange student Gionvanni Melley and Punjabi language from Karampal Dulay. Ben Wolters said outgoing players Darious Powell, Josiah Westbrook and Damek Mitchell often lead team postgame rap sessions, and the players always enjoy team dinners featuring tastes from around the world.

“Giovanni, coming from Italy, we call him the Italian Stallion,” said Creighton Kaui of the fun the team has with each other’s backgrounds. “Me, being from Hawaii, I get called Pineapple and stuff like that. It’s definitely something we embrace about each other. Everyone is very accepting.”

And everyone is having fun.

While Dickson noted his team plays with discipline, their individualism also shines through.

“We don’t hold anything back, even when we are in front of 200 people or how many people it is,” Sage said. “We still want to have fun together and do these handshakes. We don’t really care what people think, and I think that is what separates us from some teams. They might want to look cool or something. We just want to have fun.”

Not only has basketball been the conduit that’s allowed Squalicum’s roster to come together and delve into each others’ cultures, it’s also united the school to some degree, Kaui said.

“We are all culturally diverse, so around the school we can identify with a lot of people,” Kaui said. “Sometimes I think at schools people say, ‘Oh, that’s the basketball team. They think they are so cool,’ or whatever, but I think here a lot of people identify with us, so we have a lot of friends.”

No matter how Squalicum’s season ends, whether it be Friday or more than a week from now in Yakima, the Storm has earned something extremely valuable — an understanding and appreciation for those who come from diverse backgrounds.