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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of a two-part story about the Six Iron Lyncs. The story so far: The Lynden Christian boys basketball team — underrated and underdogs — has made it through the first two rounds of the 1976 Class A state tournament. The story continues as things begin to turn sour for the Lyncs. (Read the first part of this story here.)
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Chapter Seven: Six Down
Mark Bratt was in his room when he heard police sirens that seemed to be right next door. The Lyncs senior hopped up and went to the window. “For a country kid, you’re in the city, you’re pretty much downtown, and the sirens and the hoopla is kind of new, a different kind of experience,” he says. “So you look out the window: ‘Wow, there’s something going on.’ “
The church across the street was used to hoopla and sirens. The church had been broken into and vandalized so often that the congregation had put up the money for a state-of-the-art, voice-activated alarm system that both notified police of any trespassers and provided audio.
In rooms up and down the hall, players and parents and Lynden Christian supporters were stepping to their windows and looking out to see what was going on. In one room on the opposite side of the hall, the lights were out; roommates Duane VanderYacht and Bryan Korthuis, having stayed in that church breezeway for only two or three minutes, had returned to their room and were in their beds when somebody knocked on the door. It was Gary Weg.
“Hey, you gotta come over to our room and see this,” Weg announced. “They got a couple of our guys spread-eagled across from the parking lot.”
“What do you mean, they? Who’s they? Who’s got our guys?”
“The cops, man,” Weg said. “Who else?”
Sure enough, when VanderYacht got across the hall, he could see the same thing that people were seeing from every window on that side of the Tacoma Motor Inn: Police surrounding, searching and questioning three teen-aged boys, then separating them to interrogate them each individually.
Three of them — Bob Huizenga, Barry Berendsen and Harold Oosterhof — had still been sitting and talking outside the church. Not smoking any more. Just talking. When they heard the sirens, Huizenga recalls, they just thought Must be police sirens all the time down here in the city. It certainly never crossed their minds that it might have anything to do with them. In fact, as it turned out, the police had no interest whatsoever in high school basketball players with a tiny baggie of marijuana. When they discovered that’s all they had — the searches were merely to see if they had any stolen merchandise from the church — the officers were only too glad to hand over the boys to the first grownup ready to take responsibility for them.
By that time, though, seemingly half the grownup population of Lynden was standing in the windows of the Tacoma Motor Inn, watching the drama unfold below.
“I definitely remember being in that paddy wagon, my heart just sinking, knowing the situation we were in,” Huizenga says. “You’d look up at these two huge motels ... and seeing all those people looking out the window ... and they’re all looking down here. And here I am, just sitting in the pits of hell — because of what had happened, and knowing the repercussions.”
The three players were turned over to school officials, and Huizenga — in whose sock was found the little baggie of weed — ended up in a room with the coaches, the athletic director and a school counselor.
“You could have cut the air with a knife in that room. I’ll never forget that,” recalls Huizenga, who was doing his darnedest to keep as many of his teammates out of it as possible. “It’s not like I could get out of it myself,” Huizenga says. “So if there was anything I could do to lighten the load on the other guys ...”
But it wasn’t working. The coaches knew which two had been with Huizenga when the police arrived, and seemed to know that there were more people involved — five, maybe even six. The police, thanks to the church’s audio alarm, had told them as much.
The dominoes began to fall. One by one, the other five were brought in that room, and each ultimately confessed — some later admitting they did so because they didn’t think it fair that Huizenga be the only one penalized. The last to be brought in was Kingma, who returned to the motel when VanderYacht and Korthuis had and was in his room with a couple of girls — “actually making moves, which I didn’t know much about,” Kingma recalls with a laugh — when there was a knock on the door. It was H.T. — Harold Terpstra, the assistant coach. Kingma was wanted down the hall.
When Kingma entered the coaches’ room, he saw the five players, the coaches, the administrators ... and knew he was in trouble. When they asked him if he’d been with the other boys, smoking marijuana, he tried to skate at first — Smoking pot? When? What are you talking about? — but then, out of the side of his eye, saw Huizenga give him a little smile of resignation and a barely perceptible shake of the head. They know, that look said.
“Yeah,” Kingma said. “I was in on it.”
Coach Bill DeHoog hardly had anything to say during all of this. He was simply too devastated.
Chapter Eight: Hard Choices
The thing is, in those days Lynden Christian’s athletic code wasn’t written in so many words, like it is now. Now it’s a set of hard-and-fast rules — first offense four weeks, out two weeks of practice and then two more weeks of games, second violation a minimum of eight weeks, depending on the circumstances, and on and on. Athletes have to sign that code every year now.
In 1976, the athletic code was nothing more than a concept, really. “But it was understood,” says Garris Timmer, then the school’s principal, “that drinking or drugs was not the thing to do, and there’d be punishment if you did it.”
But what would the punishment be? Even when athletic director Anton Mellema called Timmer that night — the principal had not come down for the weekday games — the answer wasn’t yet clear. This much was clear: The six would have to be disciplined.
Mellema called tournament director Doug McArthur, then the athletic director at the University of Puget Sound, where the tournament was held. Could Lynden Christian replace the six with junior varsity kids who weren’t on the roster the school had submitted? No replacements, McArthur told them; that was in the state tournament by-laws. Well, Mellema told him, we might have to forfeit out of the tournament. No team has ever done that, McArthur said; besides, the Lyncs still had six players. But, Mellema said, if we have a couple of kids foul out ...
That was a definite possibility. Without their two tallest players — both among the six confessors — the Lyncs would be shorter than any team they might play, and would almost certainly run into foul trouble fending off taller opponents in the paint. What would Lynden Christian do?
Rumors were circulating all over the Tacoma Motor Inn that Thursday night. One prevalent rumor — in which the team was forfeiting the rest of its games and going back to Lynden — had the Lyncs cheerleaders crying in the hall. There were also rumors about which players were involved, about whether there would even be enough left to field a team.
Just as ubiquitous as the rumors were the suggestions being foisted upon Mellema, DeHoog and Terpstra — from parents, from rooters, from tournament officials — that the six boys be disciplined in a different way. The most common suggestion: Why not suspend them during spring sports? Most of ‘em play baseball or do track ...
The coaches’ answer — indeed, the school’s answer — was simple: What about the ones who don’t participate in spring sports? What do they learn from this? What does anybody learn from this if we don’t make the hard choices when it means something?
Principle. Hard choices.
At a Christian school, Timmer says, “There’s an added pressure on the administration and the staff to do the right thing. If you’re not going to do the right thing, what do you have your kids in a Christian school for?”
Perhaps the only ones who knew for sure what would happen, almost from the outset, were the players themselves. “We were busted for it,” Kingma says, “and we accepted whatever they told us to do.” All 12 players knew, even before it was announced, that their lineup would be cut in half for the duration of the tournament.
Earlier that season, Bratt had been suspended for a game for something as innocuous as throwing a snowball inside the gym during an assembly. Also that year, six players — including four starters — had been suspended for a league game after they’d fessed up to pilfering ice cream bars from the gymnasium concession stand after practice, something Lyncs teams had been doing for so long it was almost a tradition. Some parents — thinking it laughable to suspend kids over such a minor transgression — actually bought a box of ice cream bars and had them delivered during the game to the penitent players.
Still, the players sat. The Lyncs lost the game.
Just as virtually everybody expected the Lyncs would do after that Thursday night in Tacoma.
“Going down there,” Glen Dykstra recalls, “I’m sure nobody thought we would win it, even with 12 guys.”
And now, on the eve of the state semifinals, Lynden Christian had only six.
Chapter Nine: The Morning After
The next morning, Bill DeHoog laid it out for his players in a team meeting. Six would play. The six who had broken the unwritten athletic code would sit in their uniforms on the bench, but would not enter the game unless two players fouled out, leaving the team with just four. He wouldn’t have the team making a mockery of the tournament by playing with fewer than five.
The six suspended players were instructed to go to the early-session games that day at the UPS Fieldhouse, for a couple of reasons. One, that the parents who hadn’t heard the news, or who were only arriving in Tacoma that day, would be notified at the fieldhouse. And two, that it was better for the kids to face the music now — to take whatever the community wanted to heap upon them — then to hide from it.
When those six left the room so that DeHoog could go over the game plan with the six who would be facing Lake Roosevelt that night, he told the ones who stayed: Support your teammates. They’re going to need it ... maybe now more than ever.
And then he described just exactly how the six boys in that room were going to beat the top-ranked team in the state.
For the other six, it was a difficult day from the beginning. VanderYacht was devastated. “He had the sheets pulled up over his head,” says Kingma, who had to all but drag him out of bed before the meeting. After the team meeting, though, VanderYacht found his parents’ RV in the UPS Fieldhouse parking lot and told them the dreaded news. His father, Dale, could tell how hard Duane was taking it and took some of that weight off. Hey, I was 17 at one time, he told his son, I probably would have done the same thing.
“Their thing was, OK, learn by it. Learn by your mistakes,” VanderYacht says. “So I was feeling pretty good. My mom and dad patted me on the back and said, hey, life goes on. But I’ll never forget: Walking from the motor home to the gym — maybe a three-minute walk — I had probably three or four adults that I looked up to ... that just laid into me. How could do this to the team, how could you do this to Lynden ...”
Each of the six got that to varying degrees, but the worst was reserved for Huizenga, dubbed the ringleader as the guy caught with the baggie. Here’s something nobody knew: When police showed up, Huizenga shoved that baggie in his sock ... but it wasn’t his. It belonged to a teammate. For a quarter-century, that was a burden he carried himself, and never told. He wasn’t going to lessen his load by pointing the finger at a teammate.
Principle. Hard choices.
Huizenga chose to take the rap, and he took it from nearly everybody. From the people who got right in his face to the ones who only glared, whispering to their friends: There he is. There’s the one that got them all in trouble.
Not everybody, though, condemned him or the others. Marie Kaemingk, whose son Galen had graduated the year before (and is now the head football coach at Omak High School), walked up to Huizenga and told him not to take it so hard, to hold his head up high and not to worry about what anybody else might be thinking or saying — that she didn’t think badly of “you boys” and that she knew some others felt the same way.
“That’s the way the Christian attitude should be,” Huizenga says. “It’s not just to scorn us and shun us, but to try to understand and be forgiving. And she was nothing more than that. I’ll never, ever forget that.”
Nor will VanderYacht ever forget a woman he’d known for years all but cussing him out that morning. “It was tough to respect her after that,” he says. “Some of the things she said, I know she didn’t mean it — but kids are lot more forgiving than grownups.
“And it made me realize how big into sports Lynden is, the community. They took it very seriously. This was their chance to get the championship, and now we weren’t going to.”
Chapter Ten: Don’t Shoot, Don’t Shoot!
Well ... not so fast. Bill DeHoog may have had only a few players left, but he also had a few ideas.
Against Lake Roosevelt, he didn’t want his guards, Weg and Kok, to go any closer to the basket than the free-throw line except for an uncontested layup. That way, they’d be able to get back to defend against Lake Roosevelt’s vaunted fast break. The rest of the team was all but forbidden to shoot from further than five feet away from the basket. The coach’s philosophy was simple: No missed shots equals no rebounds equals no Lake Roosevelt fast break. He wanted the Raiders to be retrieving the ball from the bottom of the net.
And the rest of the game plan was essentially this: Let Dykstra operate.
“We had a couple of plays where we were running guys back and forth on the baseline, and we ran those to death,” recalls Kok. “Glen started to run variations off those two or three plays, and basically made it up as he went along. And the rest of us tried to keep up.”
And they had to keep up, and keep alert — because if they were ever open, Dykstra would find them. Over the previous two nights, he had found them often enough to account for 21 baskets — and, of course, 21 assists.
“This was two years before people had heard of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson; people just hadn’t seen passing like that,” Kok says. “Maybe no one else — including the guy who was open — knew he was open at that particular time and place, but Glen would. I had pretty good court vision, too, but no one ever noticed it because I was always on the same court with him.”
Against Lake Roosevelt, Dykstra was all over that court, compiling 25 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists as the Lyncs, employing their close-to-the-vest game plan, maintained a slim lead for most of the night. Albert Timmer more than held his own inside, manhandling 6-foot-5 Raiders star Jeff Loe with his superior strength and outscoring him 23-21.
The most surprising contributions came from the seldom-used Jansen and Bratt, who combined for a dozen points. Most of Bratt’s eight points came from within an arm’s length of the basket, where the depth perception obscured by his one blind eye was not a factor.
With 47 seconds remaining, Kok fouled out. Timmer was also one foul from being gone, which would have meant the DeHoog and Terpstra would have to do — for the sake of the principle the school was trying to make — precisely what they didn’t want to do. They would have to turn to the suspended six.
Though he had no choices to make on this particular substitution, DeHoog took every bit of the time allotted. And he went down the line and told two of the other six — VanderYacht and Berendsen — to be ready.
The resulting Lake Roosevelt free throws from Kok’s foul trimmed Lynden Christian’s tenuous lead to 51-49. The Lyncs worked the clock down, trying to keep from being fouled and, more importantly, making sure they didn’t turn the ball over in the game’s waning seconds.
But with barely 20 ticks left, Bratt found himself about 10 feet from the basket and no one to pass to. The Raiders cut off the passing lanes and were closing in, either to tie the ball up or foul him. Bratt turned to the basket and, for a brief moment, considered taking the shot, something certain to make the coaches — and perhaps half the fans in attendance — scream in protest.
Of all of the people in the building, perhaps only one who wasn’t nervous about Bratt taking the shot. “He was running a set that he and I had run the year before in junior varsity all the time,” Kok says. “And in junior high he’d just turn around and make that shot.”
Sure enough, double-teamed and about to be tied up with 19 seconds left, Bratt went up. The reaction on the bench and among the Lynden Christian fans was almost comical.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! GREAT SHOT!”
Bratt’s basket iced the game, and when the buzzer went off ending the Lyncs’ 53-51 upset triumph, Weg began hopping around the floor like a boy on a pogo stick, whooping and hollering. In the locker room afterward, DeHoog was so moved by his team’s performance that he was almost overcome with emotion. “I’m so proud of these boys, I can’t talk,” he told reporters.
With Royal City — as Royal High School was then known — having knocked off South Bend in the other semifinal, the Lyncs had just beaten the heir apparent to the crown. With six players.
Chapter Eleven: A Lot at Stake
And those six knew just what was riding on the Saturday night championship game. The state title, obviously, for themselves, for the coach they loved, for parents and community ... and also — maybe even mostly — for the teammates they’d battled against and played with every day for three months. It was almost as if now, the Lyncs — a team nobody believed could win the championship — must win. Because if the Lyncs lost now ... what would people think?
“The worst thing,” Albert Timmer says of the six’s collective mindset, “would be if we lose this and they blame it on ‘Look what those guys did, we could have won.’ I knew they were behind us on the bench, Bob most of all, being the big cheerleader. He wasn’t doing that for recognition or anything like that. Bob had very little ego; he just loved the game.
“And, of all the people, he felt the worst about it.”
As the jam-packed spectators anxiously awaited the championship game, cheerleaders from the crosstown Lynden Lions — who earlier in the day had won to earn the fourth-place trophy — began to chant derisively: “We beat them four times!” Clap-clap. “We beat them four times!” Clap-clap.
In the stands — baking in temperatures that soared near 90 degrees — Lynden coach Jake Maberry said to the fellow next to him, “These guys can’t possibly win this thing. They’ve got no outside shooting.”
The person next to him, though, was Henry Weg — Gary’s father — who suggested that Maberry keep his opinions to himself, thanks just the same.
Although, once the game started, Maberry’s words would seem prophetic.
Chapter Twelve: Digging Out of a Hole
The ones with the outside shooting were the Knights of Royal City, with guards Scott Hudson, Steve Brown and Dave Herrud burying one bomb after another.
“Royal City is in complete control here right now,” radio announcer Dick Stark told listeners around the state as the Knights rolled to a 20-13 lead. “Lynden Christian is just not able to do much offensively against this fine basketball team.”
Timmer, unstoppable in the first quarter with eight points, took a pass from Kok and turned to the basket, but dribbled the ball off his feet and out of bounds. On the ensuing possession, Herrud swished a 16-footer to push Royal City’s lead to 22-13.
DeHoog called time out and squatted down in front of the five sweaty, panting players. OK, he told them, here’s what we’ll do to turn this thing around. He made a couple of defensive adjustments — to limit the open outside shots and close off passing lanes to the key — and reverted to the previous day’s offense. Screens. Swinging the ball. Timmer and Bratt on the baseline, Dykstra operating wherever he could get free.
And the Lyncs rallied.
Dykstra missed a 15-footer, but followed his own miss up and in to cut the margin to 22-15. Bratt scored on a feed from Kok ... 22-17. Dykstra made a steal and weaved a beautiful 2-on-1 fast break with Weg ... 22-21. Timmer took a pass from Bratt for and banked the ball home. At the buzzer, the Lyncs led 28-27.
The Lyncs eked out a slim lead in the third quarter but couldn’t pull away, and the teams spent virtually the entire fourth quarter within a single basket of each other. It was that close when Bratt had another one of those don’t-shoot-great-shot plays, and the Lyncs still had that two-point lead when, with five seconds remaining, Timmer was fouled.
Timmer would have one free throw, two if he made the first one. And making that first one would all but clinch the victory, because at that time there was no such thing as a 3-point line.
A Royal City player grabbed the ball and passed it out to Hudson, the Knights’ star, who was barely across half-court when he launched the ball toward the basket. The scene was eerily similar to the Lyncs’ district championship game against Lynden; as had been the case with Scott Rutgers’ last-second shot then, this time the buzzer went off with the ball in the air.
The ball hit the backboard .. and went through the hoop. Game tied. Overtime.
On the bench, DeHoog — the soft-spoken coach who never raised his voice in anger — shouted, “Dad-GUM it!” and slammed the clipboard to the floor with such force that the pen clipped to it bounced onto the court.
As if they were all operating on the same hinge, the heads of Terpstra and all of the players on the bench did a 90-degree swivel toward DeHoog. Coach?
Chapter Thirteen: Magic, Luck and Destiny
The game went through one overtime ... and then another. With 30 seconds left in the second overtime and the score tied 60-60, Dykstra — driving for the go-ahead basket — had the ball slapped away from him. A Royal City player grabbed it and the Knights called their final timeout.
As Dykstra, Weg, Timmer, Kok and Bratt came out of the huddle and returned to the floor for the last time, they were dragging. Without the luxury of liberal substitutions to catch the occasional breather, with the temperature in the fieldhouse a stultifying 90 degrees, and with the regulation 32 minutes and two overtime periods behind them, the Lyncs had almost nothing left.
Except a little magic. A little luck. Perhaps a little destiny.
As the Knights worked the ball for the last shot, Dykstra anticipated a pass, made his move and deflected the ball enough to control it. In that instant, Weg broke for the other end, and Dykstra passed to him in stride. Weg — perhaps reading the mind of his coach, Bill DeHoog, who had tried all year to get Dykstra to take the big shot — passed the ball back to Dykstra, who went up with five seconds left, shot ... and sank it for a 62-60 lead.
With the throng in the stands — heavily weighted toward the Lyncs — howling and applauding, Royal City called for a timeout.
The referee waved for a stoppage of the clock with two seconds remaining and, to everyone’s amazement, signaled a technical foul. Royal City had no timeouts remaining.
The crowd, at least two-thirds full of Lyncs rooters, erupted in applause, and students began making their way down to the edge of the court, so they could take part in post-game pandemonium. They watched as, first, Dykstra hit a free throw and, when the Lyncs got the ball again after the technical, Timmer was instantly fouled.
By the time Timmer stood at the line for the two free throws that made the final score Lynden Christian 65, Royal City 60, hundreds of Lyncs fans were already lining the court on four sides waiting to celebrate the group that headlines and history would forever dub the Six Iron Lyncs.
When the buzzer went off and those rapturous hundreds became that tidal wave of joy, the only two stock-still people on the court were Glen Dykstra and Bill DeHoog — who were looking for each other in the crowd.
Ten years later, Weg would recall getting chills watching this scene: Fans trying to hoist DeHoog onto their shoulders, and him having none of it ... and then the coach’s eyes meeting Dykstra’s. That moment, Weg would say, was one he would never forget.
Those two men — one young, one not so young, their lives so entwined for the most magical of seasons — exchanged a little expression of joy, of relief, of accomplishment. Each gave the other a little nod.
And then were swept away in a swirling mass of joyous faces.
Chapter Fourteen: Epitaph
A quarter of a century after the Six Iron Lyncs became perhaps the state’s most unlikely championship team ever, each of the six still lived within a 30-minute drive of Lynden Christian High School. Jeff Jansen is president of the local Horizon Bank branch. Mark Bratt is an architect and member of the school board. Ron Kok is an engineer. Albert Timmer is a general contractor. Gary Weg is a dairy farmer.
Glen Dykstra, too, is a dairy farmer, like his father and his father’s father. He is married to Alice, and each of their three children have become all-state athletes at Lynden Christian.
Six years after the 1976 championship season, a Lynden Christian boys basketball team employing the same selfless style and demonstrating the same kind of teamwork, sportsmanship and unflagging support of one another, won the state championship again. That team was coached by Kent DeHoog ... Bill’s son.
On March 25, 1976, just three weeks after coaching Lynden Christian to its first state title in any sport, Bill DeHoog paid that impromptu visit to the school’s spring-sport athletes as they practiced — a few precious moments that, in the hours and days to come, would seem poignant. Because then he went out to prune his backyard cherry tree, the one he had groused about for weeks ... and died of a heart attack.
He was mourned by thousands, eulogized at great length by the media, remembered not just for his accomplishments as a coach but for what he stood for as a man.
Those who knew him well say that he seemed truly happy in those final three weeks, not just because of the championship, but for the players on his team who had won it.
They also say he truly loved those players.
All 12 of them.