Blue Shoes reunion 'Peachy' idea for '86 Blue Devils

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WALLA WALLA - The Blue Shoes are coming! The Blue Shoes are coming!

It's a refrain that might not mean a thing to many of you out there in U-B Land. But if you happened to be paying attention to Wa-Hi boys basketball 25 years ago, it just might ring a bell.

It was in the winter of 1986 when one of the more talented Blue Devils teams in memory - a team that had a distinct flair for the dramatics - won the Big Nine Conference and district championships on its way to a berth in Washington's Class AAA state tournament in the Seattle Coliseum.

Wearing royal blue tennies, no less, which probably bordered on the outrageous in an era when statement attire was not nearly as predominant as it now seems to be. Back then, to paraphrase Henry Ford, you could wear any color of tennis shoes you wanted, just so long as they were white.

Senior Bruce Reed, one of the Blue Devils who seemed to have a knack for big plays and big baskets, was the one responsible for the blue footwear. He remembers shopping for new sneakers with his dad about halfway through the season when he spotted a brand new line of Nike Air Jordans that came, believe it or not, in Wa-Hi's royal blue color.

"I saw those shoes and I just had to have them," recalled Reed, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., where he is a tennis instructor. "And my dad helped me get them."

Reed didn't unveil them, he said, until the next Wa-Hi game.

"I didn't tell anybody I had them," Reed said. "When I broke them out for the next game, everybody loved them. And all of my teammates went out and got them as well."

They turned out to be the signature for a team that finished with a 22-5 record and placed sixth in the state tournament.

"It was something we all had fun with," Reed said. "I can remember that one of our students, Andy Jamison, took it upon himself to make up all these Blue Shoes T-shirts, and I can still remember looking up into the crowd at all these white shirts with blue shoes.

"They even did a newspaper article about them when we won the district championship, with a picture of me cutting down the net and I had my blue shoes on the rim."

It took more than shoes, however, for Wa-Hi to overcome an equally talented Eisenhower team and win first the Big Nine crown and then the district title.

And it didn't look like it would be the Blue Devils' year when the Cadets' Cary Conklin, who would go on to star at quarterback for the University of Washington and eventually play in the NFL, tossed in a three-quarter-court basket at the buzzer to beat the Blue Devils in Yakima in the first meeting of the season between the rivals.

"Up until that point, I had no idea he was the QB," Reed said of Conklin, who played professionally for the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. "Then he goes on to the NFL. No wonder he made that shot look so easy."

However, the Blue Devils won the rematch in Walla Walla in triple overtime. Reed sank the game-winning shot in a game that decided the Big Nine championship.

The rubber match, played at Sherwood Center on the Whitman College campus, was for the district title. And Wa-Hi won again.

"It was two weeks later, and we made another last-second shot to win it," Reed remembered.

Wa-Hi had to settle for second at regionals, losing to Ferris 44-41 before defeating Central Valley 50-39 to claim a ticket to Seattle and the state tournament.

After losing to Mountain View 68-61 in the first round at state, the Blue Devils bounced back to beat Bethel 56-55 and reach the trophy round. And in the game for fourth and sixth places, Cascade of Everett prevailed 57-56.

In addition to Reed, other members of that team were fellow seniors Reid Nelson, Brian Gwinn, Darin Harvey, Andy Notaras, Pat Wells, John Golden, Brian Gies, Grey Turner and Trey Ballard. Two juniors, Bill Olson and Brad Krumbah, rounded out the 12-player roster. Jim Thacker, of course, was the head coach.

That was 25 years ago. And to celebrate their silver anniversary, Reed and three of his old teammates - Nelson, Gwinn and Harvey - are reuniting for this weekend's Peach Basket Classic in downtown Walla Walla.

"This is a long time coming reunion," Reed said. "I haven't played basketball with Brian since we were together at Walla Walla Community College, and not with Reid and Darin since high school."

And Reed expects his squad to do well, especially considering they are entered in 6-foot, 30-and-over age division. Ten years ago, Reed said, he, Wells and a couple of others won the Peach Basket's open championship.

"I expect some good things," Reed predicted. "We have some guys on this team with a lot of heart.

"Reid Nelson would die for somebody. Darin was always a great teammate who would do whatever needed to be done. And you can expect Brian to score from anywhere on the court. So I expect us to do well."

And Reed promises to contribute as well.

"I haven't played a lot of basketball since I turned 40," he said. "But teaching tennis and being on the court for eight hours a day, you can't help but be in shape.

"And that 3-point shot, heck, I can still hit that in my sleep."

And, yes, they will be wearing royal blue tennis shoes.

"I just picked up four pair of blue Nikes at the store," Reed said. "And we're going to have some fun with them."

Contact Jim Buchan at jimbuchan@wwub.com.

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