DAYTON - Roy Ramirez is a 1985 Dayton High graduate, but he was living in Spokane when he first became involved coaching basketball in this small farming community.
"One of my wife Kristen's cousins had boys who were young and playing AAU basketball, and they asked me to help coach," Ramirez recalled. "I'd drive from Spokane to Dayton to coach them, and sometimes I'd drive back to Spokane that same night."
About 10 years ago, Roy and Kristen decided to move back to Dayton where they wanted to raise their children. Sixteen-year-old Cruz is now a sophomore on Dayton's state-tournament bound boys basketball team. Lexie, 15, was a freshman member of the girls squad that narrowly missed qualifying for state.
It was in 2005 that Ramirez became acquainted with a group of six boys who were destined to lead the Dayton High Bulldogs back to the state tournament for the first time since that fabled 1995 team captured the school's only state basketball title.
The six - Jacob McCleary, Colton Bickelhaupt, Joey Schlachter, Hayden Fullerton, Garett Turner and Kroft Sunderland - were fifth graders back then and playing on an AAU team that Ramirez coached. When the group entered high school five years later as freshmen, Ramirez joined them by taking over as the Bulldogs varsity basketball coach,
"I had hoped to coach them in high school and it just happened to work out that way," Ramirez said.
Turner, this year's scoring leader with an 18-point average, was the only one of the six to make the varsity roster as a freshman, although Bickelhaupt and Sunderland were promoted at the end of the season when the Bulldogs qualified for district.
"We were probably a .500 team that first year," Ramirez recalled. "We went to district, but we lost our first game to Tekoa and then got beat by Waitsburg. We were ahead in that game and it was a hard one to take, but we decided to learn from it and move on."
With all six earning varsity jerseys as sophomores, they experienced another up-and-down season and were eliminated in a playoff game to determine the final ticket to the district tournament. But as juniors they battled all the way to the district championship game before losing to Waitsburg and then to Asotin in an elimination game.
"As juniors they got a lot better and had a winning season," Ramirez said. "And even though we lost at district, I knew we would have a really strong senior year."
That it has been.
The Bulldogs began the year with 15 consecutive victories before suffering their only loss of the season Jan. 30 at Waitsburg. Dayton responded to that defeat by winning eight more games in succession, including a one-point victory over Waitsburg-Prescott in the district championship game and a 59-41 romp over Riverside Christian in a regional game that decided a berth in the state tournament.
"It was kind of a matter of starting over," Ramirez said of the team's only setback. "The game we lost was a rescheduled game because of all the snow we had in January. We didn't have school for three or four days so there was no practice and our shooting was off.
"I knew we were going to be fine. It was just a matter of getting back into the gym and getting our shooting back."
The Bulldogs face Toutle Lake Thursday afternoon in the Spokane Arena. Win or lose, they will play again Friday. And everyone in Dayton is hoping for a trophy game on Saturday.
And then it will be over.
"It will be pretty tough when it all comes to an end," said Ramirez, who has every intention of coaching again next year even though his six seniors will be moving on.
"It will be a lot different next year. But I have made a commitment that I will be around as long as they want me."