FERENZ, PARTY OF FIVE

Since arriving in the Walla Walla Valley a decade ago, the Ferenz family has had a marked impact on Valley hoops.

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Basketball looms large for the Ferenz family, with all members either playing or coaching at the high school or college level. From left: Kate, MiKayla, Chris, Michelle and Rob Ferenz.

WALLA WALLA - Many families have a "thing."

That is, they have something, be it a hobby, sport, profession or something else, that draws them together. The Ferenz's (Ferenzi? Ferenzites? Ferenzes?) family of Walla Walla have basketball - all five of them.

Rob Ferenz is a senior star on the boys' varsity squad at Wa-Hi, MiKayla and Kate Ferenz are twin sisters that couldn't be more different - both on the court and in appearance - but both play on Jill Meliah's varsity squad at Wa-Hi as freshmen.

Mom and Dad Michelle and Chris Ferenz both played and currently coach basketball. Michelle is the head coach for the Whitman women, and Chris is an assistant for both the Wa-Hi boys and Whitman women, as well as teaching math at Wa-Hi.

Unsurprisingly, it's hard to get the entire Ferenz family in a single place during basketball season.

It can be a hectic lifestyle, but for the Ferenz's, it is just business as usual.

"It certainly draws us together, because we spend a lot of time together doing it (basketball) and working at it, including in the offseason," Chris said. "It's also been part of what the Ferenz's have done since day one - even when the kids were little at games running around, even at practices. And now it's really cool to see them play finally, because Michelle and I have coached for so long, we've coached other kids, and now to get to see ours play and then have the opportunity to coach them is a lot of fun."

Although Rob, a 6-foot-4 forward, has played basketball since the first grade, he wants to play college football. Rob has played on the varsity football squad since his sophomore year and during that time has had three different coaches.

His senior season for the Blue Devils, Rob played on the offensive and defensive line, as well as tight end.

Naturally competitive, Rob was frustrated by the winless football season the Blue Devils had.

"It was rough," he said. "It's really hard to go as a senior and not win a game. I put so much time into the offseason, and I love football. I was anticipating this great year and some of us seniors were all going to come together and carry the team. I wish we could have won at least one game."

Rob said he attended several football combines over the summer, including at Washington State and Montana State. He's had interest from Carroll College in Helena, Mont., and Idaho State University.

"Mostly Carroll," Rob said. "They've won like eight (NAIA) national championships in the last 12 years. That would be really cool to play there. I went and talked with their coaches."

Rob was nonchalant when asked about growing up around basketball.

"I don't know any different because I've been around it my whole life," he said. "It's kind of nice. I've got access to two really nice gyms and I can ask them (his parents) anything about basketball and they'll help me."

MiKayla and Kate Ferenz both made Wa-Hi's varsity basketball team as freshmen and are contributing to the Blue Devils' success this season. The Wa-Hi girls are tied with Wenatchee for first in the Columbia Basin Big Nine 4A with a 2-0 league record and a 7-3 record overall, thanks in part to a stout press defense. The Blue Devils have a chance to take sole possession of first place when they face Wenatchee Saturday night.

MiKayla, a 5-foot-10 guard, despite her youth, said she has wanted to play college basketball for years.

"I definitely want to play basketball in college," she said. "I decided that a while ago. I've always wanted to play at Gonzaga, ever since I saw Courtney Vandersloot (a former Gonzaga and current WNBA star) play - she's definitely my idol."

Kate, also 5-10 but a forward, was less committal about playing at the next level.

"I don't know what sport I want to play in college - either basketball or softball - but it would be nice to play," she said.

And with both parents coaching - and all three kids playing - basketball is a common topic around the Ferenz house.

"Chris and I talk basketball a lot," Michelle said. "Our kids will probably tell you that. And so ... yeah, it's probably a little unique. I think anyone who coaches has to have a spouse that is very supportive. Chris and I - we understand. We just understand the demands we have."

Michelle's path to Whitman, and the Ferenz's path to Walla Walla, was circuitous. She graduated from Auburn High School in 1986 and spent two years at a junior college before transferring to Montana State-Billings, then Eastern Montana, where she helped the Yellowjackets to a 25-5 record her senior season and earned all-academic honors.

It was at MSU-Billings where she met her future husband Chris, who was a graduate assistant for the MSU men's squad while completing a masters in education and administration. After graduating in '91, Michelle (then Michelle Spurr) moved to Okanogan, Wash., while Chris finished his degree.

The couple reunited and married in '92.

Michelle coached the Okanogan girls to nine winning seasons, while Chris coached the boys for eight.

In 2000, Chris accepted a coaching position at Anacortes High School in Anacortes, Wash.

"It was funny because we'd been in Okanogan for awhile, had some success, loved the town, but Chris wanted to try something else," Michelle said. "We just thought the timing was good and wanted to try something different."

Michelle taught English and helped coach the Anacortes junior high girls team to an undefeated season, but the Ferenz's stay in Anacortes was short - the Whitman women's job opened less than a year later and, with encouragement from Chris, she applied for and got the job.

"We had always had an agreement that whoever got the better job, that's where we would go," Chris said. "So we considered, at the time, Anacortes to be a better job. Although we weren't unhappy at Okanagan, it was just a step up; it happened to be closer to Michelle's family; a combination of factors attracted us to it at the time. And to come back and get a college job, you would certainly say is more prestigious than a high-school job, so I was supportive of that. And to be honest, even in that nine months we figured out that we missed Eastern Washington."

It was the third move for the Ferenz's in three years, but the young family coped.

"If Chris wasn't excited for me coaching and moving, we would have stayed," Michelle said. "We moved three summers in a row. My daughters were so young that all they remembered was packing up and moving every summer. When we actually stayed in Walla Walla, they asked me why we weren't packing up and moving."

In addition to the draw of a college coaching position, the Ferenz's were excited by the prospect of moving back to Eastern Washington.

"We were really looking for a place to raise our kids and that's what we've been able to do," Michelle said.

"Michelle came for her interview and I took the kids to Shari's (Restaurant) and people held the door open for you and they said good morning," Chris said. "And right then I kind of knew, ‘OK, Eastern Washington is special' in terms of pace of life and quality of people and community support and that kind of thing. So, yeah it was hard to leave that job (in Anacortes), but at the same time it was exciting for her and our family to come to Walla Walla."

Since then, the Ferenz's have flourished in Walla Walla, and basketball remains a constant thread in all of their lives.

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