Greatest Spokane League: Women’s basketball took off behind talents like Denise Schlepp, Lisa Oriard and Lori Lollis | Focus on sports in high school


Their names may be forgotten or their accomplishments taken for granted, but women’s basketball in the Greater Spokane League owes much of its current success to those who were there early on.

During the league’s first 12-13 years, coaches like Linda Sheridan and players like Denise Schlepp, Lisa Oriard (the author’s sister) and Lori Lollis helped set in motion the dominant force that GSL is. become.

Sheridan, who would become both volleyball and basketball coach at Shadle Park, led the Highlanders to the first GSL Championship in 1976-77 with Schlepp as the top scorer. Eleven years later, the Highlanders have won back-to-back State Championships with Lollis, two-time State Player of the Year, paving the way for Sheridan.

Oriard, a three-time selection to the GSL first team, helped lead Gonzaga Prep to sixth place in the 1983 State Tournament and the Bullpups made another playoff streak in 1984, this time with Schlepp. as a first year head coach.

Schlepp believes the GSL wouldn’t be what it is today without the growing pains of its peers.

“It was the motivation, the desire, the determination of a generation that had never had it before,” she said. “Never having any opportunities, it paved the way for these girls to have the opportunities they have today.

“If the girls in my day said that I wasn’t interested or saw the opportunity and ran with it and made it the most important thing in their lives, the sport might not be. not to have become what he is. “

It was not easy.

Schlepp recalled that Shadle Park only offered one college sport for girls in their sophomore year. It was volleyball. Basketball and softball entered his junior year. Otherwise, there weren’t many opportunities for the girls, to the point that she even played on Shadle’s B team baseball team in sophomore year.

It wasn’t cool for a girl to play sports, so many of her peers backed off.

“A lot of people weren’t strong enough in person or in character, or didn’t have someone like Linda Sheridan who was so encouraging and made him so inviting to fight the fight that was there from the start. You would walk down the hall and get called out (homophobic slurs). People were saying things because you were playing sports, ”Schlepp said.

“It was difficult when you’re that age and trying to figure out anything,” she continued. “Because for the first time you are in a place where you can become what you want to be and your peers are breaking you down. “

By the time Schlepp, who took over from Nick Scarpelli after the 1982-83 season, coached Oriard at Gonzaga Prep, stereotypes became a thing of the past and girls were more accepted as athletes.

Still, there weren’t many players to admire or idolize.

“Our role models were NBA players that I watched. Well, they’re not models, but I was looking at them and trying to understand their movements, ”said Oriard. “Nick Scarpelli would tell me to watch them, to watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on TV.”

Although she never developed a devastating skyhook, Oriard enjoyed many successes at the University of Washington where she was a starter on four NCAA tournament teams and was a two-time team captain. When women’s basketball became a sport in its own right for the Pac-10 in 1986-87, the Huskies responded by finishing tied for second that year and winning the conference championship the following year. Oriard has been named all-conference both times.

Even though she said she didn’t feel like a sports pioneer in high school, there was such a feeling in college.

“In college, we were very successful,” she said. “We had a huge crowd at every game and the kids were hanging out and asking for autographs after every game. You would see a lot of the same children. It was a lot of fun being a part of it when it was really just starting out. “

Schlepp spoke about Oriard and the progress made in women’s football during the 1980s.

“Lisa was so good and she stood out so much for her talent. And I think little girls see that kind of talent and then want that for themselves and daddy is okay with that.… I think that? it became more and more acceptable for girls to play sports, “Schlepp said.” There were more opportunities and more camps. I think the girls were looking for it more. If you get more people. who are trying to have a goal like that, to get good at something, you’re probably going to have more good people.

There were plenty of good players putting the ball into play for the GSL. To name a few, Schlepp has dominated the league scoring this first year with an average of 17.9 in nine games. In 81-82, Annette Helling of Central Valley set league records with 301 points and 21.5 points per game. His points total was the record for 10 years, his average score for 25 years. Oriard, the 1984 MVP, was the first GSL alumnus to be named to the league at a major college conference. In 1985, three of the five-star All-GSL First Team – MVP Melissa Barker of Ferris and Michelle Rodgers and Tina Morrison of CV – went to Hawaii and competed in two NCAA tournaments. Lollis, who won two state championships in basketball and two more in volleyball, played basketball in the states of San Diego and Washington.

GSL trophy cases were filling up in the 1980s. Shadle Park finished second overall in ’81; Prep was sixth in 83, Ferris third in 84, and CV third in 85. The big breakthrough came in 88 when Shadle Park edged Lewis and Clark by four points in the state championship game. The following year, Shadle repeated and LC finished third.

Barker, whose wife name is Allen, has an interesting perspective on the growth of the league, first as a player in the mid-1980s and then as a coach at Mt. Spokane 25 years later.

“There were competitive teams back then and there were great basketball players, but I have to be honest, over the years it just got stronger and stronger,” she said.

“I mean, I think it’s more competitive the last few years than it was back then. Part of that is just the growth of the sport, ”she continued. “And the club. Nowadays the girls play at the club and they have the opportunity to play a good part of the year. Back then the club was like… oh, you go to a few tournaments. He has evolved so much and has become more and more competitive, at the college level as well. There are just more and more good basketball players out there today.

Call it club, AAU or Junior Olympics, Oriard also spoke about the impact of playing year round.

“What really helped strengthen the GSL was the AAU because the AAU was new and we went to the national championships at the end of my junior and senior year,” Oriard recalls of his playing experience. for the Spokane Stars led by Ron Adams and Jack Blair, for which Barker also played. “Ninety percent of the players on these teams were from the GSL. The competition and experience of everyone who plays AAU with and against top players has made the GSL stronger.

“Now I mean the kids play AAU so young. Every weekend there is a tournament that the players go to. … 10 year olds go to all these tournaments every weekend. AUA is a MUCH bigger business than it used to be. I think it was right at the start when we were playing.

As talented players came and went and GSL’s talent pool continued to grow until the 1990s, there was one constant: Shadle Park. In the first 13 seasons until 1989, the Highlanders finished first or second in the GSL 11 times, with five league championships. There were four state trophies, including back-to-back titles in ’88 and ’89.

The constant at Shadle Park was Linda Sheridan. She coached basketball and volleyball from the start and by the time she retired, her teams had racked up over 800 wins. In addition to the two state titles in basketball, there were five in volleyball, including four in the five seasons from 1984 to 1988.

Sheridan, who died of ALS in 2013, left an immeasurable impact on many of her players, Schlepp being one of them.

“It is still to this day difficult for me to talk about her because I never had such devotion to someone in my life before her because she did me well,” said Schlepp. . “And she did me good because I was always a girl who was teased and made fun of because I liked doing things that boys liked to do, which is sports. I liked to play sports and it was at a time that was not very cool. You have been abused many names and you had to go against the grain and be strong enough to do it.

“Linda Sheridan wanted me so much to love what you were doing right now, realize and appreciate the opportunities and not be afraid of who you were and what you loved in terms of athletics. She was definitely the most strength. powerful of my life.

Longtime journalist columnist John Blanchette summed up the coach’s contributions in a 2013 tribute:

“Like other coaches, Sheridan had to create a culture, hard to find in those early days, that allowed her players to know that being an athlete was more than just OK. That they deserved the luck and an audience. Success was also worth a risk, but it didn’t have to be all-consuming. The possibility, well, that was the thing that should be consumed.

Thanks in large part to coaches like Sheridan and the many players who persevered into the early days of GSL, that possibility was realized.

To note: The background information and many statistics in this article were compiled by Bill Pierce.

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