One of the few relaxing times during a collegiate basketball season, if the word relax is ever the appropriate term to use in this context, is mid- to late December. Final examinations for fall quarter are over and conference games don't begin until after Christmas (at least that was true until the last few years).
In other words, the players and coaches can just concentrate on basketball.
With the general student body gone for winter break, a road trip is usually scheduled during this time frame. That was the case during the 1978-79 season at Western Washington University. But this junket was to be a little different. Both the men's and women's teams would be traveling by bus through Oregon and northern California -- together.
In fact, it was the first time that the Viking basketball teams had traveled with one another.
Making it feasible was that WWU had purchased a used Greyhound bus in 1977. Prior to that, the teams usually traveled in vans and station wagons from the University motor pool.
The head coaches, who both had Hall of Fame careers, were Chuck Randall, who was in his 16th year directing the men, and the legendary Lynda Goodrich, who was in her eighth season guiding the women.
The coaches had mutual respect for one another, which made for good rapport between the two teams, and each program had a tradition of success.
"For camaraderie such as this to develop, it has to start with the coaches," said Goodrich at the time. "If we didn't respect each other it wouldn't work out because a team usually reflects the attitude of its coach."
The trip also proved successful from a win-loss standpoint, the men's team winning all four of its games and the women's squad two of three.
"Winning always makes for a pretty good trip," said Randall afterwards, "but getting to know each member of the women's team personally made it even better."
The trip began with the men playing Western Baptist (now Corban University) at Salem, and winning 82-75. The next day, after five hours on the road, practice took place that evening at Southern Oregon in Ashland.
While there, a Southern Oregon staff member mentioned that a good place to eat was just a few minutes away at Callahans Mountain Lodge.
A call was placed and a reservation made. Normally, the teams would have eaten at various places, most likely a buffet, in Ashland. It turned out to be a memorable experience.
Just before the bus made the turn off I-5 to the lodge, it began to snow heavily. The lodge turned out to be both huge and gorgeous, with the added plus of being decorated for the holidays. With the snow coming down, it was like a scene from a Christmas card.
"I'll never forget that meal, it has always stood out to me as I look back over my life," recalled Kevin Bryant, a starting guard on the men's team.
"Because of the climate, the weather, the time of the year -- all those things, it was just kind of poetic. The snow is falling, we're in this beautiful lodge, the food tasted extra special. It was amazing."
When the meal was over, the bus began its way over Siskiyou Pass to Chico, Calif. A little while later traffic came to a halt because of poor road conditions. It remained that way for over an hour.
Randall used the time to give a talk about unity. Soon after that the players began singing Christmas carols and then the bus turned into a disco of sorts as a few members of both teams danced in the aisle to tape-recorded music.
"That was probably the key point of the trip in bringing the teams together," said Keri Worley (now Von Moos), a forward on the women's team. "Everyone learned something from that and more than just basketball."
Playing against Chico State on Dec. 18, the women won 62-52 and the men prevailed 66-65. Two days later at Sacramento State, both teams won again, the men 70-68 and the women 58-50. The following day at San Francisco State, the men prevailed 53-42 after the women lost 58-50 (WWU led 43-41 with 7:38 remaining).
Then after spending time at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and going over the Golden Gate Bridge, it was back to Bellingham, dropping players off along the way in Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle, to name a few stops.
During the trip, members of both squads attended each other's games and cheered one another on. They also spent some of their free time together, sight-seeing, shopping and watching movies.
The teams held four practices together, each squad using one-half of the court. Drills requiring the full court were not used until near the end.
Goodrich felt that her players watching the men's team helped in their own play and "I appreciated being able to talk (basketball) with Randall."
That Western was a forerunner in women's athletics was not new. The school was putting added emphasis in that area well before Title IX became law.
"The growth of women's sports has meant for a lot of give and take," said Goodrich following the trip which lasted eight days and covered 2,300 miles. "Chuck (Randall) and I have always tried to compromise and work things out. When I talk with other (women's) coaches, I feel lucky to be where I am. It could be a very tough situation."
"I think we may have done something unique," continued Goodrich. "Everything went great and the players thoroughly enjoyed it. You would think being on the road a week would tend to make the members of both squads a little irritable, but we didn't have any of that."
Randall felt the practice could be continued, "if we have great people like this."
"I don't think every school in the country could do it," he said.
Leading the men's team, which finished 18-10, were 6-foot-6 junior Rohn McCoy, one of the most athletic players in school history who averaged 20.8 points and 8.6 rebounds; the 6-2 Bryant, who participated in the first U.S. Mini-Olympics Festival the summer before, and 6-6 senior Mark Clay.
Pacing the women's team, which posted a 16-9 record, were 6-0 sophomore Jo Metzger (now Levin), who finished as arguably the best female hoopster in school history, 6-1 Jan Johnston (now Puradon) and 5-9 Tamalyn Nigretto.
"I vividly remember this trip...the wonderful meal, the pass and snow," Metzger said recently. "There were places up in the pass where we looked out the window and it was straight down ... It was a true travel highlight for me and I do believe that (the teams) grew to support each other more because of it. Great memories."
Note: The bus WWU purchased had just over one million miles on it and was driven by University employee Dave Schuyler. Greyhound usually sold its buses after 10 million miles of use.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015.
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