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Shining Through

It's a typical week leading up to game day.

Posters shouting "Hawk it to 'em" are plastered throughout the halls of the small building, as school spirit has reached a crescendo among the 63 high school students that fill the Rogue Valley Adventist School while eagerly awaiting tonight's game.

Wait. Back up. Sixty three students? Total?

"We're one big family," says forward Tyler Robertson, one of 14 in the school's senior class. "That's one thing you don't get at a public school. There are no clicks with us. We all know each other and we all really get along."

Yes, it is a typical week for the pre-kindergarten through grade-12 school, in what has been a not-so-typical season for the Rogue Valley Adventist boys basketball team.

For starters, the Red Tail Hawks, with only nine players on the roster, have never won anything of substance. The basketball program, after all, has only been in existence for four years.

Officially recognized by the Oregon Schools Activities Association during the 2004-05 season, Rogue Valley Adventist spent the past three seasons playing an independent schedule.

This year was the first time the Hawks found a place — the Mountain Valley League — to call home.

Last Saturday, Rogue Valley Adventist won the MVL district crown, which clinched the No. 1 seed to the Class 1A state playoffs. In that tournament at Eagle Point High School, the Red Tail Hawks defeated two teams, North Lake and Triad, that had each beaten them twice during the regular season.

"That was the cool thing," says 6-foot-3 junior Caleb Fjarli. "To beat those teams that had beaten us twice this season "¦ that sealed the deal right there."

"That's what's so impressive to me," adds senior point guard Ryan Cool. "We were the smallest team there and to come out and compete like we did was pretty amazing."

The Red Tail Hawks will make their first-ever appearance in the state playoffs tonight at 7:15 when they host North Clackamas Christian at Ashland High School. The game is being played their to accommodate spectators as the team's home gym doesn't have bleachers.

A win tonight and a trip to the eight-team state tournament in Baker City is the next barrier Rogue Valley Adventist hopes to crash through.

"It's all because of coach," says Robertson of second-year front man Mike Glasgow. "We wouldn't be anywhere without him."

Glasgow, who also had a short stint as the girls coach, took over the boys team two years ago. He admits he didn't have much to work with when the first practices rolled around.

"When I got these kids, they didn't know what a screen and roll was," recalls Glasgow, "and they were getting beat by 40 points in every game. For them to come this far, winning the district tournament, is pretty amazing. The reason is because they listen. They do what you ask of them, and they soak up everything you say like a sponge."

There is no youth program at Rogue Valley Adventist. Many of those competing in the girls and boys basketball programs now, whether at the high school or middle school level, do so for the first time.

"I remember going to basketball camp and not knowing any plays," says Fjarli. "We would just run around like chickens with our heads cut off. Now we have a play for everything. There's a lot more structure to what we do."

A side effect to the Red Tail Hawks' success is the conversion of many students and community members into basketball fans.

Rogue Valley Adventist School, tucked away on South Stage Road, has been around since 1926. But sports are, pardon the pun, a whole new ballgame for the school and its followers.

"Last year we started winning some games, and that was great," says Cool. "But you could tell that there wasn't really any interest in what we were doing. But once we stepped up and started doing well this year, you could see people starting to get excited, and we had much more support."

Those fans turned out in droves to the district tournament, outnumbering all other schools there, estimates Cool.

"I'm really proud of the fans," adds the 5-9 Cool. "There was no school spirit before at our games. But now I'm so proud of where I go to school."

The Hawks have even converted Rogue Valley Adventist principal Fylvia Kline into a hoop-head.

"Our principal was pretty anti-sports," laughs Robertson, "but we've finally converted her into a basketball fan."

That support from the fans and the church community shined the brightest when the Hawks benefitted from an important ruling Tuesday regarding tournament scheduling.

Seventh-day Adventists observe their sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, which doesn't allow them to participate in games or practices during that time.

State basketball tournaments, however, hold semifinal and consolation games during that period. The conflict has led to the movement or, in one case, forfeiture of a game, in past state tournaments for Portland Adventist Academy, a Class 3A school.

The Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the OSAA must accommodate the religious beliefs of the Portland team when scheduling tournament games. That ruling was also extended to Rogue Valley Adventist, should it advance to the 1A tournament.

"The fans were great," says Fjarli, "because the sabbath issue, the church backed us 100 percent. They're all for us. That was really great to see."

"It was a huge blessing," Fjarli adds. "The PAA (Portland Adventist Academy) has been fighting this for years, and we helped come in and push it over the edge."

The court ruling is one less thing Red Tail Hawk players must worry about as the heart of the postseason approaches.

And it's just one of many obstacles they've cleared this season en route to a 16-6 record.

Just prior to their league-opener, four of the five Rogue Valley Adventist starters spent two weeks in India on a mission during the Christmas break.

Cool, Robertson, Fjarli and Ryan Coggins each made the trip to south India, where they stayed at an orphanage.

"It was such a great trip," says Fjarli. "We were so lucky and so blessed to have that opportunity."

Glasgow saw a difference in his four starters upon their return.

"It was incredible," he says. "They came back and those kids were changed. To experience something so selfless like that definitely had an impact. They could have chosen to stay here and play, but they chose to go and help people."

But getting those players to mesh with the rest of the team when they returned was a challenge.

It showed early on when the Hawks lost to Butte Falls, 33-30, then committed 30 turnovers in an overtime loss to Triad three days later.

Even in defeat, however, many players saw something different.

"I think after we played Triad, we saw potential," says Robertson.

Behind a balanced scoring attack, led by 6-2 sophomore Robert Denton and Robertson, Rogue Valley Adventist ripped off nine wins over its final 12 MVL games.

The Hawks then doused Triad in the district tournament opener before routing regular-season champion North Lake, 50-36, in the tourney championship.

"That game (against North Lake) was kind of a microcosm of our season," says Glasgow. "We had four guys score in double figures. We are just a pretty unselfish team."

Tonight's contest presents a whole new challenge.

The Hawks, who outscored opponents 49-37 on average, are typically a low-scoring, methodical offensive team that thrives on defensive stops. North Clackamas Christian (21-6), the champion of the Valley 10 League, has scored 60-plus points 11 times this season.

"Nobody really expects us to win," says Fjarli. "The biggest thing now is that we've come so much farther than anyone expected us to."

"Whatever happens, happens," adds Cool.

More importantly, this group of players can look back on an era when they brought basketball to Rogue Valley Adventist School.

"It's nice to be one of the first," says Robertson. "It feels like we started something here.

"I can already look forward to the future and see myself as one of the old-timer Hawk fans."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com

Rogue Valley Adventist starters, from left, Ryan Cool, Tyler Robertson and Caleb Fjarli will make their first playoff appearance tonight. - Mail Tribune/Jamie Lusch