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R.A. Long Basketball

Seven decades apart: Trophy-winning Lumberjacks hoopers from '53 and '22 trade tales

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Sixty-nine years separated R.A. Long’s two most recent trophy-winning boys basketball teams, but at the Longview Country Club on Wednesday, those two parts of Lumberjack history came together for lunch.

On one side of the table of honor at the Rotary Club meeting sat Leroy Nelson, Gary Earnest, and Bob Anderson, the last three surviving members of the 1953 Longview side that took sixth in State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington. On the other was Aaron Ofstun, Jamond Harris, Stephen Rooklidge, Cavin Holden, Jake Gabbard, Jaxon Cook, and Lonnie Brown Jr., from the 2021-22 RAL team that took fifth in Yakima this past March.

“I got called down to the office, and I thought I was in trouble, but I got an envelope saying that the ‘53 players wanted to have a lunch with us,” Holden said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”

In the middle of the table sat the trophies that the two respective teams won, nearly seven decades apart.

Bob Beal, who helped organize the event, said that the R.A. Long administration had done a “really good job of celebrating successes within the school,” but that the goal of the day was to connect the current Lumberjacks with key members of the program’s history and also with members of the community at large.

After Beal went over the most recent Jacks accomplishments on the hardwood, along with some history, Nelson took the microphone and ran down the 1953 team’s roster, introducing the audience to a number of players who went on to play various sports at the next level, including Earnest, who played basketball at BYU, and Dick Day, who earned regional honors on the UW football team.

But in his spiel, Nelson made one thing clear:

“This team would’ve beat the hell out of us.”

Specifically, Nelson pointed out that the ‘53 team had 6-foot, 1-inch Chuck Marsh as its center, a fact that ran the Lumberjacks into trouble when they had to go up against Elma and its 7-foot, 1-inch star Gary Nelson.

So when given the chance afterward to hypothetically cherry-pick a current Lumberjack or two to throw onto the old-school Longview squad, he went with size in a heartbeat.

“If we’d had Ofstun, we’d have been tough,” he said.

Nelson said that over the years the members of his team made sure to stay in contact and get back together nearly every summer, even as their numbers have decreased. On the other hand, many didn’t really keep close tabs on the R.A. Long teams that followed, making Wednesday an opportunity to reconnect with the program they carried before passing off to successive decades of classes.

“It was nice to meet those kids,” Nelson said. “They’re nice kids.”

Meanwhile, the younger Jacks got first-hand accounts of what basketball was like in the days decades before the three-point line, when the key was narrower and players were still referred to as “cagers”.

And in a world where it’s said there are no free lunches, they also managed to obtain one of those out of the deal.

“It’s pretty interesting to know how it was back then,” Holden said. “Their generation versus our generation, it’s pretty interesting.”

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