Tooele High School Head Basketball Coach Gary Alverson says he did it “for the kids.”
And the THS 2004-05 basketball team say they did it for Coach Alverson.
Regardless of “who did it for whom” — for the first time in the school’s 92- year history, Tooele High has a state basketball crown. And the entire town is as proud as it can be.
With only 12.5 seconds remaining in the 3A championship game Saturday, Wasatch was one point ahead of Tooele.
“That’s when the magical thing happened,” said Cody Castle, a THS senior who successfully sunk a 3-point shot from the corner of the E Center basketball court in West Valley City. “Mike Holt drove the ball down the court and the Wasatch defense collapsed on him. Then Mike just dished the ball out to me in the corner and I hit the shot.”
Cody, who isn’t even on the starting lineup for the Buff team, said he knew as soon as his ball hit its mark that the THS basketball squad’s hopes and dreams had come true. Tooele — a team sportscasters hadn’t given even an inkling of a chance to win the state championship — had done what the team and their coaches knew all year they were capable of doing.
“There was total silence when I took that shot,” recalled Cody, son of Veronica Sandoval. “I knew I was going to make it. I was confident I could do it. The ball went in and the [Tooele] crowd went wild.”
When Castle’s ball hit its mark, Wasatch called a quick timeout. The Wasps still had their sights set on winning a third consecutive basketball championship — and they were bound and determined not to let what they considered an “underdog team” like Tooele beat them.
The Wasps showed their determination when they hit the floor again. Pat Burns tried a running lay-up attempt for the Wasps, but the ball rolled off the rim. Wasatch’s Jake Woodruff then made a tip-in attempt. The ball actually hit both the front and back of the rim before clattering to the floor without going through the hoop.
“There was only 1.3 seconds left in the game at that point and I knew Tooele had won,” said Mike Holt, son of Julia and Dr. Charles Holt.
Mike Holt, the Buffs’ point guard, made 15 points in the championship game. “There were a ton of Tooele fans at the E Center and they went wild,” he said. “At first it was crazy listening to all the screams and cheers, but the noise was also absolutely awesome.”
Tooele took the state crown from the Wasps with a 38-36 score.
Season started slow for THS Buffaloes
Tooele had only a 6-5 preseason record. Then, when the basketball year got off to its official start, the Buffs opened with two victories.
Hitting the road, Tooele lost to Ben Lomond. The Buffs lost twice to Morgan — once by 43 points and again by an 18-point deficit on Feb. 4. At that point, it looked as if Tooele, who trailed Ben Lomond by one game, would be Region 11’s third-seed team in the state contest.
But when Tooele faced Ben Lomond for the second time during the regular season, Cody Castle — the same player who hit the 3-pointer last Saturday — pulled off a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of that game to give Tooele the victory. The Buff’s then pulled off an overtime victory against Bear River.
A coin toss between Tooele and Ben Lomond to determine second place seed and a home playoff game went in Tooele’s favor. THS beat Granite on the Buffs’ basketball floor on Feb. 18. Tooele then reeled off three straight victories in the state contest, beating Dixie, Snow Canyon and Wasatch.
Tooele ended the 2004-05 basketball season with a 17-8 overall record.
Coach makes startling announcement
It was right before Christmas when Coach Alverson started feeling a little run down.
“I was coughing a lot,” he remembers. “I thought I had walking pneumonia.”
Alverson wasn’t really concerned because, “At the beginning of every basketball season, I start coughing.”
But when he went to a doctor — just like he’s done in years past to ask for medication — the physician ordered a lung X-ray.
“The X-ray showed that I had one good lung, but the other one was only about this big,” the coach said while making a circle with his fingers approximately the size of an orange. “There was a mass and fluid around the diminished lung.”
A biopsy disclosed that Alverson had lung cancer caused by asbestos.
“I came in contact with asbestos when I worked at the Tooele Smelter while I was still very young,” Alverson said. “Doctors say it can take 30 to 40 years for asbestos-caused cancer to show up.”
Alverson initially had no plans to tell his basketball team about the cancer. He changed his mind when he realized there was a possibility he would become so sick that he would have to miss a practice or a game.
“If I couldn’t be there for the team, I wanted them to know why,” Alverson said.
Alverson is still undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatment. “My first chemo treatment took six hours,” the coach said. “The treatments have now been shortened to about four hours. I have a treatment every three weeks.” Doctors have also drained the fluid around his lung twice.
Alverson added, “My taste buds are shot. I don’t feel like eating or drinking anything, but I need to do that to keep up my resistance and not let the disease get me down.”
Even though the coach hasn’t felt in tip-top shape lately, he’s never missed one practice or game. And his perseverance hasn’t gone unnoticed by his team.
Players express love for Coach Alverson
Like many of his teammates, Bryton Lawrence — a junior player on the THS team — came right out and said it during an interview with the Tooele Transcript- Bulletin. “I love Coach Alverson,” said Bryton, son of Chuck and Crystal Lawrence. “He’s a cool guy. He’s a more experienced coach and he knows what he’s doing. He’s a dedicated coach who didn’t miss one practice or game even though he was going through cancer treatments.”
Lawrence added that Alverson shows no favoritism among his players. “He treats everyone the same and everyone loves him,” Lawrence said of his coach. Taylor Palmer, a junior player who is the son of Rick and Karrie Palmer, said Tooele’s state victory probably “had a little to do” with Coach Alverson being ill.
“We all wanted to win for him,” Palmer said. “He is a great person and coach and we were really determined to go as far as we could go as a team.”
Josh Boucher, son of Paul and Christine Quester, is a THS senior who said, “Sure, we kind of won this state championship for Coach since he’s been going through so much. During the playoffs, we’d all get together in the locker room and say, ‘Let’s do this for Coach.’” Colton Hogan, son of Theron and Carrie Taylor and Eric Hogan (deceased), was the only sophomore starter on this year’s THS basketball squad.
“We started working harder as a team when we found out Coach Alverson was sick,” Hogan said.
Even Assistant Coach Charlie Mohler said, “Gary Alverson is one of the best men I have ever known. I rank him second only to my dad. He is one of the greatest gentlemen I have ever been around. Being part of the coaching staff for this team is something I will cherish for a lifetime.”
Other assistant THS basketball coaches include: Danny Medina, Chris Aker, Phil Moreno, Kris Ashby and Joseph White.
“All the assistant coaches were superb in every way,” Alverson said. “You are nothing as a head coach if you don’t have good, dedicated and talented assistants.”
Close-knit “team of destiny”
Seven of the 15-member THS basketball squad who were interviewed by the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin Monday called their group “a team of destiny.” Cody Castle said, “This has been a magical season and after we beat Ben Lomond, we all knew we were a team of destiny. Maybe no one else thought we could take state, but as a team, we knew we could do it.”
Josh Boucher added, “Our taking state was destiny. We put so much hard work and so much sweat into winning the championship. We lifted weights and practiced on Saturdays. Taking state was something we really wanted.”
Boucher added, “Cutting down those nets after Saturday’s game and holding our trophy was the best night of my life — it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Each member of the THS team are good friends who stood together through thick and thin. “We all love being around each other,” said Bryton Lawrence.
“We hang out together and when we go onto the basketball floor, we go on as a team. There is no ‘me, me mentality’ on this team. No one is a hero. We all worked together.”
Myra Lockie, mother of team member Nash Lockie, agrees. Myra said the junior players — who embodied the majority of the THS team — have played basketball together since they were in 5th-grade. She said Nash once told her, “I have played with Mike Holt, the team’s point guard, so long that I know what he’s going to do before he does it.”
THS Band boosted enthusiasm
Many months before the THS basketball squad knew they would be going to the state playoffs, the school’s cheerleaders signed up for a national cheer competition.
“The cheerleaders were competing in Florida last weekend,” said THS band director Marilyn Syra.
Stacey Squires, advisor of the school’s drill team, the Sha-Ronns, had her girls perform at halftime during the state games. The Majestics, the band’s color guard, also performed during Friday and Saturday’s state games.
And the THS band sat on the lower bleachers during the state playoffs so the players and Tooele fans could hear them loud and clear.
“In addition to playing, the band also cheered loud for our team,” said Syra. “As a courtesy, bands from opposing sides take turns playing during time-outs and at half-time. Our band would try to get to the game early and set up so that we could continue to play for our team until the opposing team’s band was ready to play.”
Following the championship game, Coach Alverson walked over to the band with tears in his eyes and gave them a “thumbs up,” Syra said.
Syra, who was hired in the summer of 1997 as the full-time band teacher, said she has always been proud of her band students, but the way they stepped up to support the basketball team was especially noteworthy.
During interviews Monday, the ballplayers and Coach Alverson all expressed appreciation for the band.
“The band was superb,” Alverson said. “One of the things Tooele has always been known for is its band, and our band was awesome at the state playoffs.”
Tooele welcomes team home
Team member Taylor Palmer said that on the way home Saturday night, the ballplayers were singing on the bus.
“We were singing songs like ‘We are the Champions,’ and ‘We Will Rock You,’” Palmer said. “We were having a lot of fun.”
But team members were surprised when they reached Lake Point to see five fire trucks with sirens wailing and lights flashing. Tooele’s volunteer fire department had come to escort the champions back into Tooele.
“The buses followed the fire trucks to Wal-Mart, then the team members got off the bus and hopped onto the fire trucks,” said Palmer. “We rode on the fire trucks down Main Street all the way to the Go-Fer gas and convenience store and then up Vine Street to the school.”
The band buses beat the basketball team to the Wal-Mart parking lot by three minutes.
“I told the band students they had three minutes to get off that bus and get their horns ready to play,” said Syra. “When the team members stepped off the bus, the band started playing the school song. It was a very emotional moment.”
THS Athletic Director Rich Valdez said when the team members got on the fire trucks, “they were just beaming.” Valdez added, “From my perspective, this basketball championship was a total team effort.
This team went above and beyond their natural ability. It was the emotions of their hearts that gave them that extra boost to win the state championship.”
Coach Alverson’s career
Although until three years ago Coach Alverson had not lived in Tooele for three decades or more, he is a hometown boy.
A 1964 graduate of THS, Alverson played basketball, football and ran track for his alma mater.
Following high school graduation, Alverson attended Brigham Young University and then served an LDS mission in Virginia and North Carolina.
“When I came back from my mission, I played basketball for Snow College,” Alverson said.
He earned his degree in history with a minor in English from BYU. He has since been awarded a master’s degree in P.E. leadership. Alverson married his wife, Lois, in 1969. The two met at Snow College. Lois is a native of Sandy and a graduate of Jordan High School. The couple are the parents of five sons and one daughter, who range from 20- to 34-years of age. Gary and Lois also have six grandchildren. Coach Alverson’s career has taken him to Weber High School where he was head basketball coach.
For 18 years he was head basketball coach at Bonneville High School in South Ogden. Bonneville High took two state basketball championships under Alverson’s direction — one in 1985 and the other in 1987. While at Bonneville, Alverson also served as the defense coordinator for the football team.
Bonneville won the state football championship in 1981.
Alverson has also served as head tennis coach at Cottonwood High School. His tennis team was the 1999 state champs.
Gary returned to Tooele three years ago to accept the position as head basketball coach. He also teaches U.S. history at Tooele High School.
The coach said its good to be home and that it was “the kids at Tooele High School who kept me going this year.”
Alverson said that just like his Buffalo basketball team wanted to make this year special for him, “I wanted this year to be special for my team. It’s not often that you get a group of kids like this who are so mature and such considerate young people. This team is a very unselfish group of young men.”
Alverson said he knew from the beginning of the basketball season that Tooele had the best defensive team in the state.
“We finally got to where we were pressing better and we became a strong offensive team,” he said. “We were not undefeated, but these kids knew they could win the state championship this year. People outside the immediate program might not have known about the confidence of this team, but they were awesome.” As for his struggle against cancer, Coach Alverson says it looks like he will have to undergo surgery in April.
“The chemo treatments will hopefully shrink the mass around my lung so that when the doctors go in to take out, they will get it all.”
Alverson said when he tells people he has cancer, some act as if he’s going to die. “We’re all going to die,” he said, “but I have talked to a lot of people who have had this cancer and who have beaten it.”
The coach said being an athlete has helped him to be strong, both mentally and physically, in dealing with his illness.
And this year’s THS basketball team has given him the extra love he needs — and helped him to remember that all battles can be won.