The RA Long Boys basketball team is poised to make history with every win. The Lumberjacks have just won their fourth district title. They are in the state tournament for only the fourth time since 1985 and in the quarterfinals for the first time since Longview became a two-school town.
But every time a jack hits a 3-pointer, or comes in with a huge block, or throws a dunk, and looks back to the bench, he witnesses a different story at Longview:
Three black men on the bench. Three black coaches. Three black models.
The records are fuzzy as you go back, but Jeray Key is almost certainly the first black basketball coach in Longview history, perhaps the first in any college sport. Together, he and Jamal Holden and Jamond Harris Sr. are certainly the first all-black coaching staff in these regions, and quite possibly the first the Greater St. Helen’s League has ever seen.
That, in Cowlitz County, is more important than any victory. And lumberjacks have a lot too.
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“It’s beyond words, I think,” Harris said. “That’s something kids need is to see it firsthand, in real life and not on TV… By talking to kids in this area, you can kind of feel that they’re listening. . And when it comes to the basketball team, they eat it all”
Key himself would know this is an important story; after all, it’s something he didn’t witness.
Growing up in Longview in a mixed-race family and attending Monticello Middle School and Mark Morris High School, the Jacks head coach was pretty much the only black kid in every team, class or group he was a part of locally.
“I always noticed it back then, when you’re the only (black) kid in your class and on all the sports teams,” he said. “I have faced racism all my life living here. It was something where I was the only person dealing with it, and I didn’t really know who to really talk to other than my mom or whatever.
In addition to his run at Mark Morris, Key had another side to basketball, playing AAU tournaments for his uncle, Robert Key — himself a high school coach to this day — in Portland on a team with other players. black people from big cities in the summer.
Key described it as a learning experience in multiple ways, playing with stronger, more athletic counterparts. But some of the most resounding memories came from the comments he received – and who they came from.
“Being there, and my uncle telling me, ‘You’re as good as those guys. It’s in your head, you have all the tools they have, ‘it meant something to me,’ Key said. “The most important person who raised me in the sport and taught me everything was my grandfather, Larry Petersen, and that always meant everything to me. But when I heard it outside of him , from someone who was in my race, it really felt good. For some reason, that’s how it works.
So when Key returned to Longview after finishing his playing career at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho — a place he described as similar to Longview, where just about every black person was an athlete on a team or another for the Warriors — he gotta start being that coach for black kids. He started as a freshman coach at RA Long in 2013-14, and in two seasons in that role he went 33-7. Soon he shared his college head coaching duties with Rally Wallace and became the sole skipper ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Along the way, he bonded with two other black coaches in the area.
Jamond Harris Sr., who was born in Southern California before moving to Washington as a youth, ending his high school career in Kelso, had spent time coaching the Lumberjacks’ C team even before his son, Jamond II only begins his first year in red and black.
Jamal Holden, also from SoCal, had a collegiate career that spanned the country before coming to PNW. He began working as a coach at Roots Academy, but around the same time was refused a job as a school coach – a job he was told he was qualified for and for which he interviewed the best, but still didn’t get it.
“It crushed me a bit,” he said.
Holden ended up taking a conditioning job at Kelso, but before his eldest son Cameron started at RA Long, Key came calling with an offer: take the RAL JV job and join him on the varsity bench.
That year, Cameron Holden switched between JV and college, with his father on both benches. The following season, Jamond Harris II entered freshman year and RAL’s all-black staff took shape.
“It kind of fell into place, it’s going on, and it’s something that you kind of notice.” says Key. “When you grew up here your whole life, I had never had black coaches myself or anything like that. One day it came to mind: “Oh wow, we’re probably the first black coaching staff at Longview.”
Coaching a program that has seen an influx of black athletes — half of RA Long’s current team is African American — Key saw that making a difference.
“People don’t understand, when you’re an African American and you’re in a field like this, it’s different to have a role model that’s the same race as you,” he said. declared. “You take it differently. That doesn’t mean you won’t listen to someone else, but you take it differently. I’ve noticed some of my kids too, that’s how they respond to me.
When Key entered the RAL program, he said he found a program with talent, but with room for improvement in terms of “dedication and discipline”. Immediately, his staff set to work on these two areas.
It starts for the Jacks in the summer, with workouts that are unprompted in just about every post-game interview with a player or coach, which has led to more than their fair share of vomit on the moment, but produce a team that can pretty much run all night on game day.
“When it comes to running, track and sand workouts with weight vests and medicine balls, and workouts in the weight room, it’s Jamal,” Key said. “He puts them through the glove, and he does it until they’re about to break.”
And when the loggers aren’t running, they’re playing basketball. A lot.
Key’s general estimate was that the Jacks played 100 games in the COVID 2021 year, between their shortened spring season, the summer circuit and the start of this season. When they don’t have official matches, they’re usually together on a pitch somewhere in Longview. Often players take on their coaches, who enlist the help of friends and family to take their five-on-five charges, and – in their words, at least – still beat them.
“These guys will tell you, they couldn’t win against us,” Key said. “But we could see how much they were improving and improving.”
Now everything that went into the program, from the RAL administration’s choice to go with Key and their confidence in building their staff to the time the coaches and players put in, is paying off.
“It takes courage from senior management, the director and the DA,” Holden said. “You’re probably going to get some criticism here and there, but when people see that we’re one of the most successful programs in the area, and of all time at RA Long, it makes us look really good.”
The results on the ground that the staff have achieved are of course evident. Running a system that is the combined idea of Key and Holden – with fewer robust systems and a greater focus on smooth decision-making – the Jacks have become one of Washington’s most dominant teams in recent years. .
“In our system, it shows their true talent,” Holden said. “Letting them play free a bit shows their basketball IQ, instead of ‘Hey, you gotta run to this place, and do this, and run this way like I told you’ , and things like that. They love to play in the system, because it gives them a free rein to be themselves there.
Twenty-two games into the season, RA Long has 20 wins and a +621 point differential. The Lumberjacks are a perfect 18-0 against fellow 2A contenders, winning those games by an average of 33 points.
RAL are currently on a 24-game league winning streak since the spring 2021 season opener, and the only thing that stopped the Jacks from claiming the district title that year was an untimely encounter with COVID-19. . When they had the chance last month, they opened the district tournament with a 23-point win over Shelton, backed it up with a 28-point win over Mark Morris – their biggest winning margin over their rivals, never – and crowned it. with a victory over Tumwater in the title match on Ted M. Natt Court.
Now they make the trip to Yakima, where they will face either Tumwater or Grandview in the quarter-finals on Thursday. A victory in one of their first two games will guarantee the program its first state trophy since the Eisenhower administration.
It will be a historic end to the historic season for the historic team, led by a historic coaching staff. And ultimately, his greatest effect may be yet to come, if he can ensure that Longview doesn’t have to wait another century for its second black basketball coach or its black coaching staff.
This impact – and the story – will continue to come.
“One thing my mom always told me when I was growing up here was that I was always going to be a great role model,” Key said. “Not just for people here, but I was going to be a great role model for African American kids growing up here. I was a young boy like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ But now my mom talks about it today, like, “I told you so.” I told you I was right.