GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — When you want something, you set a goal and you go for it.
That’s what Grand Canyon Lady Phantoms head coach Rosie Evans told her team when they first floated the idea of traveling to the West Coast Jamboree basketball tournament in San Francisco, California. She recalled the girls questioning whether it was really possible to raise enough money for the entire team to attend the tournament.
“They looked at me and said ‘Really, coach, where are were going to get $18,000?’” Evans said. “No one’s done that.”
At first, it was one bake sale table at the General Store in September. On one Saturday alone, the girls were able to earn $1,100. Evans said once they got started, the girls really began believing they could raise the funds. A bake sale the next month earned them another $1,000 and a third at the annual Lions Club rummage sale added several hundred to the total.
The team also made calendars and sold them to the community, which Evans said is an ongoing fundraising opportunity.
Evans said their fundraising success help with some of the expenses, providing money to cover the flights for all 18 team members, coaches and a few accompanying parents.
Other community organizations chipped in as well, including the Rotary Club, Lions Club and PTA.
Once the funds were collected, Evans said the Town Council offered another $7,000 for the team to experience more of the city than just the airport and basketball arena.
“We are so grateful for that,” she said.
In the end, they ended up raising about $25,000.
The Lady Phantoms played one game per day during the tournament, which drew more than 160 schools from California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Only one other school from Arizona was selected along with Grand Canyon.
They were tough games.
Although the Lady Phantoms lost the three games they competed in, Evans said they still put up a good showing against teams
with more height and many, many more students in their programs. The team also learned a lot from the games, and gained valuable experience playing in large gyms for big crowds.
In their first game with Buhach Colony from Atwater, California, Evans said the team froze for the first quarter of the game as they adjusted to the more competitive climate. Evans said the girls were able to adapt to the new conditions, including a shot clock, which isn’t used in high schools in northern Arizona. Evans said the team scored a single point in the first quarter.
“We picked up and beat them in the third and fourth quarter, but the gap was just too big,” Evans said. The team lost the game by eight points, an impressive showing against a high school with more than 1,700 students.
The Lady Phantoms also squared off against Head-Royce School, a private college-prep academy in Oakland, Calif., and Central Valley High School in Shasta Lake, Calif. And while the Lady Phantoms lost by a margin of 18 points to Head-Royce, they held their own against the Central Valley Lady Falcons, losing by single digits.
“Those teams were fast and they had skills we’d never seen before,” recalled senior Natalie Ramos. “We learned a lot from them.”
Sophomore Kara Austin said it was a much different experience.
“The refs weren’t like Arizona refs,” she said. “Those teams were good, and they were there to be there.”
Senior Makiah Kennedy agreed.
“It was a learning experience because although we lost all the games, we were able to experience harder teams, so when we came back, we came back stronger,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to show what we learned.”
Evans said other coaches and other teams were inspired by the girls’ effort.
“A lot of coaches and referees came to us and said they admire our team, because we have 70 (students) in our high school, 18 of which were there,” she said. “They were inspired, they wanted to go back to their administrations and tell them our story.”
Assistant coach Jesse Magana said it was a great opportunity and experience for the team, and never doubted their ability to play with bigger players.
“It’s the same game they here,” he said.
Although the trip to San Francisco was mostly about basketball, the team took time to squeeze in a few firsts along the way – airplanes, the ocean and sushi.
Sherice Keevama said the city was a whole new experience for her.
“I come from the rez and we don’t have big buildings there, so I kind of felt small,” she said. “It was also Keevama’s first time seeing the ocean and being on an airplane, which she described as terrifying.
Outside of basketball, the girls agreed that seeing the ocean topped the list of favorite moments from the trip, although none of them were brave enough to test the waters for themselves. Other sites visited included the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, and the entire team took a ride on the city’s famous cable cars and a boat tour through San Francisco Bay.
Several team members also tried sushi for the first time, to mixed reviews. The salmon might have been a tad too oily, and according to Alana Keebahe, who tried wasabi for the first time, it was not pleasant.
Having the biggest touring bus available also made the trip special, Evans said.
“Even when you’re driving in San Francisco, you don’t have the best view, and we had the best view of the city,” she said.
The Lady Phantoms are a tight-knit team, and experiencing the trip together made it even more special. Sophomore Calley Scheller said each hotel room was its own private party with back doors open to the pool area giving it a community feel.
“We just really close, and I think the four days we were there made us even closer,” she said. The girls team also bonded over Aquaman.
“I enjoyed everyone smiling, having a good time, it made me happy, because we’re all a family,” said Maria Dugi.
The Lady Phantoms also brought back a special treat for the school community that helped send them on their trip: a piece of chocolate from the famous Ghirardelli Square.
“I had little kids coming to me and saying ‘Coach, this is the most delicious chocolate I have ever had,’” Evans said. “It was so special to them. It’s not only about basketball, it’s about the kindness you take back to the community.”
Evans said the team plans to make more trips in the coming years, and already has some of the money left from this year’s fundraising efforts set aside.