Before there was an Earl Barden Classic, and Saturday’s game at Zaepfel Stadium will be the 25th edition, there was a single all-star football game in the summer for all classes.
It was extraordinarily difficult for a small-school player to get an invitation, but Scott Ditter managed to do it out of tiny Ocosta of Westport in 1986. He ran for over 1,700 yards his senior year but the difference-maker was an endorsement from a Hall of Fame coach.
“I heard years later that I have Ed Fisher (of South Kitsap) to thank for it,” said Selah’s head coach, who will direct the East team in Saturday’s Barden Classic. “When they were selecting players and my name came up everybody said, ‘Well, he’s a small-school kid so let’s pass.’ Then Ed said, ‘He led the state in rushing so put him in.’ I definitely made sure to thank him.”
Ditter, who started at cornerback and got some carries at running back, roomed with Ferndale’s Doug Pederson, the Philadelphia Eagles coach who led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2017. Eisenhower’s Cary Conklin was the quarterback for the East last year, but the West prevailed 27-18.
“I remember being pretty scared with so many studs in the state that year,” he said. “But once you’re there for a while you start to make friends and mesh together. It was a real blessing to be a part of that, just like these kids are getting now. It’s special.”
What started in that summer of ‘86 has become a Ditter family tradition.
Scott’s oldest son Kyle played in the 2015 Barden Classic and led the East in receiving. Kyle, who recently graduated from Whitworth and will teach in the Wapato School District this fall, attended a practice this week to talk about what this event has meant to him and the relationships he built.
In the audience for Kyle’s talk was his younger brother Cameron, who could play any number of positions for the East on Saturday and is also headed to Whitworth.
When Barden stewards Bill Alexander and Mike Lynch launched this effort 25 years ago, these experiences and opportunities are exactly what they had in mind for kids from smaller schools.
“It’s remarkable what Bill and Mike have done and continue to do,” Scott Ditter said. “These are great kids who get a special experience. And they’ll always remember it.”
QUARTER CENTURY: At age 25, the Barden Classic predates the creation of Class 2A and, in the beginning, featured players from A and B schools.
The inaugural game in 1995 had a buzz surrounding Eatonville’s Bobby Lucht, who set several state passing records the previous fall. As most quarterbacks do in June, Lucht struggled a bit completing just 7 of 18 passes but he did throw two touchdown passes and lead the West to a 16-6 win.
East Valley’s Ty Nunez, who caught five passes for 70 yards, was named MVP of the East team.
LEOPARDS REDUX: Zillah’s defensive tour de force last fall deserves an encore and Bailey Sparks and Dakota Hibbs are just the ones to provide it this week.
As pincers anchoring each side of the line, Sparks and Hibbs led the Leopards to seven shutouts in a season that didn’t concede a point until Oct. 12. Zillah allowed just 34 points all season, which ended with a 7-6 setback in the state quarterfinals to eventual finalist Newport.
Both are moving on to collegiate ball with plenty of future teammates to meet this week.
Sparks, a first-team all-state pick on defense, is headed to Central Washington along with Barden all-stars Tyler Flanagan (Woodland), Angel Farias (Royal) and J.J. Lemming (Steilacoom).
Hibbs, a first-team all-stater on offense, is going to Eastern Oregon, which also nabbed East teammates Jake Weber of Selah, the CWAC South co-offensive MVP, and Ben Cunningham of Clarkston.
HIGH DIVE: If you run Flanagan through google images you’ll see all sorts of impressive football pictures, which is understandable since he put up these freak numbers last fall — 1,971 yards and 32 touchdowns rushing, 2,012 yards and 19 TDs passing, two kickoff returns for scores and 100 total tackles.
But go a little further down and you’ll find his Superman dive at last month’s state track championships, a remarkable gut-check move that got plenty of mileage on social media. He and three others hit the deck at the finish of the 300-meter hurdles, but Flanagan managed to prevail with his dive and tumble to earn a state title in his final race.
CWU recruited Flanagan as a running back. He is one of five westside players who will play for the East this week to balance the rosters.
IN THE TRENCHES: Colville’s charge to the 1A state title last year saw the Indians’ offense post games of 48, 42, 31 and 48 points in the playoffs. So it’s nice to see one of the grinders off that team, Jacob Newsom, represented this week.
The EWU signee earned first-team all-state honors on the offensive and defensive lines and he was named NEA co-defensive MVP along with Newport’s Danny Bradbury, who is also on the East team this week.
Newsom was instrumental in that postseason run, which included snapping Royal’s 53-game win streak, and he placed fourth in the heavyweight class at Mat Classic to help Colville captured the state wrestling title as well.
8-MAN STANDOUT: It’s not often, or easy, for an 8-man player to handle a week at this level but Robert Comstock of Quilcene is doing just fine.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound College of Siskiyous recruit was a two-way all-state pick at tight end and defensive end and helped Quilcene to a 12-1 season last fall, the best in school history. He played five seasons of varsity football since 1B schools can use eighth-graders.
ON THE SIDELINE: Selah’s Jake Weber, who rang up 43 touchdowns in the last two seasons, scored TDs every way possible as a junior — rushing, receiving, kickoff and punt returns, fumble return and pick-6s. ... Royal kids always make a big Barden impact, like last year when Corbin Christensen caught three TD passes to rally the East to a 20-12 victory. This year watch out for QB Sawyer Jenks, the 1A state player of the year. ... Montana-bound Jacob McGourin of Cheney threw the discus 188-11 this spring, the state’s second longest. ... Lake Roosevelt’s Steven Flowers, who’s headed to EWU, enjoyed a full senior year, placing third at Mat Classic at 195 pounds and then winning the 2B state shot put last month. ... Burlington-Edison’s Axel Wilhonen was in Yakima two weeks ago for the All-State Baseball Series.