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By the Way, the Shot Was Late

Jaime IrvineCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2009

I should say right from the start that my cousin Chris Kampe was the captain of the Mercer Island team, so one should guess that I write this with the type of bias normally seen only from someone named Olbermann or Coulter.

This is the story of the 1981 Washington State basketball championship game between Shadle Park and Mercer Island.  Over the years, it has been referred to as the “Game of the Century” or “The Game that Never Ended," and is without a doubt the most controversial high school game of which I am aware.

Shadle Park came into the game as the favorite and featured future NFL standout Mark Rypien.  The game was close, back and forth, and exciting.  In short, everything you could hope for in a championship game. 

Earlier in the day during the consolation game, a problem developed with the scoreboard clock.  The horn that typically sounds automatically when the clock reaches zero had malfunctioned.  The scorekeeper would instead blow an air horn into the microphone when the clock struck zero. As you may guess, this is going to play a significantly role at the end of the game.

With the score tied and only a few seconds remaining, Mercer Island was on the foul line, and made one out of two free throws to take a one-point lead.  

Shadle Park inbounded the ball and rushed up the floor getting off a shot that, depending on who you speak to, either clearly did or clearly didn’t beat the air horn. 

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The scorekeeper did not think the shot was off in time and made no adjustment to the scoreboard.

Believing they had won the state championship, Mercer Island rushed the floor in celebration.

Though they insist now that they never disagreed, one official waved off the shot while the other counted it, all without consulting the scorekeeper as you would typically expect. The referees then bravely rushed off the floor to barricade themselves in their locker room. 

Eventually, the scorekeeper relented and counted the basket, prompting the Shadle Park side to rush the floor.

As one Mercer Island played told me:

“After a few moments of jumping around at our end of the court with fans and teammates, I remember looking to the other end of the court and seeing one of their guys sitting on the rim.  I really had no idea why he would be doing that and then slowly it dawned on me that folks in green were celebrating all over the other end of the court.  I recall waiting for the officials to come out, and they never did so finally heading back to the locker room”

Mercer Island filed an official protest of the game, believing the officials had erred by failing to consult the scorekeeper.  The protest was ultimately denied and to this day, Shadle Park is considered the 1981 State of Washington Boys Basketball champion. 

Unless, of course, you are talking to someone from Mercer Island.

In his final column covering high school sports in the state of Washington, Seattle PI writer Craig Smith, who had perhaps the most unbiased opinion that could be found among the observers of that game, wrote:

“I was there in 1981 when a referee counted the final shot good and Shadle Park beat Mercer Island for the big-school title in the most disputed basketball game in state history. By the way, the shot was late."

In 1993, my cousin, Chris Kampe, the captain of the 1981 Mercer Island state championship team, passed away after a  protracted battle with cancer. This evening, Mercer Island is honoring him with a jersey dedication ceremony in his memory. As one former classmate put it on the facebook page of the ceremony:

“Chris inspired me. He had a special quality that he used in basketball and life. Gandhi and Mother Teresa played the same game… Chris was about inspiring, moving the ball forward, and the assist.”

Many of his friends and family members will be in attendance, and no doubt the 1981 state championship game will be a topic of discussion.

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