Monday, February 1, 2010
WALLA WALLA -- Wa-Hi Blue Devil fans and autograph seekers stood 20-feet deep in the main gym's lobby before the boys' basketball game with Eisenhower Friday night.
They waited to meet and receive signatures from Blue Devils' athletic legends Dean Derby and Drew Bledsoe on items ranging from brown, rubber footballs to colored pages in paper tablets.
Then, area TV cameramen arrived, and a smiling Derby answered the request for an interview.
Bledsoe kept on signing until he stepped before the cameras.
Later, Derby said he was having fun at the event.
"Look at this crowd," he said. "Isn't that terrific. And two TV stations. I think that's absolutely wonderful. Look at the people waiting for autographs and stuff, mostly from Drew, of course. I'm too old.
"It's just great to be here," he added. "I'm really, really tickled. It's a really nice award."
After his stints before the TV cameras, and after a trip to the Wa-Hi boys locker room to make a pre-game comment, Bledsoe agreed.
"This is fun," said Bledsoe, who graduated from Wa-Hi in 1990. "We came in and walked through the little old gym where we played ball growing up, and I've got to tell you, it feels really great.
"It brings the memories just flooding back," he said. "I just went and talked to the team for a second, and what I told them was to embrace it. There's nothing like it, playing high school sports.
"You've got the whole community behind you, with a loud gym," Bledsoe continued. "It's an amazing thing. It was a lot of fun. We had a great team, and we had a ton of fun playing.
"And we had great state tournaments. We were very close to making it all the way to the top," Bledsoe said. "So, I'm excited to be here."
In a moment of fun, when asked if his Blue Devil football teams from the 1950s could beat Bledsoe's Blue Devil team from the '90s, Derby, a 1953 graduate, beamed mischievously.
"I really think that we probably could beat them," he said. "We had a great quarterback then ourselves (Bobby Cox). Drew was a great quarterback, as everybody knows.
"But we were an awfully well-rounded team," Derby continued. "Just to give a person an idea, we were undefeated our sophomore year, junior year and senior year in football. And we were mythical state champions (no playoffs existed at the time).
"As far as athletics were concerned, and this doesn't concern Drew, but Wa-Hi won the state basketball tournament in 1952, when I was a junior. I wasn't a very good basketball player," Derby said with a smile.
"And then we won the state track meet our senior year," he continued. "And if you think about it, and I reflect on this a lot, that's a pretty good accomplishment.
"And I didn't do it all alone, you know. But that's a great accomplishment," he said.
And Derby talked briefly about the careers of Bobby Cox -- high school, college and professional.
"He died here just recently of pancreatic cancer," Derby said. "He was a great quarterback, all-American in football and all-state in football, all-state in basketball, all-state in track and all-American in track.
"Can you get a much better high-school athlete that than?" he asked. "I don't think so."
At halftime, with Wa-Hi leading Eisenhower 39-24, Derby and Bledsoe received the Big Blue Boosters Professional Athletic Alumni Award.
Each, along with the packed house, listened to a summary of his athletic achievement at Wa-Hi, at the collegiate level and in the pros.
Each received a framed replica of his Wa-Hi jersey and made a brief statement.
Derby mentioned the "great crowd" and thanked the Boosters and the community for the honor.
"It's all about tradition," he paused and the crowd applauded, "just like this country -- hard work, perseverance, winning and the freedom to pursue those goals."
Bledsoe, wearing his ring from the 2002 Superbowl XXXVI, also thanked the Boosters and the community for the award.
"I was proud throughout my career at Washington State and throughout my NFL career to represent this town of Walla Walla," he said to loud applause. "I was aware through all of it that the people of this community, so many of you, touched my life and helped me to get where I was.
"And I hope you enjoyed taking the ride with me," Bledsoe said. "It was a heck of a ride.
"Go Blue Devils," he concluded.
And they did.
The Blue Devils defeated Eisenhower 75-62 to remain in first place in the Big Nine Conference's Cascade Division.