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2007: It began with a wild hoops ride

There’s nothing quite like an election year to show a community’s differences, and 2007 lived up – or down – to the promise.

Throw in growing pains both within City Hall and without, and there were no shortage of acrimonious headlines made.

But for the first quarter at least, Bainbridge Islanders stood gloriously, thrillingly united. The community cause célèbre: the Bainbridge Spartan boys basketball team, whose quest for a state title heated up an otherwise dull Northwest winter, and seared a permanent mark into the pages of island lore.

January

The year begins with a slam dunk – Spartan hoops star Steven Gray soars above the rim and ignites his team to a lopsided victory over North Kitsap. The highlight-reel move lights a fuse that carries the team through a tough stretch of tournament play and into Metro League contests, and even casual fans acknowledge that this could be the Spartans’ year for a state title.

New faces, new frontiers: Longtime affordable housing activist and ordained minister Carl Florea is named director of the Housing Resources Board.

Former Bainbridge councilwoman Christine Rolfes takes her place representing the 23rd District as a representative in Olympia. And Greg Byrne of Fort Collins, Colo., is tapped as the city’s new director of planning and community development.

A nine-home development is proposed off Halls Hill Road. Neighbors appeal.

On the home front, island peace activists hold a candlelight vigil to protest President Bush’s “surge” of new troops in Iraq. But war carries the day.

Officials announce plans to install a small, high-tech wastewater treatment plant in Fay Bainbridge State Park, to clean up sewage at the park and nearby Point Monroe. The project is part of a state initiative to clean up and restore Puget Sound. County health officials back the plan, but several neighbors say it may allow construction of more homes in the area.

Running out of money, the Kitsap Regional Library system announces plans for a levy lid lift in April. Without an infusion of new tax money, the system faces a $2.1 million shortfall in 2008, library officials say.

We may not know where the bodies are buried, but we know where they won’t be – at Port Blakley Cemetery. Hoping to accommodate more plots, the cemetery board clears a three-acre corner of woodland, and in so doing runs afoul of permitting requirements. The city slaps a six-year moratorium on the project and orders replanting of a buffer, putting the kibosh on cemetery expansion.

February

Kids’ television stars Chris and Martin Kratt bring their traveling show “Adventures in the Amazon” to the island to benefit the Kids Discovery Museum. Youngsters thrill while mothers swoon.

Yes, but no: Voters over­whelmingly approve a new three-year Bainbridge school levy, giving the $23.1 million measure 76 percent support. A Kitsap Transit measure to re-establish foot-ferry service to Seattle, though, is torpedoed, earning just 45 percent.

Cave Avenue residents notice that they’re the one corner of the island not represented by a neighborhood activist group, and fill the void by forming the East Winslow Ferry Gateway Community Council. Their immediate goal: to oppose consideration of an overpass for ferry-related automobile traffic in their area.

Life in the slow lane: Hoping to bring the NASCAR auto racing to Kitsap County, the Florida-based International Speedway Corp. finally finds sponsors for a bill to publicly fund half the cost of a $345 million racetrack near the Bremerton airport. None of the sponsors are from Kitsap.

Spartan boys basketball’s dream season continues, and brings the community to a fever pitch. The highlight of February play is a home game against powerhouse O’Dea, an evening that sees roughly half of Bainbridge Island in the Paski Gymnasium stands, and the other half turned away at the gate. The packed house creates a deafening din behind the hometown five, as the top-ranked Spartans down the rival Irish, 52-42. It’s the first time in three years a Metro League team has swept a season series against the O’Dea, and portends bigger and more thrilling contests ahead for the Spartans.

Also in sports, Spartan gymnast Marie Welsh and diver Olaf Olson earn state titles.

An 80-home development is proposed near Lynwood Center. Neighbors appeal.

Snohomish County Public Utility District expresses interest in building giant underwater turbines to harness the renewable-energy power of Puget Sound tides – with Agate Passage among their areas of study. Meanwhile, above the water, state transportation officials “announce” plans for nightime closures of the Agate Passage Bridge to repair girder damage caused by a too-tall truck some months earlier. We say “announced,” because WSDOT forgets to mention the imminent closure to Bainbridge Police and Fire, which count on bridge access for emergency purposes. Even Washington State Ferries – itself an arm of WSDOT – is caught off-guard by the plans.

Environmental activist Barry Peters and Winslow attorney John Waldo announce their bids for City Council, officially heralding elections season.

Two new wineries announce plans to open on the island.

March

While the island rallies behind its prep basketball team, the community is reminded that not every young person feels quite so connected. A vandal breaks into the scorekeeper’s booth at Rotary Field and sets it ablaze. The building and its Little League memorabilia are destroyed, including irreplaceable items from the Bainbridge All Stars’ 2001 run to the Little League World Series. The 21-year-old perpetrator is later caught, and says he accidentally started the fire while burning old love letters to conceal them from a new girlfriend.

Freshman state Rep. Rolfes introduces a bill to freeze ferry fares for the next two years while funding issues are examined. The bill will be adopted, but only after a 2.5 percent fare hike is approved for 2007.

Is downtown Winslow getting too noisy? Residents spar with business owners over early-morning deliveries, as the City Council considers changes to its noise ordinance. Downtown is the center of more debate as Winslow Tomorrow head Sandy Fischer leaves the city to return to the private sector. “They move faster and make decisions more quickly, and if you perform, you are rewarded financially. That’s not the nature of government,” she says. Also, Cris Beattie announces her departure from the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association after five years as executive director.

Bainbridge Island marks the 65th anniversary of the Japanese American internment of World War II, with ceremonies at the memorial site in Eagledale.

After spending most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state, the Spartan boys defeat O’Dea for the third time to claim the District title. State tournament play follows; with a state title within reach, hundreds of islanders make a daily trek to the Hec Ed Pavilion on the University of Washington campus. But after winning their first three contests, the Spartans’ dream season comes to an unhappy ending. Bainbridge comes out flat against O’Dea in the championship contest and falls 56-31 before some 7,000 fans. But there was no agony in defeat. “It was ridiculous,” Steven Gray tells the Review. “Just to see (the fans) cheering the way they did when we were down 20 and behind you every play, every basket. Even on the ferry ride home, everyone was celebrating. To have the community come together in support of us, it was nice.” Gray caps his brilliant two-year career at Bainbridge High with tournament MVP honors.

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