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Born to be a baller: Small-town Lynden breeds basketball success through the generations

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LYNDEN, Wash. -- Basketball: It's etched into the fabric of the Lynden community.

Championship basketball dates back over a century in Lynden. It's a legacy passed down from generation to generation.

“Growing up here, state titles are almost the norm,” says Brock Heppner, who helped the Lynden Lions to a pair of state 2A titles and continuing a family legacy.

“My grandpa played here in the 60s, and then my dad played here in the 90s,” Heppner explains. “It’s pretty cool. Not a lot of families are three generations at one school, and all three of us won state titles here.”

“We always knew there was something different about our program than anyone else’s. And we knew from a young age because we saw how successful we were,” says Lynden girls basketball standout Keylee Hershey.

But what is it that breeds such success? Year after year – boys and girls at Lynden High School, Lynden Christian, and even at the grade school level?

“It’s time in the gym, time in the weight room, time in the off-season and being a good student,” explains Lynden High School head coach Brian Roper, who has helmed the Lions for the past 14 years and was recently inducted in the state high school sports Hall of Fame. “Having the discipline to work on individual improvement, whether it’s basketball or his personal improvement. Those guys that work on it every day make good players, and players that do it every day make good teams.”

Clayton Whitman is a two-time state champion at Lynden and the state Division 2A Player of the Year.

“I’ve always been looking forward to playing for this team,” he says.

It's a dream come true, he says. He's been fascinated by basketball for as long as he can remember. And that's another part of the program's success: Building community and being part of something bigger than themselves.

“We go to the elementary schools and hang out with them during the week, and they are so excited to see us and stuff. It just makes them want to come to our games, and I think that is sort of the culture we want,” Whitman says.

Whitman is headed to Seattle Pacific on a full ride basketball scholarship. Cole Bajema from Lynden Christian is headed to Michigan on a full-ride scholarship. The rivalry game between Lynden and Lynden Christian is a major event. The gym is packed to the gills.

So, contrary to rumors, Lynden’s success is not in the water. It's in hard work, fundamentals, building community and a culture of winning.

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