Olympia Reign: Kings of the Court – and the Thurston County Community


Olympia has long been considered a city of talent. From artists, to musicians to athletes and more, there is no shortage of creative ability.

One impressive showcase of local talent lies within the Olympia Reign – a semi-professional men’s basketball team that is part of the International Basketball League.

The International Basketball League (IBL) was founded in 2005 and boasts teams from Canada and across the United States. The IBL plays by rules similar to those of the NBA, with a few variations to make the games more fast-paced and entertaining. Teams in the IBL are allowed just one timeout per quarter, have 22 second shot clocks and must inbound the ball immediately. These differences reduce dead time and result in much higher scoring games than most other leagues.

The Olympia Reign is currently in its fourth season as a team, and just its second full season as part of the IBL. The team is currently ranked fourth in its division with a 3-3 record.

A majority of the Reign’s talent hails from the South Sound, with former standouts from area high schools, Evergreen State College and Saint Martin’s University, among others.

The team is owned by local businessman Mark Felton, and coached by former Saint Martin’s University player Steve Smothers.

Having a professional basketball team from Olympia is the first of its kind. Felton stressed the need of this team to help further the careers of players from the community and get the community noticed on national and international levels.

“We really want to get our guys overseas,” said Felton.

That’s just what happened for several Reign players. Nate Menefee (Timberline High School All-State guard and Evergreen State College All-American guard) played in Portugal for the 2010-2011 season. Virgil Matthews (University of Montana) and Bill Richardson (Saint Martin’s University) also signed to European teams. All three returned to Olympia for the Reign’s 2011 season.

What’s equally as important to the success of the team is its work with the community and young athletes, Felton said.

Teammates Mike Ward and Marcus Whittaker have made basketball their full-time jobs. Aside from playing for the Reign, Ward and Whittaker coach AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball teams, run sports camps year round and train children in basketball.

“I feel there is a need in the community to give back to the kids,” Ward said.

Ward and Whittaker coach four AAU basketball teams: two fifth and sixth grade boys’ teams, one seventh and eighth grade boys’ team and one seventh and eighth grade girls’ team. They also run their own business “Dreamz on the Court,” where they help train and teach the fundamentals of basketball to boys and girls ages 5-18.

The pair was inspired to start their own programs to help young athletes when they worked for the Boys & Girls Club. Whittaker said they saw so much talent in the children they worked with, but they had no outlets to utilize their skills.

The biggest part to Ward and Whittaker is getting children to play a sport – any sport. Fighting childhood obesity is important to them and getting youth involved in sports and being a part of a team is important to their growth and development.

“We bring kids from around the community together. Kids that don’t have a chance to play anywhere else to have fun and play a sport—basketball, football, volleyball,” Whittaker said. “We get them out there and run, stay active.”

Whittaker is also working to start his own initiative “Change to Change Lives.” He plans to set up collection bins around Olympia to collect change that he can then give back to kids who want to participate in sports, but aren’t able to afford to play.

“I love to see kids smile, having fun, doing something they love,” Whittaker said.

His hard work and collaboration with Ward, other Reign teammates and friends in the community is bringing smiles to the faces of many children.

To “reign” means to have dominance or widespread influence. The Olympia Reign does just that – both on and off the court.

Olympia Reign vs. Portland Chinooks, May 10, 2011


The Olympia Reign rolled to its third victory of the 2011 season, defeating the Portland Chinooks 120-112 in a thrilling game on Tuesday. Just a week earlier, the Reign lost to the Chinooks by 27 points.

After falling behind early in the game, the Reign erased a double-digit deficit at the end of the second quarter and went into halftime with a 57-56 lead. The “Kings of the Court” never looked back.

The Reign started the third quarter strong, and held a comfortable 10 point lead for most of the quarter. The Chinooks were able to pull within four points with a minute left in the third, but several mistakes and missed shots worked in Olympia’s favor, giving them a 93-84 lead going into the final quarter of the game.

Staying true to the excitement and fast-paced action typical of the IBL, the fourth quarter delivered. In the first four minutes of play, the Portland Chinooks gave the Olympia Reign a scare – the Chinooks closed in on the Reign’s lead and made it a one-point game at 100-99.

Again, mistakes, missed shots and fouls were the ultimate demise of the Chinooks. The Reign pulled away in the final minutes, in large part because of the Chinooks’ foul trouble. The Reign came out victorious, winning the game 120-112 and improving their record to 3-3.

Six Reign players scored in double figures—with a game-high 34 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists coming from Nate Menefee. Virgil Matthews had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Mike Ward and Marcus Wright scored 16 points each while Dennard Abraham and Nicholas Moore both added 14 points to the board.

Witness the action for yourself! The Olympia Reign has nine more home games throughout May and June. Visit their website for the complete 2011 schedule and roster. The next home game is on Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. at Evergreen State College.



Mark Felton, Owner


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