THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: An email, then the invite back

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Heritage coach Brian Childs, a former Lake City assistant and Coeur d’Alene Charter head coach, discusses a call with referee Jeff Ward during a game against Coeur d’Alene on Thursday.

As an athletic director at a 5A school such as Lake City High, Jim Winger probably gets more emails about games than he cares to admit.

One, from a former assistant coach wound up being a home run, but on a basketball court.

BRIAN CHILDS, now head coach at Heritage High in Vancouver, Wash., was looking for a tournament somewhere in the Northwest for his squad to compete in during the holiday break.

Childs emailed Winger last spring.

“I told Jim if he was still going to do the holiday tournament, and you have a spot, we’d love to come,” said Childs, who was an assistant coach for Winger at Lake City in the early 2000s before taking the head coaching job at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy starting with the 2004-05 season. “It’s been great to see Jim, and Kelly (Reed, another Lake City assistant coach) and all of the staff here. I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces since we’ve been here.”

“Brian’s a great guy and a great person,” Winger said. “I didn’t realize at the time when he talked about coming that his son (Conner) was a senior, which was pretty cool. So it was a no-brainer to have him here. They bring a lot to the tournament. They’re classy and do things the right way. It was good to see Brian. I haven’t talked to him in years.”

During their time on the bench together, Winger said Childs knew the right time to say something.

“Brian was relatively quiet, but when he had something to say, he was always right on,” Winger said. “He’s very poised and calculated. He fit right in with us, and it’s no surprise he’s doing really well with that program. It was pretty cool when that email came up. It was a no-brainer.”

It was another local connection that gave Winger an indication Childs was back in the Northwest.

“He went to Indiana for a while after leaving here,” Winger said. “Actually, a former superintendent here, Matt Handleman, who left here, called me about him when he was interviewed. So I knew he was heading that way.”

The tournament, which consists of predetermined games, pitted Heritage against Coeur d’Alene on Thursday. Heritage — also the Timberwolves — played North Central on Friday and concludes tournament play today at 9 a.m. against Rogers of Puyallup, Wash.

“Some of the kids knew that this game (against Coeur d’Alene, a 65-60 Heritage win) was an emotional game for me,” Childs said. “They responded well and competed extremely hard. Anytime you play Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls or someone like that, you remember some of the old games we had. Fight for the Fish, and that stuff, it was nice for us to be able to come in and play well. To win was even better.”

Teams in the Lake City Invitational stay at The Coeur d’Alene Resort.

“We’re going to give them the Coeur d’Alene experience the best we can,” Childs said. “Putting us up at The Resort has been phenomenal. We don’t get out of the Vancouver/Portland area very much, and to be able to come and experience something like this, it was what I was kind of hoping for.”

Childs went 92-65 at Coeur d’Alene Charter in seven seasons, leading the Panthers to a third-place finish in the 16-team state 1A tournament in 2007. After leaving Charter, Childs coached Eastbrook High in Marion, Ind., for six seasons before returning to the Northwest in 2017 to take over the program at Heritage, where he’s in his third season as head coach.

“We went back and did the Indiana thing for six years, and it was great,” said Childs, who grew up in Indiana. “But my wife (Kathy) has family here in Coeur d’Alene. We were a little anxious to get back to the Northwest because she’s a Northwest girl. We liked the Vancouver area, and also looked around at a couple of places in Idaho. But I really liked the fit in Vancouver.”

CHARTER HAS not fielded a basketball team since 2017.

“It was a different environment there,” Childs said. “Obviously, the academics was the focus. Being a self-sustaining program, whoever was trying to continue that, it was a lot of work. It’s a lot of work when you don’t have your own facilities and those kinds of things. I wish they still had basketball. When you come to things like this, and see kids compete athletically, it adds to their high school experience. I’ve got a lot of different memories at Charter — the state tournament team, and the third-place game. We had some sustained success there. Right now, we’re enjoying our experience in Vancouver. It crosses our mind once in a while about coming back here, and we’ve still got our home here that we rent right now, so there’s always that possibility.”

“Brian’s got a great family,” Winger said. “His wife’s family lived three houses down from me growing up. It’s pretty cool having him here.”

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at jelliott@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.

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