Rainier Beach HS boys basketball team finally heading home after several canceled Southwest flights

SEATTLE — It has been a tumultuous week for the Rainier Beach High School boys Basketball team after they dealt with a slew of canceled flights on Southwest Airlines.

The team, as well as some parents, traveled to Las Vegas on Dec. 19 for a tournament.

They were supposed to make their way back to the Puget Sound on Dec. 23, but that was the beginning of the cancellation fiasco.

“About four in the morning Friday … they sent a text out that everything had been canceled,” head coach Michael Bethea said.

Bethea says he will not be flying with Southwest anytime soon because of his interactions with the airline’s customer service department.

“This one agent I had tried with three times in a row. And on the third time, they said ‘Is this Mr. Bethea?’ I said yes. And he hung up,” Bethea said. “With Southwest, it was like you are basically on your own.”

After multiple canceled flights, the team wasn’t sure what was next.

Since players and parents didn’t have the funds for hotels, Coach Bethea paid $10,000 of his own money to help.

“We tried to make sure that they had a hotel, food, transportation. And a majority of this came out of me and my wife’s pocket,” Bethea said.

The team got a ride to the Puget Sound thanks to a Seattle businessman who paid for the kids’ charter bus ride home.

“If they didn’t, we would be stuck there ‘til Saturday from what I know. And I’m very thankful. The whole team is,” senior Nijawn Sterling said.

But despite being stranded for days, Sterling said the team made the most of it.

“Man, we were either in the food court joking around or up in the rooms playing 2K, Madden, FIFA and stuff like that on the Xbox,” Sterling said.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of young men, They were just ‘Hey coach, we know you are doing your best. We are not going to create more problems by being difficult,’” Bethea said.

While this travel headache did cause some of them to miss Christmas and the holidays with their families, they were happy they got to spend it with each other.

“You know, we are a family all together and as a team and all that. So, I am glad I got to spend it with some type of family,” Sterling said.

Sterling says this will definitely be a story he shares with his grandkids one day. But until then, he is ready to be home.

“Man, I’m usually like ‘I want to be out of the house,’ but I am so ready to be back home,” Sterling said.

The team is expected to return to Rainier Beach High School sometime Wednesday night.