Mysteries behind incredible 1988 tank team photo are revealed

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

If you took a team photo of a high school sports team mounted on top of a tank and holding a semi-automatic weapon today, the shot would almost certainly breed outrage and/or concern about the message being sent from that photo (with the obvious exception of a team at a military academy). There was a time when that wasn't the case: The Cold War 1980s.

The 1988 state champion Federal Way basketball team — Twitter
The 1988 state champion Federal Way basketball team — Twitter

Now, with alums paging through old yearbooks, terrific team photos occasionally come to light through the magic of social media. None of those snapshots have been more outlandish than the one you see above, which depicts the Federal Way (Wash.) High state basketball champions from 1988.

The photo -- which first attracted attention at Deadspin -- was originally posted by Twitter user ArtyinBuffalo, who wasn't a member of that Federal Way squad, but insisted he is close with members of the team. He later provided subsequent information to Prep Rally, which seems to back up that information.

There are any number of questions that the Federal Way photo raises. Chief among them are "Why a tank?" The answer to that, it turns out, is that the tank symbolized capturing a state championship for Federal Way. Why? Prep Rally has no idea, but apparently it did.

The team was able to use a tank, according to then-teenager Robert Thompson, because they took a trip to the Fort Lewis Museum … in full 1980s basketball uniforms. According to Thompson, the caption for the team photo was "Armed and Dangerous," even though the uzi used for the shot was a toy prop and not a working weapon with live ammunition.

Furthermore, the team captain of that Federal Way state title-winning squad is the man with his arm around the tank's turret, Jeremy Sloane. Perhaps fittingly, Sloane went on to play at the Air Force Academy and then went far beyond his initial service commitment to the academy; he currently serves as Deputy Group Commander at Hill Air Force base in the greater Salt Lake City area.

It's unknown if any other members of the Federal Way squad joined the Air Force or other branches of the military.

Will a time come in the future when the desire to incorporate large-scale military relics in team photos becomes an emerging trend for a second time? That's impossible to tell. What is certain is that any subsequent tank photos that emerge from the past or future are sure to earn a whimsical smile.

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