Opinion: Imagining state football championships in Clark County

The WIAA announced Sunday it will not renew with the Tacoma Dome for the Gridiron Classic

The WIAA announced Sunday that a big change is coming to high school football championship weekend.

Clark County, this is your time to think big.

The Union Titans won a semifinal football game at McKenzie Stadium this past fall on the way to a state championship. Is it possible McKenzie Stadium could host a championship game? Photo by Mike Schultz
The Union Titans won a semifinal football game at McKenzie Stadium this past fall on the way to a state championship. Is it possible McKenzie Stadium could host a championship game? Photo by Mike Schultz
Paul Valencia, ClarkCountyToday.com sports reporter
Paul Valencia, ClarkCountyToday.com sports reporter

Why not have championship weekend in Clark County? Or at least have Clark County among the various championship sites?

We do not know where the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) will hold its football championships in the future. We just know the Tacoma Dome is out of the equation for the first time since the Gridiron Classic made its Tacoma debut in 1995.

Now in a perfect world, the WIAA and the University of Washington would come to an agreement, move the classic to Husky Stadium and play every game there on Friday and Saturday of Week 14.

However, the WIAA’s press release Sunday announcing the end of an era at the Tacoma Dome noted that a single site is likely not going to happen.

That leaves six championship games to be played every year, but with no place to play … yet.

The WIAA said that it will begin surveying potential sites and should have a decision in the fall.

If the WIAA wants an idea, here’s one:

If multiple stadiums are necessary, it could opt for a Championship Weekend in one region per year. Say Clark County one year, then go east to Spokane, come back the next year to the Puget Sound area, then head back east to Tri-Cities or Yakima. Honestly, who cares what order, just that every region gets to have Championship Weekend.

Local sponsors could hop on board to welcome the football community.

Clark County has two stadiums that could do the job, with a few renovations, and an adjustment to the schedule that has been used in Tacoma.

“We’ve hosted the semifinals twice down here,” said Cale Piland, the athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, referring to McKenzie Stadium. “The people who participated in those events would say they were quality events.”

In fact, there were four games in those two years. Camas (Class 4A) and La Center (1A) played back-to-back games on a Saturday in 2016. And this past November, Union (4A) and Hockinson (2A) won back-to-back games.

McKenzie Stadium would need an upgrade to its sound system for sure. Also, its on-site locker room facilities are not “modern.” Do they work for pre-game, last-minute team meetings and halftime? Yes and no, depending on who you ask. But then again, there is no perfect solution to every need if the WIAA is going to use high school facilities to keep costs down.

WIAA Football State Championships to Find New Home

RENTON, Wash. — The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Board voted Sunday not to renew its contract with the Tacoma Dome as the host site for the Football State Championships, citing fan experience and financial implications for both the WIAA and spectators as the primary reasons to make the change.

“The Tacoma community and the Tacoma Dome have been great hosts for many WIAA State Championships over the years,” said WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese. “They will continue to provide an exceptional experience for the WIAA Mat Classic and Hardwood Classic events.”

“Ultimately, the Executive Board needed to evaluate whether holding the Gridiron Classic in the Tacoma Dome made sense for the Association, student-participants and fans. Costs of renting the facility have continued to increase and WIAA staff received criticisms regarding the new seating arrangement for football,” Colbrese said.

The Executive Board and WIAA staff will begin surveying potential sites that can accommodate State Championship games and will plan to finalize locations in the fall of 2019. The change will most likely bring an end to the single-site championships format, moving toward the design of nearly every other WIAA State Tournament where Championship games are held at various sites across the state.

“While the Tacoma Dome offered the ability to have all State Championship football games in one location, we anticipate that using multiple sites will have its own benefits,” Colbrese said. “Fans will see lower ticket prices by no longer paying the service fees associated with the Dome, and related costs of attending the event, such as parking and concessions, will be significantly reduced as well.”

The Tacoma Dome has hosted the Gridiron Classic since the 1995-96 season, replacing the Kingdome as the final site. The facility has been involved in the WIAA Football Tournament in some capacity since the 1983-84 season, when it first began hosting assigned semifinal games.

Extra bleachers would likely need to be brought in for the visitor’s side, too.

As far as needing more space to dress, Piland noted the stadium’s proximity to Evergreen High School and Cascade Middle School. Walking from those schools down the hill to the stadium might not be ideal, but it is not a deal-breaker.

McKenzie also offers plenty of parking, with the lower lot, the upper lot, and the additional lots for Evergreen and Cascade.  

As far as the other Clark County locale, Doc Harris Stadium is a true gem. Parking would be an issue so maybe it would have to be the site for the small schools, but that place is special.

Now for the schedule:
The 4A and 3A championship games are televised. One on Friday, one on Saturday. If that schedule is to continue, we put the 3A title game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at McKenzie Stadium. Go with the 4A game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at McKenzie.

(By the way, with any locale, if it is a high school facility, adjustments will have to made for more tables for radio/TV/print/internet media. These games attract a lot of state-wide attention.)

That still leaves four more games. Gotta get creative and buck with tradition here. There should not be an earlier game on Friday at McKenzie Stadium. Not on a school day. Impractical. So move the 2B game to a 7 p.m. Friday start at Doc Harris Stadium.

On Saturday, you put the 1B and 1A title games at Doc Harris, too. Say 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

That leaves the 2A title game on Saturday at McKenzie Stadium. By the way, I’d go with a 1 or 2 p.m. start.

You will notice in my plan that there are longer gaps in between games than the Tacoma schedule. No matter where these games are, organizers must take into account parking. Most high school facilities do not have enough parking to allow for an easy transition between exiting fans and incoming fans for the next game.

Piland said the school district would love to host state championships. He has had no discussions yet with the WIAA, but he is open to the possibility. No one knows what the requirements will be to host.

Another thing that will have to be worked out, Piland noted, is whether teams would be allowed to play on their home fields for a championship game. The WIAA does not have an issue with this for semifinal games, but a championship game is another discussion that needs to be made.

I’d go with the Super Bowl plan that the NFL uses. It announces future sites years in advance. Let’s say Clark County gets the title games in 2021. Make it happen. Announce the stadiums. Let the local community support “FootballExtravaganza” or whatever you want to call it. And if a home team makes it to the finals, so be it.

With anything new, there are going to be detractors. Trust me, whatever the WIAA decides will have flaws. Heck, I can come up with a few flaws from my own plan.

No matter the schedule, though, I love the idea of Spokane getting state championship football weekend once every four or five years. I love Vancouver being in the rotation, too. And other regions, too.

Yes, it will be cold in Spokane. But it could be cold in Seattle, too. If the dome is out of the equation, then football players and fans will be out in the cold — no matter where the games are played.

Let’s make a push for all regions to experience this special weekend.

The state’s most popular high school sport should be showcased around the state.

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