One of the most beautiful football stadiums in the world will host high school state championship games
State championship football has a big stage again.
In fact, one of the biggest in the state.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has agreed to a one-year trial run with the University of Washington to host state championship high school football games at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
Three games will be played on Friday, Dec. 1, and three more on Saturday, Dec. 2.
It will be the first time that the six championship games have been held at the same facility since 2018. Beginning in 2019, the six games were played on a Saturday but at three different locations — all of them on high school campuses.
For many, that was a major downgrade from when the Gridiron Classic was held at the Tacoma Dome.
To be fair, the dome went through major renovations, and the latest seating configuration was terrible for football fans. No other way to describe it. Terrible. Plus the costs for the dome were rising, so the WIAA left and said goodbye to indoor football.
Instead of two games on a Friday and four on Saturday in the dome, two games were played at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma, two more at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, and two others at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood.
Fans who wanted to watch all, or even three championship games, were out of luck.
Also, they were not, exactly, choice destinations. No one ever played high school football hoping to one day play a state championship game on a high school campus.
With that said, I have to admit, I enjoyed the atmosphere at the high school campus title sites. Loved seeing the standing room only for the Class 4A game in 2019, when Camas beat Bothell. The roar of the crowd sounded like, well, a roar of a crowd.
I’m afraid the roars at Husky Stadium will be drowned out by the silence that 60,000 empty seats will make. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of huge venues for small events.
Please don’t take that the wrong way. State championship football is a big deal to many, certainly to me. But if the 4A or 3A games get 10,000 people, that’s still some 60,000 empty seats at Husky Stadium.
Still, I appreciate the possibilities of the Gridiron Classic at one site. And because I’m known for being Positive Paul, I had to reach out to a friend of mine who loves this decision by the WIAA.
Interestingly enough, Ryland Spencer has been a huge critic of the WIAA for years. You all remember Ryland, right? The founder of Cascadia Preps, and a man who has probably driven to more high school football games, at all classifications, in the past 10 years than any other person in the state. Pretty sure he spent more time in his car than his home during football season.
He’s opinionated. He has rubbed some the wrong way. But all have to agree that he loves high school football. His passion is contagious. Absolutely, I had to ask what he thought of the change.
“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Spencer said. “I hope it’s something that continues. … I try to see the good side of things. This is great. But why did it take this long to get to this point?”
Negotiations, negotiations, right? There has been talk for years about getting state championship games at one site again. Could the Seahawks host? Maybe. What about the Huskies?
Well, it is happening this upcoming season. At least for one season.
“We are thankful for the University of Washington Athletics leadership team for their continued support and allowing students to make lifelong memories at a world-class facility,” said Mick Hoffman, the WIAA’s executive director. “We are hopeful that this format will provide a positive experience for the schools involved and will be embraced by the Washington football community.”
Spencer hopes it is such a success that the WIAA and the university make it an annual thing.
If done right, Spencer said, it can be a celebration of football for the whole state.
There will be games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. on both days. Spencer would love to see the WIAA use the space around the stadium to be a carnival of sorts. Inflatable games for the kids. Football throwing competitions. Food trucks. Obstacles courses. Fun for fans of all ages.
Sponsors? Do your thing.
Make it a destination not just for the teams, but for the fans, too.
He acknowledged my concerns, about small crowds at large venues. The crowd atmosphere won’t be the same. But, he pointed out, the games aren’t really for the fans. The games are for the athletes.
Spencer noted he has had former players tell him how they loved playing in the Kingdome. The Kingdome, by the way, was demolished 23 years ago. And yet, football players still remember their time to shine there.
I can tell you that the 2004 Evergreen Plainsmen loved playing in the Tacoma Dome. That was the goal all season, to make it to the dome. Years later, Clark County teams Camas, Hockinson, and Union teams won state titles there, too..
The Ridgefield Spudders won it all in 1995, the first year that the Tacoma Dome was used for title games, when it became the Gridiron Classic.
All those players will remember the dome
The 2019 Camas Papermakers will always remember their state championship. But will they have great memories of the championship site?
Spencer does not think so. It was just another high school campus even if it was not just another game. The championship was special. The venue was not.
That’s what Spencer has been talking about for years, that we should be thinking about the best interest of the athletes.
In December, the 12 teams that make it to the finals will be able to play on a Pac-12 field, in one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world, right off Lake Washington.
Sure, the crowds will look small in comparison to a Pac-12 game.
To the players, though, it will be one huge memory maker.
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