Union and Mountain View football were placed on probation by the WIAA a year ago following a bizarre scenario during the holiday.
Read this aloud, in a deep, serious, movie-trailer voice:
“It was supposed to be a celebration. It turned into … a crime.”
OK, maybe not a crime.
But the Union and Mountain View football teams did commit a violation.
Well, sort of.
Happy Thanksgiving Titans and Thunder, you’re all on probation.
In the now-it-can-be-told department, a year ago the Union football program was placed on probation by the WIAA for five days.
The Mountain View football program got the same penalty, but in a funny math problem, one could describe the Thunder as being on probation for minus-two days.
This is the story of a bizarre holiday shared by the two teams that turned into such a positive moment that both coaches now say it was worth the headache that followed.
After all, Union coach Rory Rosenbach and Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson never figured they were doing anything wrong.
In fact, the whole scenario started with great intentions.
In 2018, Union was 12-0 as it prepared for the Class 4A state semifinals. Mountain View was 11-1, getting ready for the 3A state semifinals. Mountain View’s only loss? To Union in Week 1.
Oh, it was more than just on-field competition that had these two teams feuding. Union had a couple of players, a couple of starters, who began their careers at Mountain View.
For the most part, even though they represented the same school district, they were not fans of one another.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2018, the coaches wanted to use the holiday, wanted to use football, to ease tensions.
Union practiced first that morning at McKenzie Stadium. Mountain View would be next on the field for its practice. Both teams wanted to be done early to allow players and coaches to get home for Thanksgiving.
Union coach Rory Rosenbach suggested Mountain View use half the field for its warm-up while the Titans were on the other half of the field going through the final motions of their practice. Then, before Union left the field for good, both teams would get together at midfield for a photo.
This was going to be the beginning of the end to the unfriendly rivalry.
It was so well received that another suggestion came up beyond just taking a photo. How about some video, too? How about something fun, creative? A goofy play.
A couple of Union linemen went deep for a pass against a Mountain View defense that did not move. Yes, a pass play. To linemen. Against a stationary defense.
(To those who are not football-savvy, linemen are ineligible to catch passes. They are not even allowed to go downfield on a pass play. You know, if this was a real football play.)
This is where the moment went from goodwill to good golly.
As in, good golly, how could anyone really have a problem with this?
Actually, no one would have known about Scrimmage-Gate except that nothing actually happens in real life anymore unless it can be shared on social media, right?
So the photo went out on Twitter, showing Union and Mountain View players together at midfield. And the video went out on Twitter, too, showing Union and Mountain View scrimmaging.
Wait. Stop right there. Scrimmaging? No, they were not scrimmaging.
Someone saw the video, though. Someone thought it was a scrimmage. Someone, seriously, contacted the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
The next day, Cale Piland, the athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, received a call from the WIAA asking for an explanation. Teams are not allowed to have full scrimmages against other teams during the practice week.
After he asked Rosenbach and Mathieson for details, Piland reported his findings back to the WIAA.
On Saturday, the Titans beat Puyallup in the 4A semifinal, while Mountain View lost to O’Dea in the 3A semifinal.
Two days later, the WIAA made its ruling.
It turned out, technically, by letter of the law, the Titans and Thunder were guilty. And they would both be placed on probation until the end of the football season.
A year later, we talked to the coaches and to Piland. They still can’t believe anyone thought they were scrimmaging. They appreciate that the WIAA was put in an awkward position. After all — forgetting for a second that the play was ridiculous — there was video evidence of Union and Mountain View practicing together. So the WIAA did, in fact, rule that a violation occurred. However, the state’s governing body for high school sports did not put the hammer down for any serious consequences.
(Probation, without any other penalties, pretty much is the governing body saying don’t get into any more trouble, or then, maybe, there will be consequences.)
Today, the coaches laugh about it.
But they were not laughing about last year.
Here is how it went down, in their words.
“Initially, it was just going to be a ‘Let’s take a photo of us all together,” Rosenbach said. “A ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ kind of thing. Then it was, ‘Let’s do a fake Turkey Bowl play.’”
“Not even a real play,” Mathieson assured.
“Everyone stood there, and we threw a pass to (a lineman) running down the middle of the field,” Rosenbach said.
The closest member of the Mountain View team to where the ball was thrown was, indeed, the head coach.
“I should have defended it. I was standing right there,” Mathieson said. “I could have totally stopped that play.”
Mathieson called it the “double-guard seam play.”
“We all laughed. The ball was spiked. No one moved on defense. We just stood there,” Mathieson said.
Players from both teams gathered to offer a video greeting, a Happy Thanksgiving message to Vancouver from the two football programs.
“It was as disorganized as it possibly could be,” Mathieson said. “Everyone just milling around on the field. The whole thing lasted 60 seconds, total. Then we took photos for two minutes.”
“Then we left,” Rosenbach said.
“Then Union left, and we started practice,” Mathieson said.
All was great, or so it seemed.
A couple of weeks before the holiday, the coaches figured that there might be a Thanksgiving Day conflict on the horizon. Union was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state. Mountain View was in the top five in 3A. Both coaches knew they had a shot at going all the way.
Last year, Union did not have a turf field on campus for practice. (It does now.) Mountain View didn’t, either. (Mountain View expects to have one when its new school is built.) So if both teams made it to the semifinals, they would both be using McKenzie on Thanksgiving morning.
The schedule was tight. Union was to go from around 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with Mountain View going from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. or so.
That was the only “plan.”
Everything else happened on the fly.
“Just spontaneous,” Rosenbach said.
“You get two schools from the same district in the semifinals. How can you not take a deep breath and celebrate that?” Mathieson asked. “How do you not go, ‘You know what? This is pretty cool.’ We’ve got two programs that butt heads a lot. Our fans butt heads. Our coaches butt heads. But we’re all here on the same day on Thanksgiving.”
“It was an opportunity to set an example, not only to our kids, but also our parents and our communities,” Rosenbach said. “We get (that) there is tension. Ultimately, we’re all here for the same things, to help these guys become better young men. It was just a good opportunity to put the other stuff aside and bridge the moment and enjoy each other.”
Happy Thanksgiving quickly became a very unhappy Black Friday.
That is when the WIAA got a call and then the WIAA made a call to Piland, who then contacted his coaches.
There are theories but no one knows for sure who lodged the complaint.
The only certainty: The WIAA was told that Union and Mountain View were scrimmaging two days before Week 13, two days before the state semifinals.
“Which is silly that someone would think we were scrimmaging. First of all, we were playing a spread team and he (Mathieson) runs a Wing-T. I would have at least called Hockinson if I wanted to scrimmage,” Rosenbach said with a laugh.
“Why would we do that? On the Thursday before the biggest game of the season, why would we risk having a scrimmage and injuring each other?” Rosenbach noted.
When the coaches realized the complaint was real, well, there was some real emotion. Mathieson was livid.
“Thank goodness for Cale,” Mathieson said of the district’s AD. “Because … I was hot. Cale took the higher road and said he would work through the appropriate channels.
“I was bamboozled,” Mathieson added. “I understand the rules and intents of rules. I understand the difference between a practice and not a practice. The fact that someone could say that about either of our programs …”
There were some strange conversations, between the WIAA and Piland, and then Piland and his coaches.
“No coach in their right mind … is going to scrimmage anybody,” said Piland, who coached Evergreen to the 2004 state title and started Union’s football program in 2007. “If that truly was the case, I would think their opponent would be happy that it happened.”
Still, as an administrator, Piland had a role to play. He reported his findings of what happened at McKenzie Stadium to the WIAA.
And everyone waited.
“We didn’t know,” Mathieson said referring to any consequence.
“They were very vague,” Rosenbach said. “They said, ‘We have an apparent rule violation that needs to be addressed.’ For about three or four hours, ‘Is this actually happening?’
“It was the unthankful Thanksgiving,” Mathieson said.
“I was on the ledge there,” Mathieson added. “I’m a rule follower. You’ve got to be kidding me. There is no one who would claim we were (scrimmaging). That’s asinine. What are they talking about? By then, Cale had done a good job as my boss telling me there are channels to go through.”
Rosenbach said he was more worried about the players. He did not want them to be punished.
“It was unfortunate that it even got brought to (the WIAA). Obviously, once it does get brought to them, they’ve got to do something,” Rosenbach said.
Piland told the coaches to not worry about the WIAA. Just get ready for football. Union got the win on Saturday. Mountain View ended up losing.
Two days later, the coaches received an email from the WIAA: Probation for the rest of the season.
“One of us called the other right away. We had a good laugh about it,” said Mathieson, who did not have to worry about probation. After all, his team’s season ended two days prior.
“In the end, it got sorted out the right way,” Mathieson said.
“They did what they needed to do,” Rosenbach said.
“And Rory had to be very careful for five days,” Mathieson joked.
Seriously, Rosenbach was relieved.
“At that point, all I cared about, Are they going to make me forfeit the game that we just won, or are they going to let me coach the next week? If those two things weren’t going to happen, I’d be fine. I could deal with anything else,” he said. “Just don’t punish the kids, and I’d really like to coach next week.”
The Titans would go on to beat Lake Stevens the following week to complete the undefeated season and win a state championship.
Now that it is all said and done, the Titans and Thunder say they would do it all over again. Well, maybe not exactly the same.
“That was a neat district moment,” Rosenbach said. “I know our bosses loved it. Maybe we don’t run a play, but the photo piece was good.”
Piland confirmed that district administrators say the positive outweighed any negative from that event.
“It was a great moment and an opportunity to show a sense of community and that they were pulling for each other,” Piland said. “And that was cool.”
“I think it was an important moment in the history of the schools,” Mathieson added.
“Thanksgiving 2018 is one of my fondest coaching memories, as the coaches and kids embraced, congratulated, and united together in a way that could not have been scripted or pre-planned.”
“Both programs gained an appreciation that day. It’s more of a healthy rivalry now,” Rosenbach said.
It remains a rivalry, though. And Mathieson was not about to let Rosenbach leave the interview without one parting shot.
“I hang out with this guy for one day, for 10 minutes, and now I’m on probation?” Mathieson joked. “No wonder I don’t like that guy.”
And that is the story of the scandalous 2018 Turkey Bowl at McKenzie Stadium.