Union is home this week, but Clark County teams have been on the other side of this scenario in the past
For years, the Tacoma Dome was the site for up to half of the semifinal football games in the various high school classifications. Pretty much any time two teams from the west side of the state played each other, or any time the west team was on the bottom of the bracket against a team from the east, the dome was the home.
It was a neutral site. No teams used the dome for regular-season games.
In 2016, though, in a cost-saving measure, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association opted to begin renting the dome only for championship weekend. That meant all semifinal games that used to be played in the dome would be played at high school stadiums throughout the state.
For the first two years, those games on the west side of the state were on neutral fields. The designated home teams did play close to home, though. Example: Camas “hosted” Sumner at Vancouver’s McKenzie Stadium in 2016, followed by a La Center “home” semifinal game.
This year, though, two Class 4A teams are playing on their home fields. Woodinville is at Pop Keeney Stadium and, locally, Union will host Puyallup at McKenzie Stadium.
It has made for some interesting discussion on social media as fans wondered why the games are not at neutral sites anymore.
Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the WIAA, noted, however, that there has never been a rule that semifinal games had to be played at neutral sites. And this certainly is not a first.
In fact, if it were a rule that semifinal games had to be at neutral sites, the 2003 Evergreen Plainsmen and 2009 Skyview Storm want their semifinal games back.
Cale Piland, now the athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, was the head coach at Evergreen back then. He acknowledged he was not too happy about it when his Plainsmen had to play Pasco at Edgar Brown Stadium in 2003.
That year, Pasco was on the bottom of the bracket. If Evergreen would have been the designated home team, that game would have been played in the dome. Instead, it turned into a true home game for Pasco.
“Ultimately, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. We just focused on getting our kids prepped,” Piland said. “Once you kick off and you’re playing the game, you’re all playing in the same environment.”
He noted that Evergreen’s band made the trip and was bigger and louder than Pasco’s, which helped.
For the most part, though, Piland said any advantage for a true home team comes from routine.
“One team is in a set routine playing at home,” Piland said. “When you’re at a truly neutral site, like the Tacoma Dome, everyone’s routine is changed. That’s the biggest factor.”
Pasco won that home game in 2003. Piland said the site had little to do with the result. Pasco was the better team that year.
In 2009, Skyview played Ferris at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. That was a home game for Ferris.
Clark County teams learned in those games, 15 years ago and nine years ago, that there was no rule against a team having a true home game in the football semifinals.
Still, this is new for the west side of the state.
“It all comes down to who else is in it and what we have available,” Colbrese said this week, referring to number of teams in one area and the number of approved stadiums.
There are lot of puzzle pieces to place when figuring all of the semifinal games for the six classifications. This year, for the first time, the brackets were seeded. Union (4A) and Hockinson (2A) are No. 1 seeds. When they advanced to the semifinals, they were assured of at least home-area games in the semifinals.
The WIAA prefers using one stadium for two games when possible, to offset costs. Once Hockinson and Union made it to the semifinals, it was a virtual lock that the games would be played at McKenzie Stadium because it is the only facility in the region that has easy access, plenty of parking, plus a large area of covered seating on the visiting side.
Two years ago, when Camas won in the quarterfinals, Camas officials expected the semifinal game to be played at Doc Harris Stadium. That would have been a true home game, of course. However, La Center also won a quarterfinal game that week and was on the bottom of the bracket. Once it was determined there would be two semifinal games in Clark County, well, there really was only one destination.
Had Union been the only home team this week for Clark County, it is possible the game could have been played at Doc Harris, a neutral site. With two teams, only one facility in the region can accommodate such a gathering.
All stadiums must be approved by the WIAA in order to host semifinals. Doc Harris and McKenzie are the only approved sites in Clark County.
In 2016, there was an initial miscue when the game sites were published on the WIAA website, giving the doubleheader to Kiggins Bowl. That was corrected within an hour or so when it was noted that Kiggins was not an approved site. Plus parking around Kiggins Bowl is not ideal.
Doc Harris is a magnificent facility but does not have as big of a visitor’s grandstand as McKenzie Stadium. Plus, parking and transportation around the stadium does not allow for an easy transition. Remember, when there are two games, there are two sets of fans coming in for the later game. It can become a bit chaotic.
“When we hosted Camas-Sumner (and La Center-Connell) at McKenzie two years ago, that was a pretty awesome environment,” Piland said. “It feels more like high school football. It does feel like a big high school game when the stadium is packed.”
Colbrese noted he understands it can be a tough sell to fans of the visiting teams who must play at the opponent’s home stadium. To the best of his knowledge, though, there have been no official complaints from the visiting schools this week.
“Everybody understands the situation,” Colbrese said.
Clark County got two teams on the home side of the bracket for semifinal football. One of those teams happens to use the best available facility for its home games.
“There is no place big enough … like McKenzie,” Colbrese said of Clark County venues.
And no rule against Union playing at home in the semifinals.