Kirshenbaum: Title games get another deserved level of intrigue with move to Husky Stadium


So long, Harry E. Lang, Sparks Stadium, and Mount Tahoma. 

You probably won’t be missed that much.

This weekend, when the final two football teams in each of the WIAA’s six classifications take the field for the Gridiron Classic, they’ll do so at a stage much more worthy of the occasion: Husky Stadium on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

With the new configuration of games (compared to the old setup at the Tacoma Dome), Napavine and Tumwater are scheduled to both play Saturday, with the Tigers facing Okanogan for the second straight year at 11 a.m., followed by the Thunderbirds taking on Anacortes at 3 p.m.

“It’s a magical place, man,” Tumwater tailback Kooper Clark said. “The atmosphere is crazy. The field is great. I’m excited to play at it.”

Those aren’t things players have generally been able to say heading into state title games in recent years. For nearly a quarter of a century, from 1995 to 2018, every football state title game was played at the Tacoma Dome, and while the old Wood Shed might not be the most modern, well-kept venue in the state, it had two things going for it: It was big, and it had a reputation as the place where big games happened. 

Before that, there were championships played at the Kingdome. Again — big, both in terms of size and magnitude.

Then, citing financial costs, the WIAA announced it was both moving the championships and splitting them up, and for the next three state tournaments, the finals were played at three different high school stadiums in Pierce County.

And while the games themselves were, of course, still the biggest of the year, the new settings didn’t add much to the luster. When Napavine won the 2B state title last year at Harry E. Lang Stadium, just about the only people in attendance were friends or family of the players on both sides. There wasn’t really any reason for any neutral fan to come to Lakewood for a high school game, and anyone who would would probably go 10 minutes up the road to watch the 4A title game, happening at the exact same time.

When Tumwater played in the 2021 2A title game at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, they found themselves at a stadium with a capacity only slightly bigger than their own home field.

Now, the games have been moved to a grander scale, at the largest venue by capacity in the state, and one of the most storied.

“I’ve never been up there,” Napavine’s Conner Holmes said. “But it looks pretty sweet on the TV.”

Husky Stadium can fit 70,000 fans comfortably — last Saturday’s Apple Cup clocked in officially at 71,312 — and while nobody’s under the false impression that next weekend will fill the place, those big cantilevered roofs are still going to loom over the action, and trap the sound in better than any venue in the country. 

With all six games played at the same site, it’s possible for interested fans to stay for more than one game, boosting the attendance. With tickets costing $17 per day, it’s one of the cheapest ways to go to a game at Husky Stadium.

And even if absolutely nobody shows up — spoiler, they will — 12 football teams are going to be playing for state titles at Husky Stadium, which is simply something that Harry E. Lang and Sparks could not match.

“We’re excited to go up there. It’s going to be a good atmosphere for the kids,” Napavine coach Josh Fay said. “I’m glad the WIAA figured it out, I think this is going to be a real neat opportunity.”

Asked if he would miss Lakewood, Fay laughed and politely declined to comment, which itself tells you just about all you need to know.

Sorry, Mr. Lang.