Walk into Erickson Gym or through the gates of Waterman’s Field for a football, volleyball, basketball or wrestling match, and one of five women is there to greet you.
For at least the past decade, every home game at South Whidbey High School has featured the Falcon athletics ladies: Maryann Davis, Pat Nostrand, Lois Cooley, Janis Martinovic and Jan McNeely. And they are true blue: each dons their blue and white proudly, welcomes guests, hands out tickets and chats with friends, neighbors, parents, students and teachers.
McNeely, a teacher who retired in 2012, joked that she gave away a ton of Falcon-adorned clothing to the Good Cheer Thrift Store, and still has plenty to choose from.
“As I’ve said often times, you’d have to euthanize me to get me to leave this high school,” she said.
Others, such as Lois Cooley, just got her first Falcon sweater this year from a mystery benefactor.
They don’t do it for the money, a $25 per game stipend which they appreciate, but note that it doesn’t make or break their banks.
All of them were initially roped into duty for the Falcon athletic department taking tickets, keeping statistics, working scoreboards and shot clocks, and ensuring students’ best behavior because their own children were students there. These days, not one of them has a child enrolled in the school.
“You start watching these kids and you want to see them grow and develop,” said Nostrand, who has been at the home games for 22 years in a row. Nostrand, wearing a blue vest with the Falcon logo, went another step with a white pin, also with the Falcon logo that read “Go Falcons!”
As they chatted during a recent home stand, one man walked in, chatted with the women about his family and paid for his ticket. McNeely said she taught his daughter and granddaughter.
“We literally see generations walk through,” she said.
Collectively, they have put in a century to South Whidbey sports. McNeely, who used to coach, is the rookie of the group as she started running the crew as the athletic coordinator in 2010. Others can trace their starts to the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“It’s been a long time,” Cooley said.
“I told Jason (her husband) I’d do this job ’til I was 80 or dead,” she added. “Neither’s happened, but we’re getting close.”
By and large, things are fine for the women, whose ages range from the mid-50s to late-70s. Every once in a while, a student tries to sneak past them or leave a game to smoke or drink. That’s when the action begins for someone like Cooley.
“I was done with football because I was tired of frozen toes. I was done chasing kids.”
But she returned.
“For the most part, all the parents and kids are really nice,” she added.
Anyone who wants to know the latest intel on South Whidbey and Coupeville can go straight to the Falcon ladies, true gatekeepers of information.
Davis, the elder stateswoman of the group, handed The Record a short description of her involvement with the athletic department on a notepad. The opening sentence: “My story is boring.”
Hers is far from it, however. A busy woman who still works, Davis has lots of opinions about the teams she sees. Her favorite teams were in 1987 and 1989, when two of her children graduated and a decade after her family moved to South Whidbey. Not knowing anyone, she said high school sports were an easy social gathering.
More often than not, she’s a dyed-in-the-wool supporter, noting that team effort and hard work are the important qualities she sees in all Falcon sports. The spectacle of a game at South Whidbey is a bargain for senior citizens, she said, citing the free admission, and helps her feel connected to the younger generations and the school district.
“I get to see the kids get married, have kids and their kids play,” Davis wrote.
Janis Martinovic, like McNeely, is a bit of a rookie. She’s worked at the games for nine years, though she said “They all just kind of blend together.” With her children away, she used the home games as a means to keep in touch with her friends’ kids.
“I wanted to stay in contact with the kids after my kids graduated … Now I don’t know any of them and it’s still fun,” she said.