More than just distance separates South Whidbey and Chelan’s football teams.
Though at more than 170 miles, the physical barrier from South Whidbey High School to Chelan is pretty evident.
Come Friday morning, all 45 of the Falcon football players will board a charter bus bound for Chelan High School, their first opponent of the 1A era. They’ll check their smartphones, update Facebook, maybe send out a few tweets, visualize the game and nap during the nearly four-hour drive.
Come Friday night, those same Falcons will blitz, block, tackle, toss, catch and kick against the Chelan Goats in the first game of South Whidbey’s classification as a 1A program.
“Ever since the WIAA pushed up the first game on Labor Day weekend — it is still summer — where would be the No. 1 place you’d like to be that weekend?” said Falcon head coach Mark Hodson. “Chelan.”
“If I had my way, I’d take a trip east of the mountains every single year.”
Though South Whidbey is reported as the sixth-largest 1A school in Washington with some 438 students enrolled the past two years, its task to topple Chelan on the Goats’ home field is about as tall as the mountains the bus will traverse on its way there. Last year, Chelan (337 students enrolled, according to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) scored an average of 35 points per game and allowed only 16 en route to a third-place finish in the state 1A football playoffs with a 9-4 overall record after losing to Connell, the eventual state champion, in the semifinals.
“The opponent’s legitimate,” Hodson said.
“We were looking to play 1A schools.”
The two-year, away-and-away series was scheduled at the end of 2011 after Chelan made its run in the state playoffs. South Whidbey’s coaches requested the trip as Athletic Director Scott Mauk was coordinating the football schedule. And it makes sense from a competitive standpoint — the Falcons are used to competing against a state title contender in Archbishop Murphy, a 2A program. Beyond that, a weekend trip like this benefits the smaller-than-usual team’s unity and family dynamic that South Whidbey football has prided itself on for years.
“We thought it would be a terrific family weekend and really enhance that “ohana” spirit,” Mauk said in an email. “Families are headed over, kids are staying in the gym. They even put the driver up in a hotel.”
The trip’s costs are largely tied to travel and short on lodging. The players are sleeping Friday night in the high school gymnasium. The bus, driver and mileage cost $2,400 and will come out of the athletics budget. Compared to previous years’ season openers, it’s similar in that South Whidbey will face a smaller school like Concrete or Friday Harbor. The difference is this year’s football opening game will be an overnight trip for many of the players and coaches and is about double the mileage. About 82 miles lay between South Whidbey High School and Concrete, and 75 miles to Friday Harbor High School.
South Whidbey’s coaches will look for an extension of its spring camp at Eastern Washington University.
“I’m looking for the physicality of our run game. Let’s see if we can establish that,” Hodson said.
“I look back to our experience in camp this spring. We ran well on defense, we tackled well on defense. Our running game was really physical at camp. We’ve really improved on our accuracy in the pass game.”
The junior varsity game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, after which the players will go boating on Lake Chelan and visit Chelan’s famous haunts like the Lakeview Drive-In.