High school football is back. ‘Friday Night Lights at the end of the tunnel’

GIG HARBOR, Wash. — Since 1978, over storied decades of Friday night lights in Gig Harbor, the energy and tradition of the annual Fish Bowl crosstown high school rivalry is unique in the entire state.

“If you’ve never been there, it’s pretty much like you can’t walk forward, you can’t even see the field unless you get there three hours early,” said Peninsula senior Bryce Cleave, a wide receiver who hopes to play in college next year. “Parents are saving seats hours beforehand, people arrive in busloads, it’s crazy.”

For the last fifteen months, the lights have been off and the fields have been silent. But on this night, for student-athletes, time will stop standing still. The scoreboard clock will roll again. But there will be no fans permitted in Roy Anderson Field. No band, no cheerleaders, no screaming students.

“You’d normally see guys that have played here 30 years ago, and their families are all here,” said Tom Reardon, former Peninsula coach and principal. “It’s that big of a game for this community.”

“We didn’t even know we were going to have a season at one point,” said Sam Smidt, a Gig Harbor senior. “Going into this game, it’s just not a better matchup to have our first game back, than our hometown rivals.”

“Of course this year we can’t have anybody in the stands, said Gig Harbor parent Laura Smidt, “Including the senior parents, and it happens to be senior night tonight.”

“I’m also in Pep Band, so to not be able to hear (the band) during the game, to hear our fans, it’s kind of heartbreaking,” said senior Grace Tanksley, who played on the Gig Harbor football team when she was a freshman.” To work so hard for 12 years to come to this point and kind of have it all shut down, it hurts.”

Signs of spirit are everywhere here, but the spirit is mixed with contempt and conflict. Michelle Williams, the parent of a Gig Harbor senior, wonders why there couldn’t be a socially-distant option for parents.

“People can go on an airplane and sit next to somebody for five hours or go to Costco or the grocery store,” she said. “We can’t go and watch our kids play. It just doesn’t make any sense, it’s not fair to the parents. It’s also not fair to the players, it’s not fair to the seniors.”

But former coach Reardon says the electric experience for rival seniors — who all know each other and see each other around town — will be significant, even without fans.

“In the end, the team that wins, it’ll mean as much to them as it would if there had been 4,000 watching them play,” he said. For them, this is an opportunity.”