It’s game day at West Valley High School and the lights above Ward Maurer Field have burned brightly since the late afternoon. They capture the whirling excitement of moths diving into their heat. They call on the surrounding neighborhood to gather closely.
“Ohhhhhhhh” goes the drone of the student fans at kickoff. “Ohhhh,” chant the visitors from Lewis and Clark High School, their lungs slowly draining as the referee whistles the game to begin.
It is homecoming for the fighting West Valley Eagles and there is electricity in the air. The sun is going down and a curtain of darkness is closing on everything but this place and these fans, who number less than 2,000. The scoreboard reads Home 0, Guests 0 and the possibilities of what comes stir both anxiety and hope, even here where the football team has posted two wins in nearly three years.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” The chant rises in pitch and then explodes in a group exhale as the ball leaves the grass and flies up to the edge of the bruised, blue twilight. “Oh!”
Seemingly everyone is here, the parents, the kids, the recently graduated and the old coaches. Some come to watch. Some come to be seen. Hubs of activity like West Valley’s stadium are where individual interests blend, where our voices blend in collective babble, where we become a community.
In a new feature, the Valley Voice will profile a community hub on the final Saturday of each month. West Valley’s homecoming game seemed like a good place to start because high school sporting events are confluences of social activity in any town. In Spokane Valley, though, the games are even more important to the social fabric because in this city, Washington’s seventh most populated, nonschool related community events are almost nonexistent.
The Valley is more like Freeman than Spokane in that it gathers not at plays, but where the kids play. The city’s art hangs on school hallways rather than galleries. Its marching bands are its symphonies.
There’s a natural social order to the grandstands at West Valley High School. Robyn Davis, one of the school’s new vice principals, identifies the distinct groups as she patrols the main aisle below the bench seating.
“We have a lot of parents and alumni, then the high-school students,” Davis says, walking south from the 50-yard line to the 20. “Way over there, in the corner, are the middle-school students.”
The middle-school students stand in a darkened corner just west of the south end zone. They bring their own footballs to the game and play catch as the game wears on. Seventh- and eighth-grade girls huddle in tight groups opposite seventh- and eighth-grade boys. With few exceptions, they are like oil and water.
Davis passes through the younger students making sure everything is OK, and then makes her way to an older man sitting in a chair positioned on the long jump runway beside the football field.
Rich Shulkin gets a sideline seat at every West Valley home game. He coached at the school from 1954 to 1972 and served as the athletic director 10 years thereafter. On the gridiron tonight are children, possibly even grandchildren, of boys Shulkin once coached.
“When you start seeing the grandkids, you know you’re old,” Shulkin says.
The old coach comes to the games to watch the legacy of West Valley football, but also for the experience. There’s a refreshing spirit at high school sporting events, an enthusiasm that isn’t found elsewhere.
As Shulkin speaks, a motley motorcade of convertibles foreign and domestic, spanning a good 40 years of automotive production, rolls onto the high school track. The game clock has wound down to zero and as quickly as the teams run for the locker room, West Valley’s homecoming court begins its procession. The girls of the royal court wave elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist from the back seats, while the boys beside them give individual friends the high sign.
The West Valley Eagle Marching Band comes on the field, escorted by flag girls in purple dress and cone-shaped damsel caps. The marching Eagles are what brought Scott and Cheryl Gade to the game. The band parents sit one row from the top of the grandstands. Many of the parents around them are peering at the oncoming production through the small rangefinders of video cameras, but the Gades are just observing. Their son, Matt Gade, marches in the back of the band procession, shouldering a big bass drum.
The scene unfolding on the field is one both parents recognize.
“I played some football in high school and then I joined the band.” Scott Gade says. “We were both in marching bands. A lot of this is the same.”
Give Spokane Valley time to mature and outlast its detractors – the city just survived a disincorporation petition – Scott Gade says, and the other cultural events, like symphony performances will materialize.
For now, music played from the 50-yard line will do just fine.
As the game goes on, the crowd responds with a collective groan to a third Lewis and Clark touchdown, while a half-dozen teenage girls are chattering along the base of the grandstands.
“I don’t get football,” says Jessica Verstelle, 16. “We’re here to hang out with girls. Girls, not guys. “
The girls along the fence are at the game, explain teenagers Heather Schoenberger and Chelsey Mankin, to talk about boys, drama and life. The two graduated from high school last year, but still return for football games. Their conversations are peppered with inside information about who said what to whom, who is dating and who needs to be taken down a peg.
Admittedly, the girls’ conversations could be carried on anywhere, not just amid a crush of fans running to the bathroom, the concessions, or anywhere else requiring a pass below the shrill screaming student section.
But for Meghan Crawford and the girls, the aisle is an attention-rich runway. The game is a sort of be-in/fashion show that challenges teens to look great in West Valley’s colors, orange and black. Crawford wears a feathery, black-and-orange scarf, and an orange T-shirt commemorating last year’s “battle for the Golden Throne.” The throne is a gilded commode fought over by West Valley and East Valley High School basketball teams.
Crawford pauses for a minute to consider where else she and the others might congregate like this. But beyond the bright lights and the cacophony of the crowd, there is only darkness and silence.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.