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News >  K-12 education

‘On the upswing’: The new Union Stadium debuts without a crowd but inspires hope, fans say

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 28, 2021

With not a cloud in the sky, an announcer’s voice boomed through the pristine new Union Stadium for Mead and Mt. Spokane High Schools, but only elicited the applause of cheerleaders and coaches.

Following Phase 2 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan, the near-empty stadium hosted its first-ever football games Saturday between Mt. Spokane and Gonzaga Prep, as well as Mead and Lewis and Clark high schools,but with no spectators.

Watching through the gate, Judy Coffield sat in a folding chair, wrapped up in a baseball-themed blanket. She wore a hat for the cold, shades for the bright afternoon and a mask for the ongoing pandemic. Coffield was one of a handful of family members, including her daughter and son-in-law, who spread out outside the fence to watch from afar.

Coffield was there to support three grandsons playing for Mt. Spokane, Griffin Bischoff and Cayden and Carson Coffield.

“I would be there if they were playing in Alaska,” Coffield said. “It’s important that they feel loved.”

It’s the first of her grandkids’ games she’s attended in nine months, though she’d never missed one before the pandemic put a stop to high school sports.

And she goes to a lot of games. Her grandsons play baseball, basketball and football, and her granddaughters play volleyball.

Out on the field, Mt. Spokane cheerleaders in formation never turned to face the bleachers. The girls waited six months just to get into their uniforms, said coach Nancy Butz, who’s led Mt. Spokane’s cheer team for about 20 years.

Though cheering to a mostly empty stadium is “really weird,” Butz said she couldn’t be happier.

“I am just absolutely thrilled, excited, hopeful — I can’t wait for the next game,” Butz said.

Her team has been excited to get back to cheering. In some ways the lack of spectators made for a special experience, Butz said. The first two games the team cheered for since the start of the pandemic were volleyball games last week, Butz said.

“I was the only person in the crowd,” Butz said. “So they have to shift their attention just to the team.”

And with that focus, she said the volleyball and cheer teams were going back and forth, interacting in a way she hadn’t seen before.

The girls had to try out virtually and, until three weeks ago, hadn’t all cheered together, as the team was divided by the “a” and “b” cohorts, Butz said. Despite being halfway through the year, some of the girls are just now getting to know each other, she said.

Though the girls could usually pull some energy from the enthusiastic crowd of their peers, Butz said they didn’t need any help feeling motivated because the resilient bunch was so ready to finally cheer.

“Each week, I think it’s going to get better and better,” Butz said. “We’re on the upswing. Instead of the doom and gloom that we’ve been living with, this is refreshing.”

Coffield said the empty stadium didn’t shake her hope either.

“Whether they win or lose,” she said, “it’s good to be here.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 28 to reflect that Union Stadium serves Mead and Mt. Spokane high schools, and to include information on the additional Saturday game between Mead and Lewis and Clark High School.

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