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Sept. 26, 2020

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Martinez: A Friday night tour of empty high school stadiums fills void

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
12 Photos
The football stadium at Woodland High School on Friday, Sept.
The football stadium at Woodland High School on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

I couldn’t just stay home.

Normally on a Friday night in September and October, I’m at a high school football stadium — or stuck in the office wishing I were at a high school football stadium.

Sitting at home on what was supposed to be the opening night of the 2020 prep football season didn’t feel right. I had to get out.

So, I decided to visit every high school football stadium in Clark County — or at least attempt to — then post pictures of empty stadium on Instagram during the time when games would normally be in full action.

I figured to accomplish this I’d need to start posting around 5 p.m. I should have stuck with my intuition.

Instead, I ended up leaving my house at 5 p.m. As I left, my wife said “Have fun.”

I wasn’t sure how much fun this project would be, but off I went.

My first stop was Seton Catholic. Now I know, in normal times, Seton wouldn’t be hosting a football game on a Friday night, as Seton’s field doesn’t have lights. But it would feel wrong to exclude Seton.

A similar issue was at play in my next stop — King’s Way Christian. The Knights had already decided to put their football program on hold before the season was postponed.

But King’s Way just opened its new grandstand last fall, and it’s really nice, so I added the Knights to my trip.

Next up was Kiggins Bowl, where I’ve spent many a Friday night. Every time I walk into Kiggins, I wonder what it built for.

With as far away from the field the grandstand is, it wasn’t made for football. Baseball doesn’t really fit either. It was just an amphitheater with an athletic field.

But the unique nature of Kiggins makes it endearing, in a way. Plus the tree-lined surroundings help block out the outside world, particularly the freeway racing past a 100 yards away.

The first three sites I visited there was not a soul around, which I expected. That wasn’t the case at my next stop — Columbia River.

There is a lot of construction going on at River. In particular, the front parking lot has been torn apart. If there were a football season — or in-person schooling — things would be very interesting at River, which was already a tricky place to get in and out of.

On this night, the smaller lot at River was packed with cars. There was a youth football clinic happening. No one was in pads or helmets. No hitting. Just speed and footwork drills. But it was still odd to see 40-some people at the stadium, when I expected it to be nearly empty.

From River, I pushed north on country streets to Ridgefield. There were only a couple people jogging and walking around the track, and I also thought I heard someone hitting the blocking sleds on the back field.

Ridgefield is one of the more picturesque settings for prep football in Clark County, with Mount St. Helens in the backdrop, although the recent construction has diminished it a bit.

From there, I went to La Center. In my first 19 football seasons at The Columbian, I had never been to La Center for a football game until last fall. When completed, the construction on the grandstand and press box at La Center will likely move it to one of the top spots on my favorite places to visit.

But construction has been ongoing for a few years, and it appeared no new progress had been made since I was last at the stadium in November. I’m sure winter weather and COVID played a role in that.

It was now 7:05 p.m. — the time when most prep football games would be in full swing. And it was at this time I began to realize that maybe I underestimated how late it remained light out in September.

The sun was still fairly high in the sky, but the oncoming coastal clouds were causing things to get very dusky, and I now had a decision to make — push north to Woodland or save the 15-20 minutes of daylight to capture other stadiums.

But I know how Woodland’s stadium is situated, and the setting sun would make for a nice image, so north I went.

And Woodland did not disappoint. But now the clock was ticking, so pushed aggressively onto Battle Ground, so aggressively that I thought I might need to rehearse what I might say if I got pulled over.

“You see, officer, tonight was supposed to be the first night of high school football and …”

Next came Battle Ground and then through backroads to Hockinson. The sprinklers were on at Hockinson, reminding me that it is one of the few high school fields that still has a natural grass surface.

It was starting to get dark now, as the headlights and taillights reminded me on 162nd Avenue on my way to McKenzie Stadium.

As I pulled into the lower lot at McKenzie, there were two cars parked. Just two, which I thought was odd. As I walked up to the gate, I saw a football sailing in the air over the field. Apparently I wasn’t the only one missing football.

Now it was getting good and dark, and the odds of getting any more stadium shots would be slim. But I was in this to the end.

As expected, it was dark when I reached Doc Harris Stadium in Camas, like stars-are-visible dark. I thought if I walked up to the stadium, I might be able to get an image close enough for a flash to take effect. Luckily, the gate to the stadium was open, so I walked up to the Doc Harris statue standing guard, got my shot and headed to my last stop — Washougal.

Fishback Stadium sits right up next to the parking lot at Washougal High School. The lot was fully lit, perfectly illuminated the back of the grandstand. I didn’t even need to leave my car to grab my final shot.

Then I headed home, where I arrived around 9:20 p.m., about the time most games would be concluding.

In all, my adventure lasted more than four hours and traversed more the 100 miles (103 to be exact).

I hoped people would appreciate my efforts. The 1,200 likes seem to confirm that. The comments ranged from “sad” to “thanks for sharing.” There was one comment wishing White Salmon could have been included.

I would have loved to have gotten a shot of every stadium from Castle Rock to White Salmon. But I’m not Santa Claus.

If I were, I’d give everyone the gift of full stadiums on Friday nights, with fans and bands and cheerleaders. And full gyms for volleyball, stadiums for soccer, ringing cowbells for cross country.

Unfortunately, I can’t. This is all I have for you.

But you know what? When it was all said and done, it was a fun night, cruising Clark County.

Certainly better than staying home.

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