Big games: So where are the fans?

I’ve noticed a disappointing trend at high school football games lately. No, not the refs.

Where are the fans?

It’s like everyone went to the wrong field.

The Federal Way High School football team is having one of its best seasons since the team made the state playoffs in 1976.

Tomorrow night’s game against undefeated Bethel will decide if the Eagles make the playoffs. If they do, it’ll be for only the second time in 25 years. Federal Way’s league-leading defense will face Bethel’s league-leading offense. Something’s got to give.

This is a big game — for the players, for the school, and for the city.

I know the players are going to show up. But will the fans?

“I want to see the stands packed this week,” said Federal Way coach John Meagher. “I’m tired of when you go to Kent or Bethel and the community gets involved. Not just the parents and students, but the community members are taking in a fun thing. We’re in the situation where we’ve got a big game, and what a great way to come out and support the community.”

This past summer I was able to share in the reunion of the 1976 football team. The players, coaches and parents who lived through that season still talk about the intricate details of every last-second play.

The players remembered how the community and businesses rallied around the team. They showed me pictures during that season when there was standing room only at Federal Way Memorial Field — the same stadium where the seats are now largely empty on game nights.

Since 1976, Federal Way’s population has more than tripled. Yet attendance at high school football games is weaker than ever.

Did all the alumni move away? Even more disturbing, where are the current students?

At some games, the players, cheerleaders and band members outnumber the people in the bleachers. The cheerleaders don’t have anyone to lead — their peppy cheers bounce off empty seats.

What else is there to do on a Thursday night in Federal Way?

Federal Way High School has at least 1,400 students. There’s no reason at least half of them shouldn’t be at the game with their faces painted and screaming support.

The lack of student support is downright disappointing. What better way to show school pride — or community pride?

“One of the things Federal Way High School can provide for the community is sort of a rallying point,” Meagher said. “The schools give us a sense of community, and the City of Federal Way sometimes struggles with that. ”

It’s my first year covering football in Federal Way. Maybe the lack of large-scale support is nothing new to the area.

But the confusing part of the equation is that the teams are some of the best in the state, yet the fan support, in terms of numbers, is among the worst I’ve ever seen.

The community wants to take pride itself, yet the public backing for high school sports is pathetic.

When the Federal Way baseball team and the Decatur soccer team won state championships last spring, how many businesses had reader boards congratulating them? I only saw two: one outside each high school.

Maybe people just don’t care here. What’s the point of home field advantage if the team doesn’t have any fans at its home field?

The city is tossing around the idea of building a field house. I say if we can’t even draw 1,000 fans to cross-town rivalry game, then forget about it.

This column is not aimed at the dedicated parents, teachers and students who attend games on a regular basis — most likely the very people who are reading this column. I love Decatur’s orange jumpsuits, Jefferson’s huge cheer squad and the enthusiasm of Federal Way’s student section. I only wish everyone shared their energy and support.

The obstacle we face is attracting those people who don’t show up. Maybe its hopeless. But if just one more person attends after reading this column, then ... that’s still pathetic. Give me at least two more people.

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