There are few things more uniting in a town than a state champion football team.
The Kalama Chinooks football team, for the better part of the past three months, has been the town’s glue. Every Friday night, the town circled around Chinook Stadium to see the No. 1-ranked squad knock away every challenger.
On Saturday morning, a parade with fire trucks and police cars provided a sendoff for the Kalama High School football team’s trip to the 2B State Championship in Tacoma. The town also will see a state title trophy come back to the city for the first time since 1998, after the Chinooks downed Liberty (Spangle) 28-27.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Kalama athletic director Brynan Shipley said. “Did you see the crowd tonight? It’s great. We’ve got all these people here, the school is filled, we’ve got the game playing in the auditorium. I just feel like it brings the community together; it really does.”
Head coach Sean McDonald and assistant Brandon Walker both grew up in Kalama, played football together in high school, and watched the Chinooks bring home a state title in 1998.
McDonald was the team’s ball boy, and Walker was just a fan 19 years ago.
“It’s tough to put into words; it’s unbelievable to have the whole community behind you,” Walker said. “This week, watching, going through the town and seeing all the signs, seeing all that support, it was a real eye-opener for them. And it didn’t really sink in until we started making that trip.”
The Tacoma Dome stands were packed, filling the entire bottom center section with the orange-clad Kalama faithful.
“It’s huge, we have so much backing from the community,” Kalama resident Sia Gould said. Her son, Tucker Wetmore, sealed the game with an interception late in the fourth quarter. “The team, it’s like they’re family. The sendoff they gave them, it was unbelievable. If it wasn’t raining we would have had a drone flying over to make sure we got it captured on film.”
The town of just under 2,500 residents, according to the 2016 census, rallied. Megan Holt, of Kelso, cheered on her cousin and Kalama quarterback Alex Dyer from the stands, and family of other players came from far and wide.
The team has received financial support from the community, too. Their football field and some equipment was paid for, in part, by anonymous donors.
Their sports programs haven’t always been as successful as they are today, though, which helped make Saturday’s season finale all the sweeter.
“There were years that we thought there was a chance but fell short. This year was different,” Gould said. “When they had spring football, I remember Tucker coming home and saying ‘Mom, we’re raw. We’re the real deal.’ They had a lot of work ahead of them, but there was confidence from the very get-go.”
That confidence and success culminated in what seemed like the entire population rallying around and cheering on the Kalama football program, witnessing the first state title in almost 20 years.
“It brings out the community as a whole,” Shipley said. “It brings everybody together. It unites us all.”