(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
Who deserves the designation of having the most GRIT when is comes to small town football in Washington?
When it comes to the game of football, the adjective “grit” always comes up in some form or another. It is used to describe coaches that wear shorts in the middle of winter, players suiting up despite having 1.5 legs or arms and when a scrappy team defeats a high-flying monster favorite.
Small-town high school football in Washington is something to behold. Everybody knows everybody, heck everyone is related. There is usually more pickup trucks in the parking lot than luxury cars. The post-game hangout is usually a gas station or a dive bar. So what better way to get this season kicked off than rank the GRITTIEST small towns in high school football?
Number 1: Colville
While everyone from Chewelah is about to run me out of town for declaring our longtime rival and fellow Stevens County township member Colville as the No. 1 entry on the list, bear with me here, Colville is a pretty gritty town.
Its skyline is dominated by a large, tree grabbing crane for the biggest employer in town: Vaagens Bros. Timber. The town smells like pine trees, is dominated log trucks that laugh at the two west side mandated roundabouts in town and has a gritty bunch of high school football coaches. I am pretty sure all of Colville’s coaches went to Montana colleges, where you had to dodge grizzly bears on your way to class. Very gritty.
Speaking of gritty, look at the kind of stock they’re delivering up here in Colville. During last year’s 1A state championship season, they had two D-1 players on the squad. Now they have this kid…
Jory Dotts was Eastern Washington University Football Camps Defensive MVP out of all the much bigger schools attending the popular summer tune up for the fall season. Dotts, will be on the defensive and offensive line for the Indians, probably destroying the opposition like the Predator in the Arnold Swartzenagger 1980s action flick classic. I half expect other players to just start slapping mud on themselves and hope Dotts doesnt’ see them laying down on the field.
Colville has many other gritty features, including a big C on the hill to let everybody knows it is Colville. The only other towns that seem to do this are towns in Montana, and I’m serious – MONTANA IS THE GRITTIEST STATE IN THE UNION. So Colville is practically Montana.
Not to mention all the cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers and truck drivers that call Colville home. You also have a border patrol facility in town, and nothing gets more gritty than protecting our freedom from the Canadians. Colville’s mayor is named LOU. Is there a more gritty football name than Lou? That reminds me of football times when they had burn barrels on the sideline at sat in straw.
During one game two years ago, one of the team’s radio announcers served as a member of the chain gang. The field was a muddy mess, it was 40 degrees out and their announcer served on the chain gang… barefoot. In the mud. Usually the announced is supposed to be a guy in a suit that once played tennis.
Colville, by nature of being the county seat of Stevens County has the county jail, courthouse and the sheriff’s office. Is there anything more gritty than delivering justice in the wild, wild west of NE Washington? I think not.
The team uses a pirate flag during the season. Despite being called the Indians, they fly the Jolly Roger and have a weight program that is more hardcore than American Ninja Warrior. Plus their pep band is REALLY, REALLY GOOD. You need a good pep band to be a gritty football town as well.
Look out for Colville this year, they’re coming in as defending state champions and will bring that Jon Gruden-style grit to the gridiron this year.
Number 2: Chewelah
All the west side football coaches are nodding because this is where they do all their grouse, turkey, deer and elk hunting. If you drive into Chewelah, the first thing you see was the country’s largest magnesite plant during WW1, which now sits just out of town, slowly rotting but nevertheless looking like a set from Mad Max. If that doesn’t say gritty, than I don’t know what does.
Then we have a grain elevator within city limits and a lot where McDonalds used to be. Yes, Chewelah is so gritty they bulldozed the McDonalds here because it was too nice or something. We had kids attend middle school in one of our town buildings from before the Great Depression up until like a few years ago and occasionally our creek through town floods the park.
Like Colville, the town industries rest on the shoulders of loggers, truck drivers and farmers. Heck, some of our coaches are loggers, truck drivers and farmers.
The high school is named after Colonel Jenkins, who fought in the Civil War. I’m not sure you can get much more gritty than fighting in the Civil War and risking your life, either catching a musket ball or dysentery.
We have bears, wolves, coyotes and cougars in the mountains around Chewelah. There has been known to be an angry moose or two. Decades ago, there was once a lake dammed up above the town but the dam broke and washed out into the valley. If this were anywhere else, this would make the news somewhere. In Chewelah? People shrugged and went about their business because GRITTY.
I had to heavily photoshop all the Chewelah feature football photos because everybody had farmers tans from farming. I believe Cole Davis might be able to actually lift the Toyota Corolla I drive, Andrew Sweat raises cattle and is a pitching prospect, Jake Jeanneret and Kaden Krouse are the feature backs AND just so happen to be state champions in wrestling.
[Fun fact, one of the topics during football practice was bear spray]
Sometimes the town’s water goes brown just because. We have a mountain around here called Stranger Mountain because apparently we don’t like strangers around here. Turning out onto Highway 395 from Quarry Browns Lake Road is gritty in itself and causes nearly 40 rear-endings or T-bones a week because even our traffic is gritty.
There are abandoned mines in Chewelah, which you can still illegally hope down if you want to end up in a horror movie.
We talk a lot about wildlife problems in town but you know what we have the most of? Skunks. Chewelah has a bunk of skunks. They are like our stray cats. Remember the “Seattle is Dying” documentary talking about Seattle’s homeless problem? Well Chewelah needs a “Chewelah in Stinky” because all I see walking around town are skunks. You know what a town with a skunk problem is? Gritty.
Also Dick Zornes, former EWU AD and football coach lives in town, you know what this gritty football coach does? He works out at like 6 a.m. in the morning at the local gym, runs like forty miles on the treadmill and then makes fun of lesser and younger men than him for calling it a day after just an hour workout. GRITTY.
The biggest stories in town are when farmers build new barns or someone tries to get away from police on dirty bikes. This town just oozes grit. The only town grittier might be Colville and maybe that coal town in Pennsylvania, I believe it was called Centralia, that had to be abandoned because there was a coal fire going on under the town. That town might be the grittiest ever.
Number 3: Onalaska
Some people think Westen Washington is weak, with its Starbucks, big city traffic and overreaching state government. I ask anyone that thinks that to drive to Onalaska. The team mascot is the Loggers and eastern Lewis County is as gritty if not grittier than all of Eastern Washington. From massive elk herds, to saw mills to large tracts of timber.
Onalaska embodies this. They never pass. Like ever. One time they passed back in the day and then Teddy Roosevelt promptly traveled to their town and outlawed passing in a football game. Usually the game plan includes employing an offensive line that would create a logging road without a bulldozer, then hand the ball to a human specimen running back that has rocks flowing through his veins instead of blood.
A natural Onalaska stat line reads “they rushed 60 times for 400 yards and got done with the game in time to do the night shift at the saw mill.”
Speaking of Onalaska, it is only there because there was once a huge saw mill there. There is still a smaller mill there that is within city limits. Oh wait, there are no city limits, Onalaska is so tough, they don’t need civilized things like city council’s and police. They are unincoporated, meaning the football coach or perhaps the Onalaska Athletic Director (Deer Park’s very own Dennis Bower), are the highest-ranking official in town.
Their basketball gym is like stepping into the movie “Hoosiers” except that someone actually takes care of their court and keeps it modern. The school buildings are made out of BRICK, no doubt put together by some GRITTY brick-layers.
The Onalaska coaching staff always wears shorts and shirts that are cutoff, even in December. Their press box requires people to scale a ladder to get into it. Their mascot is quite literally Paul Bunyan.
Onalaska is by far the grittiest town on the western side of Washington.
Number 4: Springdale
Springdale’s big events are its rodeo, it’s parade and its football games. While they’re actually known as Mary Walker High School, most people around here know them as Springdale. They for years sported all-dark unis that made them look like the bad boys on the B sports leagues.
If a town were to have an anthem, Springdale’s would be Guns and Roses. If you’ve been to Springdale Rodeo, you’re guaranteed a good time because who doesn’t like watching people ride large, 2,000-pound bulls and almost survive?
The tallest building in town is their football press box. They’re surrounded by… farms, logging job sights and the occasional truck driver parking his rig. Notice a trend here with grittiness?
Number 5: Kettle Falls
How do you know a town is gritty? When they have tours of where the town USED TO BE. You see Kettle Falls had to move when they made the Grand Coulee Dam. I think moving a whole town so it doesn’t get flooded makes it pretty gritty.
Kettle Falls’ coach Loren Finley looks like he works out everyday for like four hours. He’s so into fitness he has his own football players flip tires in practice. Not like car tires, mind you, but actual tractor tires. Oh did we mention this tire flipping occurred at summer optional workouts and not like the two-a-day boot camps most football teams hold?
The landmarks in town are a bunch of buildings they moved up from the river. Highway 395 runs through the town and they had a big forest fire just out of town and despite this, the football team still practiced in a hail of smoke because GRIT.
Kettle Falls is so gritty it loves the 1950s and still has a drive-thru theatre, which makes it like one of two in the country. What other small town do you know has a drive-thru theatre?
Number 6: Morton
For fun, Morton has a logging competition. They also have lawn mower races that can be watched from the comfort of a beer garden. Yes you read that right, the lawn mower races are so well attended, they set up a beer garden for it. That is the epitome of grit. Morton has one industry: logging. It’s hard to miss all the large trees growing around this eastern Lewis County team.
Morton has combined with White Pass to create combo 2B program. They go as the Timberwolves now. When speaking of grit, when your mascot is a viscous predator hell-bent on destroying eastern Washington, well that is pretty gritty.
Number 7: Pe Ell
So you know what nice little item Pe Ell has in its city park? A tank. They put a big tank war machine in the middle of their park. That is a pretty gritty move. The Trojans have combined forces with the Willapa Valley Vikings of Menlo. You know what Menlo has in its town? A large logging tower. That’s extra gritty as well.
Their name is now the Titans and I can’t think of a more grittier mascot than the main villains of Greek mythology. They really upgraded from Trojans – who lost to the Greek in some ancient war – and the Vikings – who just would hop on a boat and make life miserable for some English people.
Combine the project and “welllp I guess we’d better be some mythological creatures that the greek gods are terrified of.”
Number 8: Freeman
I’m still looking for Freeman on the map. Can’t find it. It is surrounded by towns like Rockford and Valleyford. I guess Freeman city limits are just the school buildings itself, along with a county store right next to the road that has been there since the Woodrow Wilson administration?
Freeman keeps winning and winning. They have state championships up on the wall but most people would be hardpressed to find this town on a map. Why? Freeman people probably don’t want you to move into their slice of heaven because they’re rather have a gritty view of their wheat fields.
I’m going to guess that everybody on the roster for the Scotties are farmboys. I wonder what the ratio of pickup trucks to cars are for the football team? 9:1? 15:1. Is there like one kid that is anxiously hoping to sell his Yaris to buy a Ford Ranger so he can fit in at school?
You can’t argue with a school’s grittiness when you have to drive through the middle of nowhere just to get to said school. I believe “No Country for Old Men” was shot here.
Number 9: Tenino
How gritty is Tenino? People think the town was named after a railroad cart with the number “T90” meaning that quite literally a little piece of American industrial history is the reason the town is even there.
The community pool there is a flooded stone quarry. Legend has it the workers hit an underground spring and it flooded the quarry and there is still old equipment at the bottom of the pool. It’s probably just a legend but that is one heck of a gritty story for your community pool.
The next door town of Tenino, Bucoda apparently has the oldest tavern in all of Washington and they haven’t updated a thing. I think there are still spur marks on the bar. Bucoda’s big event is one of the scariest haunted houses I’ve been to and they change the name of the town to Boo-coda just for Halloween.
Close to Tenino is an ancient aliens mystery. There are these “Mima Mounds” all around that look like someone went around burying a bunch of old cars. It could be a geological thing, it could be some kind of weird thing the ancients did or it might just be aliens. Who knows?
Tenino is a weird place, and there is plenty of GRIT to go around. They also have a black turf football field. Black turf, the hottest of surface colors. So basically in the summer workouts you can’t walk barefoot on the thing and everyone’s shoes probably melt. GRITTY.
Number 10: Cathlamet
Cathlamet is the county seat of the smallest county in the state: Wahkiakum County. For some reason or another people were like “we’re good with 4,000 people, don’t need to get crazy with any big towns above 1,000 people or something.” Cathlamet is the county seat and has just over 500 people. What makes it gritty? Ask anyone who has had to play a game in Cathlamet, it’s a tough place to play.
Near the coast and the Columbia River, winds swirl and good luck playing a soccer game or football game there without getting blasted with rain or wind. Everybody in town is probably an ol’ seaman, riverboat captains or something. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a peg leg or two.
Nirvanna’s bassist was from Wahkiakum County, because of course he was. It’s a grungy, GRITTY town.
In a grand tradition that Chewelah also takes part in, the name of the school doesn’t match the name of the town. It’s Wahkiakum School, confusing everyone greatly. The mascot of the team is a terrifying mule and when the mascot walks around at games, the hair on the back of your neck with rise.
Cathlamet was also visited by Lewis and Clark. It doesn’t get much more gritty than Lewis and Clark, who traveled the whole US with nothing more than some paddle boats and a few muskets.