In the Panthers’ den

Fall Friday nights mean frenzy in football-crazy Snohomish, as Kamiak will find out tonight

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — On the day that Snohomish players came out onto their home field wearing brand new black jerseys, Mark Perry found out how profusely Panther red courses through the veins of this town.

Legendary Snohomish coach Dick Armstrong purchased the alternative digs about 10 years ago to be worn for big games. The players were thrilled when they saw the black shirts with the red and white trim. Perry, who was then an assistant under Armstrong and is now the head coach, thought they looked pretty sharp, too.

Just one problem.

The fans hated them.

How could you chant, "Red and White, Fight, Fight?" Not with those hideous things on the players’ backs.

They might as well have worn hot pink.

Of course, Armstrong was as stubborn as he was successful, so the team wore the jerseys another five or six times over the next few years.

"I don’t think he really cared what they thought," Perry said. "They were bought, and he was going to use them, period. But they did eventually get phased out."

Snohomish fans believe in tradition. They believe in winning, and they come out every fall Friday night to see the Red and White play. It doesn’t matter where the game is. They pack Veterans Memorial Stadium at Snohomish (which holds about 5,000), and it’s not uncommon for Panthers fans to outnumber opponents’ spectators in their own stadiums.

"I always look up into the stands right before the game," said Perry, whose team will play Kamiak tonight at home in a battle of unbeaten Western Conference 4A teams. "I see how full the stands are, and it sends a chill down my spine. It makes you realize how big the games are."

Sometimes when Perry eyes the crowd, he sees some pretty interesting things. The bigger the game, the crazier the fans become. They paint themselves red and wear colorful wigs. There always seems to be a group of nine fans, each with a large letter on their shirt (or bare belly), to spell out the school’s name.

The seventh-ranked Panthers will need all the crowd noise they can get tonight. No. 9 Kamiak is fresh off of its 33-8 pasting of Cascade. Both teams are 4-0 in the conference and 5-0 overall. The winner of the game will be in great shape for a playoff berth, while the loser will have no guarantees.

Snohomish will attempt to avenge last year’s 20-17 double overtime loss to the Knights, who scored the game winner on fourth down.

Some of the team’s biggest fans are not the ones who are a Snohomish state title away from a trip to the mental ward. The Panther Mothers Club consists of players’ moms who will do just about anything to help the team.

The club has 30-plus members who are fully involved, but most mothers of the 180 players in the Snohomish football program help out in one way or another.

"We make them be a part of it," club president Stacy Songstad said with a straight face.

The club is a serious deal. It has a president, a vice president, a secretary and a treasurer. It has committees and sub-committees. These moms raise thousands of dollars every year. They make meals for away-game trips, and provide meals during late summer two-a-day practices. They arrange picture day, make the team poster and do countless other tasks to allow Perry to spend more time as a coach than as a team administrator.

"I get calls every year from different coaches around the state," Perry said. "(They ask) ‘Can I get their constitution, their by-laws?’ I get that two or three times a year."

The club was established by Armstrong in 1981. It has grown over the years. Last year, it raised enough money to give out $500 scholarships to 11 senior players.

That kind of support, and the support of the Snohomish fans, can make a newcomer feel right at home.

Andy Heater had to do what any high school kid hates most two years ago. He had to move. His father, Chuck Heater, became a University of Washington assistant football coach, and the family made the journey from Fort Collins, Colo., to a small town about which they knew nothing.

That first Friday night home game made Heater realize there was no place like Snohomish.

"I think Snohomish fans are the best I’ve ever seen," said Heater, who is one of the state’s top football recruits. "My town had three high schools, so there weren’t as many fans as you would hope for. They really come out for games out here. Packed house every time."

Part of the reason for the fan support is that Snohomish folks tend to stick around. There are fans like Larry "Maggie" Bryant, who has attended almost all of Snohomish’s home games since his graduation in 1930. He sometimes attends practices, and can often be heard singing the old Snohomish fight song in the locker room after a game. The 89-year-old has every player’s undivided attention when he sings.

Barry Rodland, who played for the Panthers in the late 1960s, is an assistant coach at Snohomish. His uncle played in the 1940s. Rodland’s son, Josh, is the team’s quarterback this year, and another son, Eric, played the same position before graduating a couple of years ago. Two younger sons are waiting their turns. None of them could even fathom rooting for another team.

"There isn’t anything like playing Friday night at Snohomish High School," Josh Rodland said. "It seems like the town just shuts down and everybody goes to the game."

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