MOUNT VERNON — At first, the Snohomish coach wasn’t sure what was going on.
The Mariner athletic director thought perhaps a fight was imminent.
In reality, the Mount Vernon football team was simply carrying out a postgame ritual. Following each of their away games, the Bulldogs do something a bit out of the ordinary: They clean the stadium.
This marks the second straight season the Bulldogs have headed into the stands to pick up after their fans — and opposing fans — before boarding the bus back home.
Even after a heartbreaking 23-17 overtime loss to Snohomish on Oct. 3 the Bulldogs performed their clean-up detail.
“I just stood there and watched for a minute,” Snohomish coach Kai Smalley said. “That’s probably one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen as a coach. Especially after a loss like that where they worked so hard the whole game and moved the ball and did such a great job, to turn around and do something as respectful as that — it was humbling for me as a coach to see them do that.”
The following week Mount Vernon took on Kamiak at Goddard Stadium. Once again, the Bulldogs found themselves on the losing end of a tough, hard-fought game.
And once again, they took to the stands with garbage bags in hand.
“I wasn’t sure why Mount Vernon’s players were going into our stands, so I got up there as soon as I could to see what was going on,” Mariner athletic director Nate DuChesne said. “We still had several students in the bleachers at the time. I must have had a concerned look on my face because one of the Mount Vernon players said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re just picking up trash in your bleachers.’”
Mount Vernon head coach Jay Silver said the tradition began prior to last season. The Bulldogs were looking for ways to help improve their — and their opponents’ — community. Coach Silver’s wife, Jamie, who the players call “Mama Silver,” suggested cleaning up the stands and the team ran with it.
“Honestly, we talked a long time ago, two years ago, about how our kids wanted the community to be proud of them,” Silver said. “We talked about what is it we do as a team that merits our community being proud of us? It’s not about how many times you win in a season or lose, do we do something that makes them proud regardless of that?”
Added Phillip DeLeon, the Bulldogs’ senior right tackle: “We’ve always said we pick up the trash on and off the field. (It goes beyond) football, too, like keeping our grades up in school.”
Silver said the players, who head into the stands in full uniform, bought into the idea right away. So much so that last season, the Bulldogs’ free safety saw a piece of garbage blowing on the field before a play and ran over to grab it and throw it to the sideline.
“In the past we’ve been called some ‘goat-herding thugs. The hicks and thugs from Mount Vernon,’” said Danny Reyes, a senior free safety and wide receiver. “Coach Silver and his wife are really big on building character. Football is just a small part of your life. It’s about what you’re going to be after that and being the best men we can be.”
The Bulldogs admit it’s a little easier to clean up the trash after a win than a loss.
“The Snohomish game, that was a tough one,” Reyes said. “That was really tough. But you just can’t let it change how you are. It’s not going to be as fun, it’s not going to be easy, but you still do it.”
“Going and taking care of the trash helped me reflect on the game, just kind of, ‘What are we here for?’” said sophomore left tackle Josiah Nelson. “You realize there is another football game. I need to think about what I’m doing in this game and take care of it for the next one.”
There is a deeper meaning to the “trash” that the Mount Vernon players have to deal with.
“What we try to impress to our kids is in your life you’re going to have adversity all the time. For all intents and purposes, that is the trash,” Silver said. “There’s going to be times when you don’t want to do it when you still have to pick up the trash.”
The Bulldogs have gotten e-mails from coaches and administrators thanking them for their efforts. Smalley e-mailed Silver after the Snohomish-Mount Vernon game.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Coach Silver is a nice guy and a respectful guy,” Smalley said. “It’s great to see those kinds of lessons being taught to the kids. That’s something we need more of in high school football — paying back to the game and being respectful of your opponent.”
There are also some side benefits to picking up the trash that perhaps the Mount Vernon players didn’t see coming.
“I think one of the things the boys appreciated was at Kamiak the cheerleaders and their ASB were supposed to pick up trash,” Silver said. “The girls were impressed with the boys and there were some names exchanged.”
“That was pretty cool,” Reyes confirmed.
Mount Vernon got its first win of the year last week with a 31-0 homecoming victory over Jackson. The players celebrated by — how else? — making sure the stands were spotless. The Bulldogs said the Mount Vernon fans have started cleaning up the stands to save their players some work. At away games, Mount Vernon’s cheering section rarely leaves garbage behind.
This week the Bulldogs head to Everett Memorial Stadium to plays Cascade and, regardless of the outcome, they will be cleaning up after the game.
“It’s something that we do, program-wise,” Silver said. “Our freshmen, when they’re done with the game, they walk into the stands and pick up trash. The JV team does the same thing. I went to a youth football game here in Mount Vernon and the youth football program walked into stands and picked up trash.”