The old-timers will all tell you this rivalry has lost something. They'll tell you that ever since Aberdeen and Hoquiam stopped playing...
GRAYS HARBOR COUNTY — The old-timers will all tell you this rivalry has lost something. They’ll tell you that ever since Aberdeen and Hoquiam stopped playing on Thanksgiving Day after 1973, the oldest rivalry in the state isn’t what it used to be.
Kyle Reynvaan isn’t buying it.
With only four days until the 100th game between the two towns separated by Myrtle Street, the senior running back winces in pain in Hoquiam’s nearly empty weight room. Only six days after arthroscopic surgery on his injured right knee, he’s determined to be a part of this game. Even if only for one play.
Reynvaan understands the history of this game, because he, like so many players on both teams, grew up on bedtime tales of Bobcats and Grizzlies. His father, Greg, as well as several cousins and uncles, have worn the crimson and gray of Hoquiam, and Kyle wants more than anything to add his own chapter in this, the 100th year of the rivalry.
“It’s a big thing around here, football,” said Reynvaan. “This game is definitely driving me, it’s definitely the reason I’m doing this. This would be the biggest game I’ve ever played in. I’ve been thinking about this since my freshman year. My dad lost his senior year and he’s still disappointed, so I’d like to win for him.”
Tomorrow’s 2 p.m. game will mark the 100th time the two schools have played since 1906. Aberdeen, the bigger school from the bigger town, owns the lead in the series, 61-33-5.
How big is this game? Two weeks before the game, more than 5,000 tickets had been sold, prompting Aberdeen to begrudgingly agree to move from 4,000-seat Stewart Field to Hoquiam’s Olympic Stadium, which can seat about 9,500 with temporary bleachers installed this week. An example of how contentious this 100-year rivalry between the two towns is came at the end of Aberdeen’s practice Tuesday. Fourth-year coach Ron Clark gathered his players and warned them to avoid the pranks that go along with rivalry week here.
Aberdeen vs. Hoquiam,
at Olympic Stadium, 2 p.m.
“If I hear any of you were out there throwing eggs, you’re not playing on Saturday,” Clark said. “I’ll tell you what, for the rest of the week, I don’t want any of you going across Myrtle Street.”
Clark, one of the few outsiders in the rivalry, realized how big it was in his first season. His Aberdeen team was 1-7, and Hoquiam also had a losing record entering the game.
“When we got to the stadium, there were 5,000 people and it was a playoff-like atmosphere,” Clark said.
Hoquiam senior Kyle Smith, like Reynvaan, grew up in a football family. His uncle, Rob Smith, is a 1975 Hoquiam graduate who went on to play for Don James at Washington and is now the coach at Western Washington University. His father, Dave, also played for the Grizzlies before playing baseball for Gonzaga and later in the Mariners’ and Angels’ farm systems.
“Knowing that the whole community is counting on us, that they’re behind us, is a pretty amazing feeling,” Kyle Smith said. “It’s one of the biggest events of the year for both towns; it always has been.”
That the two teams play not only for themselves, their families, and their schools, but their whole town is one reason the rivalry remains one of the state’s most passionate. That passion has endured plenty over the last century, especially the declining economy in Grays Harbor that has hit both communities hard. Through the booms and busts, football has always been there.
“Every year, regardless of whether the timber industry is struggling or the fishing industry is struggling, one stable factor has always been this game,” said Dave Smith, a pharmacist who moved back to Hoquiam in the 1990s to take over the family business, Harbor Drug. “Economy-wise, we’ve been through more than our share of tough stretches, but this has always been something for the towns to rally around when times haven’t been good.”
Walk across Myrtle Street and you’ll find just as many families with scrapbooks and memories filled with The Big Game. Meet the Goings, a family that has lived and breathed Aberdeen football for almost four decades.
Mike Goings played on the 1970 Bobcats team that finished 10-0, married Christine, his high-school sweetheart, and raised three boys to play Aberdeen football. Oldest son Brad, a 1996 Aberdeen grad, is now a Bobcats assistant coach. Brad and his wife Amber, a ’98 grad, both teach at the high school and put together the commemorative program for tomorrow’s game. Their 11-week-old son, Kale, already has a baby-size Aberdeen letterman’s jacket and seems destined to someday wear the blue and gold.
Not every family’s history is located on one side of Myrtle Street. Marshall Winkle, a senior center and nose guard, grew up in a divided family. Father Dean graduated from Aberdeen in 1980. Grandfather Zale, however, was a Hoquiam grad, leading to plenty of playful arguments.
“We still get into it,” Marshall said. “He’ll root for Hoquiam, even when I’m playing against them.”
Counters Zale, “I just tease him about it is all. I’ve got to root for Aberdeen. He’s a good boy. I’d never be against him.”
Dean Winkle, who coaches youth football, has had Marshall and his teammates preparing for this game for years.
“I’ve been telling them that they were going to be playing in that 100th game for years,” Winkle said. “I took this year off from coaching just so I could be a dad for this.
“This is big. It has brought so much community pride and spirit back it’s phenomenal. We’re kind of a depressed area, but this has been boost to the community.”
William Penttila will play tight end and defensive end for the Bobcats tomorrow, and try to help his father, Phil, ease the painful memories from his senior game in 1966.
“He lost his senior game to Hoquiam, and that’s stuck in his mind his whole life,” said William, whose uncles Eric, Steve, and Lauri also played for Aberdeen. “He doesn’t want me to have to go through my life losing my last game against Hoquiam like he did.”
Men in their 60s rattle off scores and details of Turkey Day Games like they were played yesterday.
Chuck Smith, 67, still remembers the first game he went to, in third grade. Sitting in the kitchen of his Hoquiam home, which not so coincidentally is gray with a red front door, Smith recalls how John Elway’s father Jack led Hoquiam to a 28-23 win in 1948. He can tell you about almost every game since — he boycotted a couple games in the 1970s after it was moved from Thanksgiving — but the one thing he doesn’t have is his own memory of playing in The Big Game.
“I got into some trouble I’m not too proud of and the coach suspended me,” said Smith, who passed up a chance to rejoin the team four weeks into the season. “That’s one of the mistakes in my life that I’m not very proud of and regret.”
Tuesday afternoon at the Hoquiam Elks Club, a meeting quickly deteriorated into a sometimes-profane round of Aberdeen-versus-Hoquiam stories.
“I remember going to church the Sunday after the game, and the pastor — what was his name again? — comes in with a black eye,” came a voice from the crowd. “He had gotten into it with someone from Aberdeen at the game, and at church he said, ‘I was a man before I was a preacher.’ “
Soon Pete Hegg, a 1954 Hoquiam grad, is talking about the ’61 game. A medical emergency in the stands stopped the game, but not the clock, ruining his school’s chances at a comeback in a 6-0 loss.
“The outcome of that game in my mind is still not final,” he contends.
Bob Long, an 86-year-old Hoquiam grad, joked that he doesn’t remember any good Turkey Day stories because he’s too old.
Yet he can tell you that his team tied a favored Aberdeen team 6-6 in his senior year of 1937. Long married an Aberdeen girl and sent his kids to Aberdeen, but he still roots against the Bobcats once a year from his seat in the Aberdeen section.
“Every time Hoquiam would do something good I’d jump up and cheer for Hoquiam right in the middle of the Aberdeen section,” he said, “and I’ll do it again this year.”
Long is far from the rivalry’s elder statesman, despite a high-school career that predates historic Olympic Stadium, finished in 1937.
Hoquiam’s Fred Dean and Aberdeen’s Chuck Swanson, both 94, share that honor. They faced off in the 1928 game, which Hoquiam won, 70-6.
Swanson, who became a Hall of Fame center for the University of Oregon, took over the family grocery business started in 1905 by his father and uncle and just four years ago passed it on to his son, Mark. Tomorrow, Mark will climb in his red pickup and drive Chuck the mile to Hoquiam to be a part of all the memories and stories and history that will fill Olympic Stadium.
And for one afternoon in September, it just might feel like Thanksgiving again.
John Boyle: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org