Friday Harbor’s Tiger football family has multiple reasons to celebrate this week: both the junior and peewee teams are the league’s Superbowl Champions and the freshman team made it all the way to the championship game this year.
Making the Tiger teams’ big wins even more special is the fact that all three head coaches, Shawn Kleine (junior team), Rob Ross (freshman team) and Sean Griffith (peewee team) were all Tiger football players as youngsters and now coach their own sons. According to the coaches, players and their families, the Tiger program is very much a family affair.
“It’s been so amazing and so rewarding for my family to watch my husband give back to the very program that he was part of as a kid and to have such amazing success,” said Amber Kleine, Tiger mom to two players and wife of coach Shawn Kleine. “He gets to coach his sons with the friends that he used to play Tiger football with when he was a kid.”
New Tiger mom Melissa Aylward, whose son Parker was part of the freshman team this year, also commended the Tiger family and the hours the volunteer coaches put in.
“Our coaches gave our children their valuable time to teach them the game of football and how to be part of a team that not only wins together but loses well together,” said Aylward. “We are a small Tiger community within our larger San Juan community and we are lucky to provide such valuable lifelong experiences for our children.”
The positive atmosphere, commitment from coaches and support from school, families and the community really showed this year, leading the Tigers to an exceptionally successful season.
The peewee team won their first championship under Head Coach Griffith, assistant coaches — and Tiger Dads — Andy Flierl and Tom Buchanan.
After easily defeating Concrete, 33–0, at the peewee playoff game Oct. 26, the team went on to battle it out against Darrington for the league championship on Nov. 2. After an undefeated season of wins by multiple points, the peewees had to fight hard for this one, seeing a losing scoreboard at half time for the first time all season.
“The team played amazing,” said Head Coach Sean Griffith. “They came back from being down at the half 20–28. They fought hard in the second half and were able to get some turnovers that helped us later in the game.”
Third-grader Kash Griffith led his team to victory in his usual style, running the ball in for all the touchdowns except one made by fellow third-grader Logan Jackson.
“The team was able to hold onto the lead with great blocking and running,” said Griffith. “I’m so very proud of the boys and girl who helped with the win and the coaches were great as well.”
Freshman Head Coach Ross along with assistant coaches Greg Moses, Jordan Ross and Cody Feliz brought their team all the way to the championship game.
The fourth- and fifth-grade team fought hard against Granite Falls in their playoff game on Oct. 26, and were able to walk away with a big win at 36-19. Fifth-grade quarterback Channing Kleine led the charge with three touchdowns. Phoenix Thomas had a touchdown catch and fellow fifth-grader Jackson Feliz caught one touchdown pass from Kleine and recovered a fumble for a touchdown as well as kicking the extra points for his team.
The freshman team’s championship game on Nov. 2 didn’t go their way and they were shut out by Bellingham 26–0.
“Our team battled but ultimately lost 26–0,” said Head Coach Rob Ross. “We had a lot of first-year players and only 14 on the team. We couldn’t be prouder of their hard work, dedication and accomplishments. It was a great season.”
The junior team, led by Head Coach Kleine and assistant coaches Jason Garcia and Justin Nibler, won its fourth championship in a row.
After a bye week on Oct. 26, the undefeated juniors team easily won their playoff game 37-0 against Concrete. Quarterback Pierce Kleine led in points with four rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown to Victor Valasquez. Valasquez also kicked an incredible 42-yard field goal almost matching the high school team’s record of 44 yards, even though he’s only 12 years old.
The battle to be Superbowl champs didn’t come as easily though and the team was down at half time during their championship game against Granite Falls on Nov. 9.
“They were nervous,” said Kleine. “This was the first time they’d really been contested. But it was a great way for these kids to go out, to have to scratch and claw for every point.”
Quarterback Pierce Kleine had three touchdowns and Victor Velasquez had two extra points for his team. The winning play came down to a blocked extra point by Wiley McCutcheon which kept the Tigers in the lead at the three-minute mark where they were able to run out the clock and bring home the trophy.
For many of the junior team’s players, this was the final game of their Tiger careers.
“I’ve been coaching some of them since they were five years old,” said Kleine. “It’s going to be cool to see them in high school. They’re such a tight-knit bunch, they just play so well together.”
As always, the Tigers are supported by the Lady Tiger cheerleaders at every home and away game. Head Cheer Coach Jessica Briggs was impressed with the cheerleader’s improvement over the year and how well the team did even with so many new and young members.
“The Lady Tigers had a great season,” said Briggs. “I’m so proud of each and every one of them. They worked hard and it paid off.”
For the first time, the team allowed 8-year-olds to join the squad, adding in new members who can help carry the team through the upcoming years.
“We were a young squad this year,” said Briggs “but it didn’t stop any of them.”
Eighth-grader Jasmyn McEwen was especially helpful as a leader for her younger teammates this year, her last as a Lady Tiger.
“It was amazing to watch her grow,” said Briggs. “I want to thank her for what she taught her teammates.”