During the 11 years that Shawn Kleine has coached Tiger football, this is the first time all three youth teams are playing in districts and that Friday Harbor hosted a round of playoffs.
“Usually at least one team makes it into the playoffs, and we have won about seven championships over the years,” Kleine said.
The Tigers are part of the North Cascade Youth Football league, which includes Anacortes, Bellingham, Concrete, Darrington, Ferndale, La Conner, Lakewood, Lummi, Oak Harbor and Sedro Wooley. Friday Harbor is one of the smaller of these schools, and the Pee Wee, Midget and Junior teams only consist of around 14 athletes each, compared to the 30-plus of the other teams.
Larger schools even have tryouts and cuts. The larger the team is, the more reserve players there are if someone gets sick, injured or worn out. Each athlete has the luxury of focusing on honing their skills in a specific position.
“The kids work really hard,” Kleine said, proud of his Tiger teams. “They have to know all the positions and they don’t get a lot of breaks.”
Still, the scrappy Tigers have proven to be a force year after year. Part of that success can be attributed to the players, but the coaches also play a role.
There are three to four coaches per team, and for consistency, the coaches stay with the same students as they move from Pee Wee up to Junior, Kleine said. Every season the kids run the same offense and defense plays so it becomes second nature.
One of the biggest challenges, Kleine said, has been transportation. Getting up early after a long week of practice, catching the red eye and not returning until the late boat takes its toll on adults and students alike.
Occasionally the teams must spend the night, either before the game or after. Last year Kleine said they needed to hire private charter boats on at least a few occasions due to ferry cancellations. This year, the ferry system was a bit better, he said.
On Oct. 29, the Tiger teams swept the first round of playoffs at the Linde Community Fields.
The Junior Tigers won over Bellingham 20-14, the Midget Tigers won against Bellingham 31-7 and the Pee Wee Tigers won over Oak Harbor 20-14.
On Nov. 5 the Semi-Finals took place. The Midget and Pee Wee teams will head to Mount Vernon where the Pee Wees will play against Anacortes and the Midgets will play against Granite Falls and the Juniors head up to Blaine, where they will play against Ferndale. While Pee Wees and Juniors fell short in the semi-finals, the Midgets are headed to the championships on Nov. 12 after winning against Granite Falls 31-7.
Cheer squads of the league also have a showcase on Nov. 19. The championships usually take place in Mount Vernon, according to Kleine, but that has not been announced yet.
Whatever the outcome, Kleine said he is grateful for the encouragement of the island community.