Football fever

In coffee shops, bars, stores and even banks, the Oak Harbor Wildcats football team is the talk of Oak Harbor.

Football fever has struck, exactly 20 years after the last time the Wildcats made it to the state football playoffs. Today at 5 p.m. at Goddard Stadium in Mukilteo, the Cats will begin their march to what supporters pray will be a state championship.

The Cats’ success has given the town something to rally around, acknowledged Jeff Stone, high school athletic director for the past 28 years. “There’s a lot more Oak Harbor alumni at the games,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. And I’m anticipating a lot of students at the game on Saturday.”

The game is officially a “home” contest, but the Wildcats won’t be playing on their own Memorial Stadium turf. That aging facility doesn’t meet state standards for hosting such a game, as it lacks in covered stands, adequate restroom and concession facilities, and the quality of the field itself is inferior.

Oak Harbor earned a spot in the state tournament last Tuesday, winning another “home” playoff game against Kamiak at Mukilteo’s Goddard Stadium, which has become the Wildcats’ home away from home.

Stone said the team is comfortable at Goddard, but he dreams of what it would be like in Oak Harbor if today’s game were here as it should be. “It would have been awesome if we would have hosted this game in Oak Harbor,” he said. “Awesome!”

A bond issue next spring will ask voters to approve money for a new stadium.

People can’t see the game in Oak Harbor, but they’re sure talking about it. “A lot of people are talking about it and it’s pretty exciting,” said Dennis Conzatti at the Daily Grind coffee shop. “It’s really astounding they beat Kamiak!”

Conzatti said the quality of this year’s team caught his customers by surprise. “It’s definitely something new,” he said. “Nobody expected it, but it’s fantastic.” The team’s only loss in 10 games came at Snohomish, and Conzatti figures the Wildcats would have won had they played in Oak Harbor.

Whidbey Island Bank was festooned Friday with balloons and banners in Wildcat colors, and all the tellers were wearing Oak Harbor High School sweatshirts.

“We’re all decked out in the Wildcat theme,” said Deidre Davison, a real estate loan processor for the bank. “All the customers are talking about football.” She’s lived in town 26 years and can’t recall such a case of football fever. “As an Oak Harbor grad, it’s nice to see our team go all the way,” she said. “We’re proud of our Wilcats. Football fever has stopped here.”

Teller Amy Rupo can related to the fact the Wildcats haven’t been to the state playoffs since 1982. “I was born then,” she explained. To celebrate, she spearheaded the move to decorate the bank in Wildcat colors, with “Go Cats!” banners, signs and balloons. She graduated from OHHS in 2001.

At the Oak Harbor Tavern, bartender Emily VanderHoeck, a 1992 graduate of Oak Harbor, was surprised when customers started talking about Wildcats football. “It’s been very talked about,” she said. “They’re very excited, and I’m quite surprised they’re so interested.” She played fastpitch and never followed football much, but she too has been caught up in the excitement. She even asked for directions to today’s game.

The story is much the same at Bay View Barber Shop, where owner Susan Adamson is caught up in the excitement. “I know I’m going to the game (today),” she said. “People are kind of excited. Some are complaining because we need a new stadium.”

Mike Hobbs, a mail carrier, was getting his hair trimmed and said the Wildcats are the talk of the Oak Harbor Post Office. “People are pretty happy,” he said. He has seen several games and was impressed by the Wildcats’ play. “Talk about a perfectly thrown and timed pass,” he said of one memorable play. “It was awesome.” On another play, he recalls a Wildcat running back knocking down a defender. “Crash! Their shoulder pads hit, and he knocked over the opponent,” he said. “There’s a lot of spunk there.”

“This is football fever,” Adamson concluded, aptly describing the malady that has afflicted much of Oak Harbor.

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