NEAH BAY — Via the winding roads that lead to Neah Bay, the community’s adoration for football is unmistakable.
“Welcome to Neah Bay,” a sign reads. “Home of the Neah Bay Red Devils. Football State 1B Champions. 2011.”
Neah Bay will play in its third Class 1B state championship game in three years when it faces Touchet at 4 p.m. Friday at the Tacoma Dome.
Neah Bay is home to the Makah Indian Reservation. The Makah Tribal Council, chaired by Neah Bay assistant football coach T.J. Greene, announced Wednesday morning that all nonessential tribal employees will end their workday at 11 a.m. Friday — early enough to allow time to make the almost four-hour drive to Tacoma.
The schools will take a half day.
Some policemen, firefighters and health services employees will stay, but the decision basically says “last person out turns off the lights and locks the city gate.”
It doesn’t appear as though the Bellevue City Council and school district will do the same for Bellevue High’s 3A state title game this weekend.
“The whole community will be there,” Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley said. “They are behind their kids, and they will spend their last buck to go to the Tacoma Dome. It’s just crazy.”
Neah Bay has reached five state title games, but it has left three of them as the runner-up, including last year.
Liberty Christian’s John Lesser ran for a 2-yard touchdown as time expired in last year’s state title game, beating Neah Bay, 34-28.
Think Neah Bay needs any motivation?
“I’m just really pumped,” said linebacker Tyler McCaulley, coach Tony McCaulley’s son. “We aren’t going to come up short this year. No way.”
But no matter Friday’s outcome, Tyler McCaulley’s senior class certainly has left its mark on the community. He, running back Cody Cummins, wide receiver Zeke Greene and quarterback Josiah Greene have played for Neah Bay since they were eighth-graders in 2009, and none of their teams bowed out before reaching at least the state semifinals. Before their arrival, the school was known more for its basketball program.
Their eighth-grade year was around the time Ann Renker took over as the high school principal and a year after Tony McCaulley was hired from their youth football team to coach at the high school.
Renker set high academic expectations. Tony McCaulley set the expectations for toughness and physicality on the football field — traits stemming from his work with the logging company he owns. He wakes up at 3 a.m. almost every morning for his job.
What was once a struggling academic and athletic school has graduated 100 percent of its students the past three years.
“The culture around this school started to change just before I got here,” Tony McCaulley said. “(Renker) says I might have had something to do with it, but Ann had everything to do with it. I can’t thank her enough for what she has done for my kids — and when I say my kids, I mean all these guys. They almost feel like my kids.”
The community bought in with full support, as well, exemplified by the massive town celebration it held at the Makah Community Gym less than a week after the football team beat Almira/Coulee-Hartline for the 2011 title.
“I love the support of our fans,” Josiah Greene said. “To be able to go out and play for a state championship for my hometown just means everything. Hopefully we can represent them as state champions.”
He’s also hoping for a new sign in front of the town — one that would make room for its 2013 state championship.