Fish Bowl was already kind of a big deal.
Imagine 5,000 Gig Harbor and Peninsula high school students, parents, community members and alumni in a packed Roy Anderson Field, a sea of Peninsula green and Gig Harbor blue, some standing five rows deep behind the visitors’ sideline. Imagine barricades, food trucks, police escorts, closed businesses and a lot of noise.
But for the past 15 years, it’s a game that mattered only for pride — and an old trophy with a broken handle.
Now imagine if it meant more.
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“That game — that’s the game every year,” said former Peninsula quarterback Robert Kvinsland, who is playing at Idaho State. “It’s amazing to be part of a Fish Bowl win, there’s really nothing like it. I won three league titles, but the biggest game we won was Fish Bowl my sophomore year.”
“People will tell you that Fish Bowl is just another game,” said former Gig Harbor quarterback Davis Alexander, who is playing at Portland State. “But between the players, it means a lot more. There’s nothing else you want to do than beat your crosstown rival, other than win league.”
Now a Fish Bowl win can do both.
Gig Harbor and Peninsula both joined the 3A South Sound Conference this past offseason after Gig Harbor moved down from the 4A Narrows League and Peninsula had to leave the now extinct 3A South Puget Sound League.
This 38th annual meeting doesn’t rival the longevity of an Aberdeen-Hoqiuam (110 years) or Auburn-Kent-Meridian (108 years), but there’s an atmosphere that makes it rival any in the state.
“It was probably the most exciting game I’ve coached, when we beat Peninsula, 38-35 (in 2000),” said Todd Beamer coach Darren McKay, who coached at Gig Harbor from 2000-11. “There’s really nothing like the Fish Bowl. I haven’t seen another atmosphere like it.”
McKay own the most Fish Bowl victories of any coach. He was 8-3 in the games.
That 2000 season was the last time Gig Harbor and Peninsula would play in the same league, with Peninsula dropping from 4A to 3A and heading from the 4A Narrows to the 3A Seamount.
There’s really nothing like the Fish Bowl. I haven’t seen another atmosphere like it.
Darren McKay, Gig Harbor football coach from 2000-11
Then this offseason the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s reclassification cycle caused a massive shakeup of the West Central District.
And there were Gig Harbor and Peninsula — together again.
“Before, you really wanted to win the game because they are your rival, but there wasn’t as much stress as there is now because it didn’t affect your postseason,” Gig Harbor safety Mack Ditter said. “This year — it’s huge. It’s your first league game, you want to start your season off right. Peninsula is ranked as the higher team and favored, and there’s a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.”
“It’s always been more than a game,” Peninsula running back Blake Cantu said. “It’s town-to-town with bragging rights on the line for a year. Now it’s more than that. Now it’s not just bragging rights — league championships are on the line. So it’s a lot more edge to the game, a lot more competition to the game, and it already has a whole bunch.”
The teams had matched up in the first game of the season for the past two years. Now it’s set for the third week, with Gig Harbor looking to win four Fish Bowls in a row for the first time since winning five straight from 1997-2001.
Gig Harbor coach Aaron Chantler and Peninsula coach Ross Filkins requested it be this way, and hope it’s at least this early in the season for years to come. They consider that better than when even more was on the line as the final game of the season, as it was when McKay was at Gig Harbor.
Filkins and Chantler both graduated from Wilson, with Filkins taking over at Peninsula in 1995 and Chantler at Gig Harbor in 2011.
6-15Peninsula coach Ross Filkins’ all-time record in Fish Bowl games. Former Gig Harbor coach Darren McKay has the most Fish Bowl wins, going 8-3.
3-1Gig Harbor coach Aaron Chantler’s career record in Fish Bowl games.
None of their high school rivalries came close to this.
“You get people who don’t come to any other Gig Harbor game, they don’t come to any other Peninsula game,” Filkins said. “But, boy, you better believe they are going to drive down from Lake Cushman or their beach place in Port Ludlow or wherever, and they are going to be here during Fish Bowl night.”
“There was a time early in the game where I couldn’t hear Davis (Alexander) making a call,” Gig Harbor offensive lineman Alex Emory said. “To this day, in all the games I’ve played, that’s never happened again. It gets pretty insane.”
Filkins remembers Wilson-South Kitsap being a big deal. For Chantler, it was Wilson-Bellarmine Prep. Both matchups might have had the feel of a Gig Harbor-Peninsula game, but not the audience or atmosphere.
“The first year I got here they were saying, ‘It’s huge, there’s going to be tons of people there. You’re going to have to get a police escort to get there,’ ” Chantler said. “But I got there at 5 and the stadium was empty.
“So I’m like, ‘This is a bunch of junk. Everybody was lying.’ Then we warm up and it’s started to look above-average Friday night atmosphere. Then we got into the locker room at 6:40, and then you come back out and you go, ‘Oh … this is what they mean.’ And it’s crazy.”
The Gig Harbor and Peninsula players grow up playing with and against each other in the Peninsula Youth Football League.
Both schools have Friday pep assemblies, both playing hype videos. They had combined forces on the videos for the past two years, with students stealing the other school’s team captains and students fighting in a paintball war.
Both sides have players who grew up attending the Fish Bowl just about every year, looking up to the players in the game.
Jack Filkins, Ross Filkins’ youngest son, is a senior on this year’s Peninsula team, but he first paid his dues as the ball boy and water boy on past Seahawks teams.
“This is something we are going to remember for the rest of our lives,” Jack Filkins said. “It’s going to be weird now because I always looked up to all the seniors in those previous Fish Bowls. Now that’s us. We’re like celebrities, almost.”
Ross Filkins said it’s a healthier rivalry than it was in the mid-1990s — the last time these schools played in the same league.
“The kids who experience this game have always been awesome,” Filkins said. “Some of the adults have been not so awesome. People lost perspective and (were) basically just trying to make it more about them and their ego instead of the experience.”
Chantler took over at Gig Harbor and the second person to call was Ross Filkins. They talked about keeping the intensity of the rivalry while removing the animosity.
I wish every high school kid in the country could experience one game like this. You really need to give it the justice and just enjoy it because it is a super cool experience.
Ross Filkins, Peninsula coach since 1995
“You hear the horror stories of when they were in the same league and the hatred,” Chantler said. “We’ve worked really hard here to make sure we battle, but then support each other when the game ends.”
The two schools have worked together this week in a Food Bowl II — the second year of a drive to collect canned food to benefit Food Back Packs 4 Kids.
“This is a very different experience now,” Ross Filkins said. “The intensity of the game is just as high as ever, it’s a healthy energy. I think it’s a better energy.”
Kyle Olson-Urbon, a wide receiver at Eastern Washington, played for Filkins at Peninsula before transferring to Gig Harbor and playing for Chantler as a senior last year.
He said both programs approached this game similarly. Rarely did either coach mention the name of the other school, and both urged players to treat it as they would any other game. But both coaches reminded their players to soak in the moment, take a look into the stands, but do so while warming up or during the national anthem.
But now that it’s a league game?
“Oh, God, I never got to experience it like that,” Olson-Urbon said. “It’s going to take this up a whole other notch. And I would have already put our rivalry down against anyone else’s.”
“I wish every high school kid in the country could experience one game like this,” Ross Filkins said. “You really need to give it the justice and just enjoy it because it is a super cool experience.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677