Early Monday afternoon, aside from two barreling trains passing on tracks that bisect the downtown district, not much of a racket could be heard in this sleepy town in Lewis County.
It is a tad surprising considering Napavine High School is playing for the Class 2B state football championship Friday against Okanogan in the Tacoma Dome.
You’d have to walk over to the downtown hub — Frosty’s Saloon and Grill — to hear any chatter about the Tigers’ chances of winning a third state title.
Frosty’s isn’t just a neighborhood bar, it is well known in surrounding towns for being the oldest saloon with the coldest beer in the county. It opened in 1901; very few upgrades have been made in 113 years.
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A round table of six middle-aged men met for lunch Monday. Conversation ranged from a busy week in the NFL to the Ferguson riots to the best means for trading in guns — and then finally circling back to the local high school football team.
A couple men inquired what the players’ reaction was to being back in the Tacoma Dome for last weekend’s 2B semifinals against Toledo.
“Fired up,” another fan passionately exclaimed.
Indeed, this is Napavine — otherwise known as “Tiger Town.”
“There’s one road in, and a back road out,” said Steve Levenseller, the offensive coordinator at Peninsula High School whose first teaching and head-coaching job out of college at the University of Puget Sound was at Napavine High in 1982.
“It is a blue-collar town with hard-working people — good people. It is also very small. The whole school district sits on one large lot.”
Josh Fay is used to small towns in Southwest Washington. A 1996 Adna High School graduate, he grew up on a small cattle farm.
After bouncing around a few colleges before graduating from Saint Martin’s University, he eventually landed back at Adna as a football assistant, then was hired to take over the Napavine football program in 2007.
“I had been coaching baseball here,” Fay said. “I knew of a lot of the kids — good kids who needed direction.”
Football success had never really been sustainable in Napavine. The Tigers won a few district titles, including a six-man championship in 1944, and a couple of eight-man crowns in 1960 and 1969.
Then came 1976. Under former coach Bill Robertson, the Tigers not only won the 1B title over Prescott, 74-60, they finished off the second undefeated season in school history (11-0-1).
So when Fay, in his second season, unexpectedly got the school into the 2B championship game against Asotin in 2008, a few members of that legendary 1976 squad came out of the woodwork.
“There were season highlight videos from that season sent by some of the players on that 1976 team. Fortunately they had transferred it to DVD,” Fay said. “A couple of guys came by to talk to me, because they were excited things were getting going again.”
And a package from Hawaii?
“One of (the) ex-players had a construction business in Hawaii,” Fay said. “One night, two big boxes were delivered to me with a dozen pineapples, some Hawaiian cookies and a bottle of wine in them.”
Napavine defeated Asotin, 28-24, on a long touchdown pass in the final 20 seconds to win the 2B crown.
And since then, the Tigers have enjoyed their longest extended success — seven consecutive state playoff berths. In six of those seasons, they have reached at least the 2B quarterfinals.
“You know, this is all pretty exciting,” Napavine sophomore quarterback Wyatt Stanley said. “I had two brothers (Tucker, Reece) on that 2008 team. It was a fun week. It is always good when you are winning.
“To be part of that in a small community like this is big.”
Fay has a special bond with his seniors. As a longtime teacher at Napavine Elementary School, he had many of them in his sixth grade class the year the Tigers won in 2008.
Now it is their turn. And they are a much different group than their counterparts six years ago.
For starters, a run at a 2B title was anticipated from the begininng. Also, the Tigers are not a power-rushing offense anymore. They like to spread teams out and pass the football with Stanley.
“Our goal is to always get to the playoffs, then play one game at a time from then on out,” Fay said.
This season, Fay has mentioned the 2008 season just once — at summer camp when he showed his players a highlight tape from Napavine’s state title run.
Fay said it was in the second week after a 48-0 blowout victory over Wahkiakum, one of the perennial playoff teams from the 2B Central League, that he began to think this Napavine team could go all the way.
“It was a culmination of seeing ... near-flawless execution offensively, defensively and watching how these guys played together — seeing how excited they were to be out there for meaningful minutes,” Fay said.