It will be a silent couple of nights in the Tacoma Dome this weekend.
No cheering, no yelling, no horns, buzzers, bright lights or whistles. Those inside the Tacoma Dome will meet eerie silence, not high school football players.
The state semifinals are headed outside on Saturday, being held at “neutral” locations across the state, and this will be the first year since 1983 that coaches, players and fans won’t trek to the Tacoma Dome for a weekend of state semifinal football.
Lynden High School football coach Curt Kramme was checking the weather.
“I just got off looking at the forecast for Everett,” Kramme said. “This time of year, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Not that football players don’t relish the opportunity to brave the elements.
But Lynden has played in the Tacoma Dome 13 times since the Dome, which is owned by the city of Tacoma and is the state’s largest indoor venue, was built in 1983.
“I tell the kids that it’s like Disneyland for high school football players,” Kramme said. “It’s really unfortunate that the WIAA and the Tacoma Dome couldn’t work things out to allow us to play there.”
Tacoma Dome staff have already laid the football turf in preparation for next week’s state championships, which will remain in the Dome until at least 2018 after it and the WIAA reached a three-year agreement this past spring.
But the semifinals were left in the cold.
Not that Camas coach Jon Eagle minds.
He gets to face Sumner at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver, Washington, at 1 p.m. Saturday. It’s located less than 10 miles from Camas High School, while Sumner, playing in its first semifinal game since 1977, will travel more than 150 miles.
Eagle has played in the Tacoma Dome for the semifinals three times since 2011.
“If you had to ask me if we could play in the Dome in the semifinals or host, we’re going to host,” Eagle said.
There’s also an equity argument with these neutral sites. Schools in Western Washington had got to get acclimated in the Tacoma Dome for the semifinals and the championships, while Eastern Washington schools have played their semifinal games outdoors before making the trip to Tacoma for the finals.
“I think most high school coaches and players would tell you that playing in the Tacoma Dome is a special deal,” Eagle said. “It’s a memory that you’ll never forget. It’s something that as a coach I just dreamed of being able to coach in the Dome.
“On the other hand, I’m kind of excited about being able to host a semifinal game down in Clark County.”
WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said “the financial package would have to be a lot brighter” if the WIAA were to consider moving the semifinals back into the Dome, which was ranked the 46th best arena in the United States in 2015 by Pollstar and 93rd best in the world according to annual ticket sales.
It cost $46,640 for the WIAA to hold the state semifinals and finals at the Tacoma Dome last year. It will cost $45,000 to hold the championships there this year; $52,500, plus an additional $1 per ticket surcharge, in 2017; and $62,500 in 2018.
Dean Burke of the South Sound Sports Commission is confident the Dome will soon again host the semifinals.
“My gut is that it’s going to be a blip,” Burke said. “Like, ‘Remember that time they held it outdoors?’
“It’s hard not to have a biased opinion, but it should be in the Dome. The Dome is ideal for it. It needs to be here.”
Kim Bedier, the City of Tacoma’s facilities director, said they haven’t had further discussions with the WIAA since they agreed to three more years of the state championships at the Tacoma Dome, though they’re curious of how the state responds to a weekend outdoors.
In the meantime, there’s nothing booked for the Tacoma Dome this weekend.
The Tacoma City Council on Wednesday approved $21.3 million in bonds for Tacoma Dome improvements, including $13.2 million for upper and lower bowl seating and $1.5 million for exterior improvements.
So that means goodbye to those portable seats that sit outside Dome.
“It 21st centurizes us,” Bedier said. “The Dome is the Dome — the Dome is iconic. It’s what you drive by on the freeway, it’s on all the T-shirts and postcards. What this says to me is that our citizens and our council understand how important this is to our community.”
Sumner School District athletic director Tim Thomsen, who is a member of the WIAA’s executive board, will be making the journey to McKenzie Stadium on Saturday — rain, sleet or snow.
“We know the Tacoma Dome would be better than a cold, wet, outdoor stadium,” Thomsen said. “Economics is the thing. We just can’t afford to do that. And as a responsible executive board we have to think about the economics because we have to fund tennis and golf and some of the sports that don’t bring in as much money to balance the books.
“We don’t want to raise school fees. We don’t want to put it on the backs of schools to pay more to the WIAA.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677