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South Whidbey’s Bodie Hezel runs to daylight during his senior season. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Whidbey Island would have been represented in Yakima.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shut down prep sports this spring, and one of the bigger casualties was the loss of the Earl Barden Classic.

The annual all-star football game, played in Yakima, pits the top seniors in the state from the 2A, 1A, 2B, and 1B classifications.

Coupeville gridiron stars who have played in the event in previous years range from Josh Bayne to Ryan Labrador.

While the game, and surrounding festivities, were cancelled for 2020, Earl Barden officials went on Twitter Friday night to reveal what the rosters would have been for this year’s game.

While not all players had yet accepted their invitation to play before the game was shut down, the rosters in their original form give a pretty good indication of what might have been.

While Coupeville’s Sean Toomey-Stout was snubbed, Whidbey Island did get some respect with South Whidbey senior Bodie Hezel selected for the West team.

Hezel, listed as a 6-foot, 180-pound running back/receiver/defensive back, drew the attention of coaches for a senior season in which he was named the North Sound Conference Most Valuable Offensive Player.

The South end standout was also tabbed as a First-Team pick as a defensive back, helping lead the Falcons to a 6-4 record in his final go-around on the gridiron.

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Under current guidelines, high school football is in danger of not returning this fall. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

“I honestly don’t know about football, as we know it, happening in the fall, and I don’t think anyone else does either.”

That quote comes from someone right in the thick of things right now, a man with decades of experience in high school sports, as an athlete, coach, and administrator.

It’s a feeling shared by many, after the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association released its most detailed guidelines yet on how prep sports MIGHT start back up this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While a possible path was laid out for some sports to return, things don’t look good overall, and definitely not for football, the sport which typically brings in more money to a school’s athletic budget than every other sport combined.

As stated by the WIAA:

Counties in Phase 3 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, such as Island County, can compete in “lower risk” sports.

For Coupeville High School, we’re essentially talking about cross country.

With “moderate risk” sports such as volleyball, soccer, and basketball, a county must be in Phase 4 for games to be played.

At the moment, as coronavirus cases rise in Washington and a statewide facemask requirement goes into effect Friday, the chances of any county jumping to Phase 4 — essentially a full return to normalcy — seems like a far-off mirage.

But, even if a county does get to Phase 4, the current guidelines leave three “higher risk” sports high and dry, with no timetable for a return.

Those sports — football, wrestling, and competitive cheer — “involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.”

You know, just like basketball…

Anyway.

Understandably, people are frustrated, and a petition on Change.org calling on the state to include “higher risk” sports in Phase 4 of the reopening plan is picking up steam.

The petition, called Let US Play – Washingtonian’s for Athletes-End Sports Lockdown, is making a run at 800 signatures as of Tuesday night.

 

To see the petition, pop over to:

https://www.change.org/p/jay-inslee-let-us-play-washingtonian-s-for-athletes-end-sports-lockdown

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During his two seasons as a CHS football player, Gabe Shaw, Jr. developed into a top player on both sides of the ball. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

His dad, Wolf football coach Gabe, Sr., nabs a post-game pic with Sean and Maya Toomey-Stout. (Beth Stout photo)

Coupeville High School assistant football coach Gabe Shaw, Sr. is leaving Whidbey, as he and his family head to Florida.

Before Shaw, wife Rosmond, and sons Gabe, Jr., and Ben depart Cow Town, CHS junior Ben Smith had a few things he wanted to say.

Gabe. I gotta be real, when I first saw him in 7th grade playing, he looked like an endangered hippopotamus.

The amount of growth and maturity that this kid obtained over the years since he started playing this sport is amazing.

People really don’t see the good sides of football and they may see it as a dangerous sport.

But people like Gabe are a great example of what becoming a guy of character, integrity, and an upmost respectful kid you can be, made of doing these things with the bonding of the team and learning the game like he and everyone else did.

Gabe was always a hard worker, on and off the field.

One of the smartest kids I know.

The amount of effort he puts into anything when you speak about anyone else on the team is hard to match it up evenly with a lot of us.

Everyone works hard, but he has a different work ethic like everyone else and he strived to become better every single chance he got.

I saw him once as a boulder with no dirt on his shoulder to becoming one of the most powerful and furious lineman Coupeville has had.

I’m serious; he literally grabbed ahold of me inside of a crowd of 22 kids and tossed me eight yards forward.

Seen him literally pull a car.

Gabe was a real good friend and one of the greatest teammates I’ve had the pleasure of playing with; its gonna be a real loss to the team losing him and I’m gonna miss him dearly and I know he’s gonna do great things in Florida.

 

Coach Shaw.

He’s one of the most intelligent human beings I know.

A lot of coaches can be there as a guy who teaches you football and tries to win you championships; he did more than that.

I learned a lot about myself and got a better view on life listening to him; and everything he ever spoke to me, whether it was about football or life, I really understood it.

Was always willing to kick my ass to make me a better player and always was accepting of anyone.

There was definitely times I wish he didn’t have the pleasure of attempting to run me into the ground.

Go to the gym and go lift with him and you’ll be begging to smack any kind of taste that old man has left on his tongue. WORST decision I ever made.

In all seriousness, he loved making people great and as much as he loved coaching, it made him happier to see people succeed from when they’re at their absolute lowest or struggling.

Always believed in me and anyone else and I’m gonna miss his great attitude and everything he did for us.

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Gavin Knoblich, born to be a star. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Gavin Knoblich was as solid as they come.

Some athletes blaze hot for a bit, arcing high into the skies, while sometimes crashing back down.

But there is something to be said for the guy who shows up game after game, practice after practice, season after season, the very definition of steady.

In the moment, those players sometimes get overlooked a bit.

Take a step back and look at the whole picture, though, and their worth is magnified tenfold.

Five years from now, 10 years, 20 years, Wolf fans will reflect on what the lanky, affable Knoblich quietly accomplished, and they will know the truth – he was one of the best we ever had.

This was a kid who got stronger, and taller, and more talented, as he worked his way through CMS and then CHS, but two things never, ever changed as he grew into a man.

First, he never failed to give us all he had.

Gavin wasn’t always the one who got to amass the big stats, but he was utterly indispensable.

He did the dirty work, he fought for every moment, he always backed up his teammates, he was the glue every team has to have.

And secondly, he did it all while remaining the same genuinely nice guy from start to finish.

Gavin could flex with the best of them, if he wanted to, but look at sports photos over the years, and he’s smiling in almost every single one, whether it’s a portrait or he’s on the rampage.

Put him on a football field, and he used his length and soft hands to become a top-notch receiver, pulling in passes over the outstretched arms of defensive backs who couldn’t control him.

Touchdown, incoming.

When the Wolves went on defense, Gavin hit with intensity, wrapped people up, refused to let foes escape or evade.

He was a genuine two-way terror, but one who also, after big wins or tough losses, always had the grace to immediately go hug mom Mariah and pose with lil’ sis Ryanne for photos.

Gavin’s prep sports career carried over to the basketball court, where he was a rebounding machine with an often-sweet touch on his jumper.

He could stroke it from three-point land when given the chance, but, again, he often sacrificed the spotlight to set up those around him.

That he made the extra pass, always looked for the open teammate, jumped into the fray to fight for loose balls and absorb elbows swung at his head, marked him as a valuable part of the Wolf attack.

And that selflessness carried over to the final stop on his sports arc, the baseball diamond.

No matter the position he played, Gavin was a rock for the CHS hardball squad.

But it’s somehow appropriate that his most enduring moments came when he was buried under the protective gear of a catcher, crouched behind the plate, joking with the umpire, then whipping throws to second to nail dead-on-arrival runners.

“They run, I gun. They lose, I win. Every time.”

Gavin was on the receiving end of some of the more memorable throws in recent memory, whether he was pulling in lasers from Joey Lippo, or Kyle Rockwell, or a dozen others.

Some times, though, the CHS catcher was the one rockin’ the arm.

During one tense battle with Chimacum, a 1-0 Wolf win to move into first place, every play mattered twice as much as normal.

Or, at least it seemed that way.

At one point, Coupeville hurler Matt Hilborn cracked off a third strike, only to have the ball hit Knoblich’s mitt at an odd angle and skid away.

The Cowboy hitter dropped his bat and tried to get his feet churning, looking for a free base, but, behind him, Gavin shocked the world.

Exploding out of his crouch, Knoblich scrambled to the backstop, snared the ball on a hop, whirled and launched a moonshot of a throw (all while rocking/falling backwards, thus greatly increasing the difficulty of the maneuver).

Up, up, up, the ball went, then it plunged out of the sky, plopping right into the outstretched glove proffered by Wolf first baseman Julian Welling, arriving a half-second ahead of one extremely-agitated runner.

The umpire pumped his fist, the Wolves went crazy, and Gavin?

He turned around, picked up his discarded mask, smiled at his mom in the stands, then went right back to work.

Like a boss.

I feel for Gavin, who, like the other senior athletes in the CHS Class of 2020, won’t get a final season this spring.

Life isn’t always fair, whether it throws a pandemic at us, or a war, as it did for many who saw prep sports careers end early after Pearl Harbor.

But today, tomorrow, or years from now, when Wolf fans look back and remember Gavin, they won’t fixate on what could have been.

Instead they will remember what was.

And that image will be of Gavin, fighting to his last ounce of sweat, always, while never forgetting to enjoy the moment and share it with those who love him the most.

I have no doubt he made his mom, and dad Clint, proud.

It’s a sentiment likely shared by his coaches, his teammates, and those who watched him play.

I can’t give Gavin his senior baseball season back, but I can give him this moment, as we induct him into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

After this, if you pop up to the top of the blog, you’ll find Gavin camped out under the Legends tab.

He earned it every step of the way, with his spirit and his attitude, with big plays and with small moments.

He won’t be forgotten.

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Isaiah Bittner and the CHS football team join a new league this fall. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

If the world is back to normal, Coupeville High School football kicks off a new season September 4.

While no one knows how the coronavirus pandemic will play out, the Wolves do have a 10-game schedule set for their move to a new league and classification.

If prep athletic teams are allowed to compete this fall, Coupeville will be in the Northwest 2B/1B League, after spending the last two school years in the 1A North Sound Conference.

After a long stretch of time in which it was one of the smallest 1A schools in the state, CHS will now be one of the bigger 2B schools for at least the next four years.

The new classification counts, which were approved in January, stretch from 2020-2024.

With the other five North Sound Conference schools remaining at the 1A level, Coupeville hit the road and was welcomed back to its old stomping grounds.

In the Northwest League, the Wolves will face rivals which they have a long history with, as CHS was part of the league in previous decades.

The new set-up of the league has four 1B schools (Mount Vernon Christian, Darrington, Concrete, and Orcas Island) and four 2B schools (La Conner, Friday Harbor, Coupeville, and Chimacum).

Chimacum, which competed in the 1A Olympic League with Coupeville from 2014-2018, is the surprise addition, as they were left without a league after dropping down to 2B in the new classification counts.

Port Townsend and Klahowya remain at the 1A level, and will join the Nisqually League this fall, leaving only 2A schools in the Olympic League.

Chimacum applied to join the 2B Pacific League, but that conference opted to add Forks instead.

After that, the Cowboys were accepted into the Northwest League.

While most sports will feature all eight NWL teams competing together, football won’t.

On the gridiron, Coupeville will play home-and-away series with the other three 2B schools, with the rest of the schedule filled out with non-conference games.

The Wolves retain their annual matchup with South Whidbey, as the next-door neighbors vie for ownership of The Bucket.

The only team on the schedule that Coupeville coaches, players, and fans may be unfamiliar with is Napavine, which is slated to visit Whidbey late in the season.

Spoiler alert – it’ll give everyone a chance in Wolf Nation to see firsthand how we stack up against one of the best 2B gridiron programs in the state.

The Tigers captured a state title in 1976, then had sporadic success in the tourney until 2008, when they launched an incredible run.

Napavine football has ripped off 12 straight trips to the state playoffs, going 26-10 in postseason games while winning titles in 2008 and 2016.

It also has three runner-up finishes (2014, 2015, 2018), three trips to the semifinals (2011, 2017, 2019) and three to the quarterfinals (2009, 2010, 2013).

The one, and only time, the Tigers were knocked out in the first round in the last 12 years came in 2012, when they fell 19-14 to Raymond.

They say you have to beat the best to be the best.

For Coupeville, which is coming off its first winning season in more than a decade after going 5-4 last fall, the Napavine game will certainly qualify.

 

2020 CHS football schedule
(* = league game):

Fri-Sept. 4 — Port Townsend (6 PM)
Fri-Sept. 11 — @South Whidbey (7 PM)
Fri-Sept. 18 — @Forks (TBD)
Fri-Sept. 25 — La Conner (7 PM) *
Fri-Oct. 2 — Chimacum (7 PM) *
Fri-Oct. 9 — @Friday Harbor (7 PM) *
Fri-Oct. 16 — @La Conner (7 PM) *
Sat-Oct. 24 — Napavine (TBD)
Fri-Oct. 30 — Friday Harbor (7 PM) *
Thur-Nov. 5 — @Chimacum (7 PM) *

 

**Which of the five home games will be Homecoming is not set yet.**

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