There were hugs, high-fives and hearty laughs about lettermen’s jackets and football jerseys that seemed a little snug these days.
Scores of former Tumwater High School football players returned to their alma mater Friday night to line the end zone during the national anthem at the playoff game as a tribute to retiring coach Sid Otton.
Although there wasn’t an official count, the game’s announcer estimated 150 to 200 former players lined the field.
Otton, 72, retires at the end of the year as the winningest high school football coach in state history with a 393-130 record, including a 9-1 record this season and Friday’s 44-0 playoff victory over Washougal.
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“A night like this calls for a lot of celebration,” said Colby Shaffer, who flew in Friday from Lakeville, Minnesota, to participate in the event. “… There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Otton has coached high school football for 49 years, including 43 seasons at Tumwater.
“Being young, you look at him and he’s pretty much intimidating, so you pretty much did what he asked you to do,” said Spencer Seymour, 59, of Olympia. “He just taught us how to have stamina, and stay out there and keep fighting and hitting with our heads and making the helmets pop hard.”
Tumwater athletic director Tim Graham helped organize the alumni tribute for Otton.
“We’re just trying to find different ways to honor him,” Graham said.
Graham estimated Otton has coached about 1,500 Tumwater players over the years.
“He has a lot of principles,” said Lance Martin, 44, of Lewis County. “And he’s lived his life and taught those to the players and made us better community members and people in general.”
Otton described the tribute as a “tear-jerker” moment and said he and the other coaches appreciated the support from the team’s alumni.
“Some of these guys that believed in the dream right off the get-go and got things rolling and then the ones that have established things along the way — it’s great to see them,” Otton said.
Chris Ridley, 39, of Tumwater, said Otton has always had a knack for bringing out the best in players.
“Whoever comes in to fill those shoes has big shoes to fill,” Ridley said.