The road to a state championship appearance has been a long one for Tumwater High School football coach Bill Beattie.
For more than 30 years, he has mentored players in Tumwater, Olympia, Elma and Tenino.
He’s taken countless teams to the district playoffs, and appeared in the state playoffs as a player and coach 16 times before this season — including reaching the semifinals as an assistant with Tenino in 1986, and as Olympia’s head coach in 2003.
But, for the first time Saturday morning, Beattie will walk into the Tacoma Dome eyeing a state title.
“When you’re coaching and playing, everyone strives to get to that championship game,” Beattie said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been close, but to realize this is just something different.”
In his first season at Tumwater, Beattie has one of the state’s most storied football programs playing for another Class 2A state title.
The second-ranked T-Birds (11-2) will play a Southwest District rival in third-ranked Hockinson (13-0) for a shot at their sixth title in program history.
This will be Tumwater’s ninth appearance in a championship game, and fourth in the past six years.
The T-Birds have won five titles in their history — in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2010 — but lost in their last three appearances, most recently in a heartbreaking thriller to Prosser in 2015.
Tumwater offensive coordinator Jamie Weeks has been with the program for 32 years, and coached during each of its title runs. He said it’s been fun to watch Beattie experience reaching a state title game for the first time.
“When you coach that long, it’s always a dream,” Weeks said. “And when it finally happens, you can just see.
“He doesn’t take anything for granted, because he’s here now, and he wants to make the most of it.”
Connor Clark — a senior transfer from Olympia High School, where Beattie coached until this year — has played for Beattie since his freshman year. He embraced his coach after Tumwater’s win over top-ranked Archbishop Murphy in last week’s semifinals.
Tumwater’s defense put on a jaw-dropping show against the defending state champions — who hadn’t lost to a 2A team in two years — to keep its season alive.
When time expired and the T-Birds advanced with a 10-6 win, Beattie threw his hands straight up in the air.
“After the win against Archbishop Murphy, you could tell on his face that he was super excited,” Clark said.
Beattie looked up and saw his wife, Heidi, with tears streaming down her cheeks. He saw players and coaches in euphoria on the field.
“Just the look on everyone’s face that they’re getting the chance to go play in the finals — it’s hard to describe, because that’s the first time I’ve been through it,” Beattie said.
“But it’s just exciting as heck to see what those kids look like, and just the overall feeling of what’s going on right now.”
The finals, finally, after all of the times he has been so close.
Beattie was a senior himself at Tumwater High School in 1977 when it was the first to post a winning record (9-2) during the era of former coach Sid Otton.
The T-Birds won the Black Hills League that season, and advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Bremerton.
After an impressive college playing career at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Beattie returned to Tumwater as an assistant in 1983, and the T-Birds made it to the first round.
During three years as an assistant at Tenino, the Beavers advanced to the state playoffs twice, eventually losing in the quarterfinals (1985) and semifinals (1986).
“Everywhere he’s been, he’s had success,” Weeks said.
Beattie began his first head coaching job at Elma in 1988, and took the Eagles to the state playoffs three times in seven years, reaching as far as the quarterfinals in 1992.
Then, in 1995, he was hired at Olympia, where he spent the bulk of his career.
Olympia won its only playoff-era state championship under coach Bob Dunn in 1984. The Bears endured a state-playoff drought that lasted a dozen years after that.
Beattie took the Bears back in 1997, and led Olympia to nine state-playoff appearances in his 22 seasons there, including a semifinal berth in 2003.
“We’ve been so close and just haven’t quite been able to reach it,” Beattie said.
Weeks said the Tumwater staff would keep track of Beattie’s teams through the years, and Matt Hinkle’s at Shelton, to see how the former T-Bird players fared.
“We would come in after a game during the year, and we would always check scores for our league,” Weeks said. “Then, ‘Hey, how did Oly do?’
“Every Friday, ‘How did Oly do?’ Same with Matt. ‘How did Shelton do?’ Those are guys that grew up in the system.”
Sometimes, Beattie would attend Tumwater’s games after his own season ended, Weeks said.
It seemed fitting then, after Otton retired last year as the winningest high school football coach in state history, that Beattie would take his place.
“I’m just so dang proud of these guys,” Otton said after Tumwater’s semifinal win. “Bill, and the coaches, and how the kids have responded this year.”
Weeks said Beattie told the assistant coaches — most who have been with the program for several years — he wanted to move forward with what Otton developed over 43 years.
“Tumwater football is Tumwater football because of Coach Otton,” Beattie said. “One of the main reasons I wanted to come back here was to continue what he built.”
Clark supposes Beattie’s coaching style — preaching unity and family within the football program — is what has driven his success for so many years.
“I learned that from Coach Otton a long time ago,” Beattie said. “Surround yourself with great people, and great things happen.”
Everything has blended together well at Tumwater in Beattie’s first season, Otton said.
“To have the opportunity in this first year, of all years, to be right back out here is a true testament to these assistant coaches and kids,” Beattie said.
“They’re the ones who have been around here, and put (in the work) for the previous years. For them to buy in and keep going, that says a lot about their character.”
Saturday, the T-Birds will return to the Tacoma Dome. But, for Beattie, it won’t be like any previous trips.
“I’ve played in the Tacoma Dome before, but it’s been a semifinal game,” he said. “Now, to walk in and know that you have a chance to walk out being a state champion? That’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”