The high school state football championships aren’t going anywhere.
Jake Locker played in the Tacoma Dome, leading Ferndale High School to the state title in 2005. So did Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro offensive lineman David DeCastro — back when he just a lineman at Bellevue High School.
But so did many other Jakes and Davids and others who didn’t happen to eventually become NFL draft picks.
The Tacoma Dome, the state’s largest indoor venue, has hosted the Gridiron Classic every year since 1995, and a three-year agreement was reached with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Monday that will keep the state championships there through 2018.
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“It’s not just a great piece of business,” Tacoma Dome booking manager Tom Alexander said. “It’s a legacy here in Tacoma. And I think everybody top to bottom, from the city to the people, believe that’s one of the cornerstones of what makes the year exciting here is, being able to host that.”
But this won’t bring back the state semifinals, which since 1984 had been held at the Tacoma Dome. The WIAA, a nonprofit governing body for the state’s high school sports and activities, confirmed on Jan. 13 that it is moving the west side’s semifinals out of the Tacoma Dome — which opened in 1983 — and to regional locations just as schools in eastern Washington have done.
The WIAA considered moving the state championships to the University of Washington, but ultimately the tradition of state football in Tacoma won over the WIAA’s executive board.
“There are a couple of reasons — No. 1 is that students and fans will be able to continue the tradition to play in and watch a number of ballgames at one site,” WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said. “No. 2 is the Tacoma Dome has been a gracious host and traditionally that has been a good site for the finals. It has created a real good interest and following.”
The agreement will cost the WIAA $45,000 in 2016, $52,500 plus an additional $1 per ticket surcharge in 2017, and $62,500 in 2018.
It cost $46,640 for the WIAA to hold the state semifinals and the finals at the Tacoma Dome this past year, the last of a five-year deal.
“We are just looking to cover our expenses to do this event with the rising staff, minimum wage increases and Staff Pro and labor costs,” Alexander said. “We are looking to — at bare minimum — cover our costs.”
The per-weekend cost to hold the semifinals and the finals in the Tacoma Dome, as well as complaints from high schools in eastern Washington that have played their semifinal games in regional outdoor stadiums, were factors in the WIAA deciding to move all of the semifinals out.
Alexander said the “door is always open” for the WIAA to return the semifinals to the Dome.
But Colbrese said “the financial package would have to be a lot brighter” if the WIAA were to consider moving the semifinals back.
He also said the Dome is in need of fan-friendly updates, specifically with its scoreboard.
Alexander said they hope to have that addressed by next year’s state football finals, and have already contacted a third-party venue about a high-definition video scoreboard. He said they are hoping to address new seating in the next two years.
“We are planning on tackling our to-do list pretty aggressively,” Alexander said.
Alexander said the Tacoma Dome will feature much-improved Wi-Fi capabilities in the next month — just ahead of the state wrestling, gymnastics and boys and girls basketball championships — and that it remodeled the locker room hallway this past year.
Also on Monday, the WIAA’s executive board voted to keep state baseball in Pasco at Gesa Stadium, and ensure the site will remain the first option whenever Seattle’s Safeco Field is not available.