More than a lacrosse rivalry, Gig Harbor’s Baggataway Bowl honors the game

GIG HARBOR, Wash. –  Football has its “Big Game”, which alternates between Michigan and Ohio.  In baseball, the World Series evokes passions that harken back generations.  Once a year, hockey carefully presents Lord Stanley’s cup – and sometimes misplaces it.  And one only needs to whisper “French Lick” or “South End” and be taken aback by great clashes on Garden parquetry.

Baggataway Trophy 2

Gig Harbor High School lacrosse coach Marc Kemp helped establish the “Fire Stick Trophy” presented for the first time to the winner of Tuesday’s inaugural Baggataway Bowl lacrosse rivalry between Gig Harbor and Peninsula High Schools. (Photo: Gig Harbor Lacrosse)

Out here in Washington state, in the shadow of Apple Cups and other gridiron classics, another custom is emerging — one that’s rooted deep within Native American character and culture and one that coaches and athletes alike see as not just a spring-time alternative, but a tradition to come.

In Gig Harbor they call it The Baggataway Bowl – more precisely Baaga`adowe, the Ojibwe word for the Native American game known as lacrosse.  And it’s among newly emerging spring sports rivalries in lacrosse for high school student-athletes and communities all across Washington state.

Tonight, two of the state’s newest prep lacrosse clubs at Gig Harbor and Peninsula High Schools will square off in a 7 p.m. regular season contest at Peninsula High School that celebrates the common origins of the sport and honors the time-tested heritage of a game considered North America’s oldest.

And to the victor, like the Bay Area’s “Axe” or the Midwest’s “Little Brown Jug,” will go the “Fire Stick Trophy.”

It’s a symbolic gesture with a nod to Native Americans who played lacrosse out of respect and reverence in healing the sick, resolving disputes and preparing warriors for battle.

A gesture that student-athletes and coaches with the Peninsula and Gig Harbor programs see as connecting their shared history. But also in winning bragging rights.

“Pretty much all things stop today, we’ve got to beat them,” said Gig Harbor High School senior lacrosse player Kyle Murphy.

Murphy, a two-sport standout for the Tides in lacrosse and football where the 6-0, 230-pounder was named to All-Narrows Honorable Mention honors as a center last fall, sees the game as both as a chance to show-off a sport that he’s played for just three years, but to show-up teammates from last year’s combined Gig Harbor-Peninsula squad and to beat the cross-town Seahawks.

“To win the first Begattaway would be pretty cool.  It’s really taking on the atmosphere of the ‘Fish Bowl’ rivalry,” said Murphy referring to the annual Gig Harbor, Peninsula football rivalry game.

Across the state the Begattaway is among several intense community matchups in lacrosse, some dating back to the late 1970s when East Coast transplants first introduced the high school level of the sport, a mainstay in many Atlantic Coast and Midwestern states, to Washington state.

“Rivalry is essential in building community,” said Washington State Lacrosse Hall of Famer Dave Low and coach of the Bainbridge High School boys program during its hay-day in the late 1990s and now president of the Washington State Chapter of US Lacrosse.

“It is key for the kids playing in the program,” said Low, who’s own rivalry experience dates back to his prep-school days on the lacrosse field at New Jersey’s Blair Academy.

“There was a whole week set aside for “Peddie Day”, explained Low.  “One day out of the year we would play for the ‘Kelley-Potter Cup’ with the overall winner of the day’s games between our rival school winning the trophy,” he said.  “It was a marking point for us.  Playing and beating your opponent was all about bragging rights.”

Throughout four decades of high school lacrosse play in Washington state there is no rivalry that matches the intense competition as the contests between the Spartans, Bellevue and Mercer Island High Schools. Since 1979 one of the three programs has competed for the state championship every year – all 35.

For Bainbridge, one of the pioneer boys lacrosse programs in Washington state, the rivalry with the Islanders is dubbed the “Island War”, a spring battle between two like-community high schools and two high powered lacrosse teams.

Early on, the match was the domain of the Spartans.   However, in recent years the contest, to be renewed on Saturday, April 19 at Bainbridge Stadium, has been dominated by Mercer Island, winners of five straight regular-season and state tournament contests since 2005 with MI holding an historical 9 – 4 edge over their island rival.

But for Mercer Island, another rivalry looms even greater and last spring had state title implications.


Despite one of the most intense on-field rivalries in the state, Mercer Island and Bellevue High School student-athletes and fans have a high-level of respect for one another off the field of play. (Photo: Molly Piper)

Bellevue–Mercer Island, which shifts to the Islander’s home stadium on Friday, May 9, has given MI fits for the past two years.

With Mercer Island winning 11 straight between 2005 and 2011, it’s Bellevue that has had the upper hand since 2011 winning four straight including a 14 – 11 defeat in last May’s Washington state boys Division I title game.

While the state’s most traditional lacrosse rivals square-off for bragging rights, other programs have been going at it for years including North and South Kitsap High School’s boys programs.  In that one Poulsbo’s Vikings holding a 9 – 5 advantage over Port Orchard’s Wolves to the south.

Tonight’s Gig Harbor – Peninsula affair is among a new breed of state rivalries that are emerging from the growth in popularity of lacrosse among high school student-athletes all across the state.

On the Sammamish Plateau, boys programs Eastside Catholic School and Skyline go head-to-head in heated battle each spring with the Crusaders prevailing in three-straight since Skyline won the inaugural contest in 2010.

In Snoqualmie and Issaquah, the Mount Si High School boys lacrosse club will take on Issaquah High School’s varsity for the first time this spring.

It’s an emerging rivalry that Wildcats first-year coach and former state champion Chris Castleberry said is built on a foundation of respect and admiration.

“Issaquah is our big brother.  They helped us establish our first team in 2010,” said Castleberry whose squad entertains state Hall of Fame coach Brandon Fortier and his Eagles at home on Friday, April 18.

“They are the standard of where we want to be,” Castleberry said.  “If we beat them it shows that we are there.”

In Eastern Washington, the success of lacrosse in the Tri Cities has spawned separate teams at Southridge and Richland High Schools along with a new youth program.

Once just the domain of a combined high school squad serving Richland, Kennewick and Pasco since 2009, the rivalry opens a new chapter in the Eastern Washington communities on Wednesday, April 16 at the Southridge Sports Complex.

In Whatcom County near Washington state’s border with British Columbia, Canada, the annual rivalry between the joint team of Sehome and Bellingham High School student-athletes and Lynden High School is less about the head-to-head record and more about improving the quality of play.

“We’re trying to downgrade the importance of the rivalry because it’s gotten so heated in the last few years,” said head coach of Lynden High School’s lacrosse club Peter White whose squad trails Sehome-Bellingham 13 – 3 since 2005.


Under the guidance of first-year coach Chris Castleberry, Mount Si High School is looking for a healthy rivalry with neighboring Issaquah High School. (Mount Si Lacrosse)

When the two meet on Friday, April 11 at Bellingham’s Civic Stadium, Lynden’s coach is keeping it in perspective.

“Even though we’ve lost those games we’re starting to close the gap,” said White whose squad has come within three goals in two the four losses since defeating its neighbors in a play-in game to earn a berth in the 2011 state tournament.

“I won’t know until after Everett this week and Providence next where we’ll stack up,” he said.  “They have a lot of good athletes.  It should be a good game.”

For Camas High School coach Jim Avino, the emerging rivalry between the Papermakers, Union High School and King’s Way Christian School is taking on similarities to the rivalries he experienced as a high school football coach in Cloverdale, Ore.

“There are people in Camas that only understand winning and loosing.  All they want is for us to beat Union,” said Avino who brought Oregon’s Nestucca High School back to respectability in the early 2000s after the Bobcats hadn’t seen a winning season since the 1940s.

“We had tremendous opponents, the Tualatin and Oregon City rivalries went back – some 70 years,” said Avino who despite dropping two straight lacrosse contests to Union in 2013 is focused teaching respect, good relationships and sportsmanship.

“After the game the kids and family go out to dinner together.  But on the field they really want to beat each other,” he said.

Perhaps one of the most heated, yet well-respected rivalries in the state is among two of the most storied girls programs with Bainbridge High School and the Lakeside School.

Together, the two schools have occupied a berth in the state title game in each of the last 23 years.  And there is no one that longtime Lions coach Jamie Asaka respects more than the Spartans’ head coach and fellow Washington State Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee Tami Tommila.

“Rivalry suggests animosity, hatred, aggression,” said Asaka whose program has matched the Spartans historically with nine state wins including the 2013 state championship.


Lakeside School girls lacrosse coach Jamie Asaka hoists the 2013 Washington Lacrosse Girls State Championship trophy. (Photo: Michael Jardine)

“Take Bainbridge for example, they are the best.  And we want to be the best.  We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have someone to strive to beat,” she said.

“You really don’t have a rivalry unless there are pieces of the other team that you respect,” said Asaka who along with Tommila have worked tirelessly to change the perception and learning moments of rivalry in the lacrosse community.

“Tami and I had to be really intentional on what it means to have a rivalry,” said Asaka, who over the last decade has seen the culture of the two programs change profoundly.

“At the beginning the kids would describe rivalry as how we hated each other,” said Asaka whose Lions historically have met Bainbridge eight times in the state title game – winning six.  “But if you define rivalry as an opportunity to learn and grow, to understand and work with people collaboratively from different backgrounds, it’s healthy.”

On the field, the concept for Asaka becomes less of a competition between the two schools and more her student-athletes – and opponents, rising together.

“Bainbridge has achieved greatness in lacrosse and Lakeside has achieved greatness,” she said.  “When we play each other that’s how a champion is crowned.  But both of us have made history together.”

Inauguaral Baggataway Bowl
What:  Washington State Boys High School Lacrosse
Who:  Gig Harbor High School vs. Peninsula High School
Where:  Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, Wash.
When:  Tuesday, March 18, 2014 — 7 p.m. faceoff

About Lacrosse in Washington State
Lacrosse has over 100 years of history in Washington state with clubs playing in the early 1900s and high schools now in their fourth decade of state competition.  With Native American origins, lacrosse is one of the oldest organized sports on the continent and today is considered the fastest growing sport in America.  In Washington state, some 4,000 student-athletes attending over 200 high schools play prep lacrosse, while another 6,000 play lacrosse at the youth, adult and collegiate club levels throughout the state.  For more information on high school lacrosse in Washington state visit

~ Mike McQuaid, Sports Information Director, US Lacrosse, Washington State Chapter

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