Ex-Prep Stars React to Conference Realignment; Fish Bowl Moves to Tacoma

The new Puget Sound League will not freeze the Peninsula-Gig Harbor rivalry, but it could cool it down.


Key Peninsula News spoke with former Peninsula and Gig Harbor High School student athletes who contributed to this story: Cory Procter (Gig Harbor, ’01; All-state offensive lineman who went to win a Division I-AA national championship at the University of Montana and earned All-American honors before spending five years in the NFL); Belle Frazier (Peninsula ’19; All-state girls basketball player and conference MVP her senior year; went on to play at Portland State, California Baptist and Southern Nazarene); Peter King (PHS ’20; All-conference baseball player who currently plays for Pacific Lutheran); Riley Peschek (GHHS ’23; League MVP in softball and all-conference in basketball; currently plays softball at University of Montana and recently named the Big Sky Player of the Week, only the second freshman softball player in school history to earn the honor so early); Hall Schmidt (PHS ’22; 2021 conference lineman of the year and currently a redshirt sophomore on Boise State’s football team); Payton Knowles (PHS ’23; played football and baseball at GHHS his first two years before moving to Peninsula where he was league MVP in baseball and captain of the football team; currently a freshman on Gonzaga’s baseball team).

Peninsula and Gig Harbor High Schools are on the move.

They’re not going all that far and it won’t look all that different.  But it’s definitely a change of scenery.

The biggest move is the merger between the South Sound Conference and the Pierce County League to create the 3A Puget Sound League. The new league includes current SSC foes Peninsula, Gig Harbor, Central Kitsap, Timberline, Capital, North Thurston and River Ridge joining up with Silas, Mount Tahoma, Lincoln, Bellarmine Prep and Lakes.

With this many teams, the league will be split into two divisions: Peninsula will play in the Nisqually Division and Gig Harbor in the Narrows Division.

Another move takes the two schools south of the Narrows Bridge. Peninsula School District recently announced that the annual Fish Bowl football game between Peninsula and Gig Harbor is moving from the traditional Friday night game at Roy Anderson Field to a 2 p.m. game on Sat., Sept. 7 at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. The official reason, “the popularity of the Fish Bowl has outgrown Roy Anderson Field." 

Former student-athletes from both schools hope these moves won't spoil the cross-town rivalry for current and future students. 

Life's Teachable Moments

There is no evidence suggesting PSD planned to split up the two schools to prevent future incidents like those in 2023. In January of that year, there were allegations of a racist remark made during the handshake line after a girls basketball game between the two schools. Then during September's Fish Bowl, a first-half skirmish led to a Gig Harbor player getting seriously injured. In both instances, no students were formally punished. Instead, fans were banned from the next girls basketball game between the two teams, and the Fish Bowl was moved out of town. 

“It was a rash decision and moving the Fish Bowl to Tacoma isn’t the answer,” Peter King said. “Kids are going to make stupid decisions so it’s up to the adults to educate these athletes.”

“(The district) is just putting in an obstacle to cool down the rivalry,” said Cory Procter. “It’s like a parent saying, ‘My kids are always fighting, so I’ll just buy a bigger house to keep them separated.’ ”

He added, “(School district leaders) need to address these types of issues with the students, not hide it from them. They need to be better leaders, have consequences, and follow through with them.”

Belle Frazier remembered her final game against Gig Harbor in 2019 at the Peninsula gym. One of her teammates took a swing at an opposing player. As punishment that player was forced to sit out a few games. “Rightfully so,” said Frazier, who added her teammate didn’t actually hit anyone. “But recently (the administration) doesn’t seem to crack down on things like that."

Frazier also said that keeping the fans away from the game after the January 2023 incident likely didn't serve as an effective lesson for the players involved. "Nobody is going to learn if there is no penalty for their actions."

"The issue is the people making the decisions haven't been in a competitive atmosphere like that," said Payton Knowles. "Nothing between these teams is happening now that didn't happen 10, 20, or 30 years ago. The adults are making this rivalry about themselves."

Roy Anderson Field is the Rightful Place

"The administration made a unilateral decision (to move the Fish Bowl) that affects the community but didn't get feedback from the community," Procter said. "When you don't engage with the community, (the community) won't have your back."

The pros of moving the Fish Bowl to Mount Tahoma Stadium: Additional parking with covered seating on both sides with more than double the capacity of Roy Anderson Field. Plus the two sets of bleachers are far enough apart to reduce the likelihood of off-the-field incidents. The cons: It's a day game 30 minutes away in Tacoma.

"Friday Night Lights is something you can't replicate," Knowles said. "On your shared home field with a stadium packed shoulder-to-shoulder is a memory a player and fan will never forget. Playing under the lights at Roy Anderson Field against Gig Harbor is a night I will never trade for anything." 

Frazier said she never felt unsafe at a Fish Bowl game in the past. "Granted, it's a ton of people packed into a small stadium. But that's what makes it such a fun atmosphere." She said if fewer people choose to make the drive to Mount Tahoma and it's in a bigger stadium, it will feel like a smaller crowd. 

Riley Peschek loved it when the Fish Bowl was "their stadium" meaning when Gig Harbor was the designated home team and got the covered side of the field. "It made the game even more special."

Though Hall Schmidt said playing the Fish Bowl at his home field will always have a special place in his heart, "Like (PHS football coach Ross) Filkins used to say, 'Put the ball down and we'll play anywhere.' If they need to play the game at a different site, the teams will happily play at a different site."

Should all PHS-GHHS match-ups go neutral?

Schmidt suggested if the Fish Bowl game is moved, then all Peninsula-Gig Harbor competitions should be played at neutral sites. Frazier and Peschek didn't get that far. 

If the district decides to limit basketball games between the two schools to only once during the regular season, they would urge the district to go back to what Peschek called a "quad game" format where the boys and girls junior varsity and varsity teams all play at the same gym, the same day, rather than having the girls play at one gym and the boys play at the other. 

"Half the fun of that game is having the town there to support you, but I worry if there is only one game they will go and support the boys," Frazier said.

King still wants the baseball teams to face each other at Sehmel Park every time.

"It's a Rivalry Game, What Do You Expect?"

The former high school athletes feel players understand this rivalry better than the adults making decisions about it. Players from both schools remember growing up with their cross-town rivals. Some of them have brothers, sisters and parents who went to the opposing school. 

"When you're on the field, it's intense, you want to win. That's just how competitions are," Schmidt said. But off the field (Peninsula and Gig Harbor athletes) eat together, hang out together, train together, do everything together."

Procter thinks the same way, "(On the field) you hate anyone who is your rival. Off the field, it's all good-natured. I love that about rivalries."

We always brought our best that game and expect (Peninsula) would too," Peschek said.

King said the rivalry game is the biggest game of the year because "you're playing against your buddies you grew up playing with or against." 

The athletes all seemed to agree that less is more: the less the two teams play, the more aggressive it may become.

"The possibility of the two teams playing less may be counterproductive. If you only get to hype one game a year (per sport), it will carry a lot more significance," Frazier said.

"It's a high-intensity situation, and when you're competing in a rivalry game people show sides of themselves they don't normally show," King said.

"It's a rivalry game; things get heated, what do you expect?" Knowles asked. "These games aren't supposed to be nice."