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Peninsula coach Ross Filkins wants to bring fans back to the Fish Bowl. COVID-19 vaccine is our best chance.

Ross Filkins has coached football at Peninsula High School for many years. So, believe him when he says things were different this year. 

Namely: 

“There weren’t any fans,” Filkins said, remembering the eerie atmosphere of this year’s annual rivalry football game between Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools.

The Fish Bowl—a game that usually draws a standing-room-only crowd—indeed looked a lot different. It was played in February instead of the fall. All the players wore masks. And the stands were empty.

Peninsula football coach Ross Filkins talks to players.

Filkins, Peninsula’s coach and athletic director, still shakes his head.

“It was the first game of the season,” he said. “But we actually recognized the seniors for both schools just in case we got shut back down. Then at least these kids would have that senior night experience.”

Filkins sees COVID-19 vaccine as best tool to make sure next season is better. He’s got two shots of Moderna vaccine, and wants others to do their part to make sure next year’s games are back under the bright Friday night lights. 

“I did not hesitate to get vaccinated,” he said. “Going back to last spring and seeing what happened to the Class of 2020 and shutting down all these events. We should all be doing all we can to get through this and be able to support these kids.”

Fight on.

Football wasn’t the only sport that looked different this year. Student-athletes in every sport had to adjust. 

“We got our station checks, temperature checks, mask use, social distancing, sanitizing and washing hands,” Filkins said. “We’ve been part of the pilot program to do testing of our students and student-athletes and our staff members.”

In his 26th year at Peninsula, Filkins says it’s impossible to compare anything to the challenges the students and staff have faced since last March.

“As we’re preparing to start Season 3 this year, we actually received training from Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to begin rapid COVID testing our athletes who are participating in wrestling and water polo,” he said.

“I never would have thought I’d be going through that kind of training, but again we’re willing to do anything and everything we possibly can to support our kids.”

Filkins believes we’re headed in the right direction.

“Every day has its challenges,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but I tell you, it’s a lot better than what we had last year. What the Class of 2020 was going through with losing all their sports.”

Filkins said he’s inspired by students’ resilience.  

“I can tell you this, we’re in good hands,” he said. “Through all we’ve been through, the students just keep supporting each other and doing whatever it takes to work through this.”

Family, friends and hope for the future.

Filkins wants a return to normalcy on and off the field. His life off the field provided even more reasons to not hesitate when it was his turn to get  vaccinated.

“I’m fortunate to have two healthy but elderly parents,” he said. “My wife has a mother who has health concerns. We were helping them through this whole thing.”

Filkins’ personal life was upended by the pandemic. 

“Usually, our family will host 30-40 people on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “We have our favorite restaurant and that’s always been a Monday night tradition for anybody who can make it. All those things went by the wayside and we just had to do what we had to do to protect the public—to protect our family.”

The adjustment was hard. He closed his circle, wore a mask, distanced and washed his hands often. Like many, he had questions about the safety and development of the vaccines.  

“I did my research,” he said. “Ultimately, I felt good about the process and the outcomes have been great. I would encourage family, friends, loved ones, really anybody who happened to ask to do the same. My experience has been nothing but positive.”

That includes a return of family gatherings. 

“The great thing is, my parents are also fully vaccinated,” Filkins said. “So we’ve been able to resume a lot of those family traditions and we’re excited for the next holiday season to be able to get the families together. It’s going to be great.”

A Fish Bowl with fans?

Peninsula was able to play seven football games. By the end of the season, a limited number of fans were back in the stands. Filkins hopes for a more traditional setup this fall.

“We’re used to having a band and cheerleaders,” he said. “Parents, cowbells and the smell of popcorn. All of that stuff.” 

Filkins knows at least one student-athlete at Peninsula who recently got the first dose of vaccine, and he sees that as an important step in the right direction.

“We feel like it’s going to be our best path forward to return to normalcy,” he said. “I certainly encourage any student-athletes to speak with their parents and to look at that as a possibility.”

The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. You can register for an appointment at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture or drop-in at any of the clinics listed. You don’t need an appointment. 

“We’ve won five straight Fish Bowls,” Filkins said. “We’re hosting Gig Harbor on Sept. 17 and we’d love to have 5,000-6,000 people in Roy Anderson loud and proud.”

Getting eligible people vaccinated for COVID-19 will give us the best chance to make that happen. 

“If everybody can just do their part, we can all go back to enjoying all those things that we value and love,” he said. “Hopefully we can get everybody on board and get back to having fun!”

It’s important to continue to take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID:

Learn more at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.