Share this story...
Cleveland high
Latest News

Cleveland High School Eagles: Seattle’s forgotten football team

Seattle's Cleveland High School does not have a usable football field. Meanwhile, the rest of Seattle's high schools are up-to-date. (Google Maps)
LISTEN: Seattle Public Schools responds to criticism over Cleveland High School's football field

The Cleveland High School Fighting Eagles is a name that epitomizes this Seattle football team. Its players fight every day to overcome obstacles, from the challenges of growing up in the inner city, to feeling forgotten and left behind as the only high school team in town without a field of their own.

RELATED: State trooper returns to Seattle to coach high school football

Despite all those obstacles, this is a team with a great attitude and they’re backed by a group of coaches with just as much heart as the players themselves. Many of the Cleveland coaches grew up in South Seattle and played football at either Cleveland or Kennedy High School. They know firsthand just what kind of challenges inner city kids face and how helpful football can be.

Defensive Coach Nolan Washington, who grew up in Rainier Beach, says kids in his neighborhood have faced difficult choices like getting involved with drugs or gangs. Washington says things haven’t gotten any better since he went to school. Drugs are still in the schools.

“These kids can easily start selling drugs tomorrow if they want to,” Washington said. “They’re already given that option; that if football doesn’t work out it’s a way to make money. That’s what scares me.”

Despite their heart, Cleveland players continue to play without a field to demonstrate their passion. Former Kennedy High School coach Bob Bourgette is a volunteer coach at Cleveland. He says he’s never seen a situation like this.

“I do know that the administration at Cleveland High School is really working hard on this, but it just baffles me,” Bourgette said. “And to see these kids have to load their gear, have a shed to change in, don’t have goal posts to kick. It’s amazing you don’t hear many complaints. I still can’t figure it out, every school, as far as I know, the Metro League schools, all have fields and we don’t.”

Cleveland High School community

One thing all the Cleveland coaches have in common: a strong desire to serve and give back to their community.

“Giving back is very important to me,” said Coach Jason Johnson. “I like to give back to the inner city kids.”

Johnson played at Cleveland High School when he was a student. He says it’s important for his players to have role models.

“They need people that they can see out here doing good things and being positive so then they can learn how to be positive,” Johnson said. “… we want to go ahead and assist where we can with that; give them some proper role models, give them some good advice and show them how to be young men.”

Head Coach Paul Arnold — a star player at the University of Washington and former Indianapolis Colt — says these kids face the same challenges he did growing up in the Central District.

“Just not getting caught up in the neighborhood stuff, just trying to stay away from the gangs,” Arnold said. “You know, some people are coming from single parent homes, some people are coming from single-paycheck homes, or having problems making ends meet. So many kids, when they get to school, they have so many other things going on in their life that school is like the last thing on their mind. Sports is the last thing on their mind. Those are the kids that I feel like we’re seeing, just trying to show them, you know, that they have a light at the end of the tunnel, or there is more than just what they’re going through.”

“If nothing else, just hey, you know, just come out here and play football for a couple of hours to take your mind off everything else that you’re going through,” he said.

Forgotten Fighting Eagles

The sports field for the Cleveland’s Fighting Eagles is so damaged and dangerous they haven’t been able play or practice on it for years.

“We practice over at Van Asselt (elementary school),” said Coach Paul Anderson. “We we’re hoping to be able to practice on our field this year, but for whatever reason it wasn’t done in time. The kids, they’ve shown a lot of resilience, and I really applaud these guys. Going through the summer we practiced at three different fields. We’re currently on a soccer field that doesn’t have any lines on it. My old field didn’t have any lights, so we’re just kind of making do with what we’ve got.”

The Cleveland team missed nearly a dozen practices because they didn’t have a field to use, and when they could borrow a field it was so far away they had to take a bus to it, or walk and haul all of their own gear. That trip ate into what little practice time they had.

“Cleveland has always had that chip on their shoulder as kind of that forgotten high school,” Coach Arnold said. “To some degree, I guess you do wonder. When you see everybody else have these basic things and we don’t, it makes you wonder. Is it important? Do we matter?”

Many of the Cleveland coaches played under former Kennedy High School coach Bob Bourgette, who is now a volunteer coach and Cleveland, and says he’s never seen this kind of situation for a high school football team.

“I do know that the administration at Cleveland High School is really working hard on this, but it just baffles me,” Bourgette said. “And to see these kids have to load their gear, have a shed to change in, don’t have goal posts to kick. It’s amazing you don’t hear many complaints. I still can’t figure it out, every school, as far as I know, the Metro League schools, all have fields and we don’t.”

Coach Johnson, who played at Cleveland when he was in high school says it’s nothing new.

“When I went there, Cleveland was always treated like a second class citizen,” Johnson said. “And so they continue to do that.”

Coach Arnold admits it’s frustrating.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve heard like, ‘Yeah, the field is going to get done next year, the field’s going to get done next year,'” he said. “And you know, it hasn’t happened yet.”

Seattle Public Schools

Seattle Public Schools says Cleveland High School’s field will eventually get an upgrade with funds from the Building Excellence capital levy passed in 2013 (it provides six years of funding). Expected upgrades include artificial turf, a running track, and field lighting.

“We’re in the process of getting that done, we are right in that schedule right now,” said Flip Hernden, associate superintendent for capital facilities with Seattle Public Schools.

“Part of the challenge that we have had is that even though the field is located right at Cleveland, Seattle Public Schools only owns one-third of that field,” he said. “Parks and Rec owns two-thirds of that field. So we’ve just had to try to figure out the total budget. Seattle Public Schools has money going into that project, and Seattle Parks and Rec has money going into that project and we are trying to make sure that budget is working out proportionate to the ownership.”

The district is currently going through the SEPA process (environmental impact study) which should be completed in about 6-10 weeks. If permits are awarded, the project for Cleveland High School could begin as early as June and be completed in the fall of 2018.

Hernden said he has been working at Seattle Public Schools for five years and dealing with Cleveland’s field problem has been a goal of his. As well as an issue with West Seattle’s high school.

“West Seattle also does not have a field, they don’t have a practice field either,” he said. “That field next to West Seattle is actually a parks field, it’s not a SPS field. So they have issues. too. They don’t always get to practice, they don’t always get time on that field.”

“I know Cleveland has been with that field for a long time,” Hernden said. “It’s kind of teasing them, it’s right there but it’s not in the proper condition to use … it’s an ankle-breaker of a field and there’s no lights.”

Most Popular