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What’s a Bear Cat?

History teacher Jeff Page shares the history of the LSHS vs. Monroe rivalry

Jeff Page, History Teacher

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This Friday night is shaping up to be the most epic showdown ever in the long, storied rivalry between Lake Stevens and Monroe.  Both teams undefeated, 8-0, meeting in the final regular season game for the league championship and the number 1 seed to the playoffs.  The Viking will be resplendent in purple, while Monroe will look like their lame-o selves in some ugly Halloween orange and black and white jersey combination.  The Monroe kids will be chanting “Drain the Lake!  Drain the Lake!” while our kids will respond with the timeless “What’s a Bear Cat?” cheer.  I can’t wait.  I’ve been looking forward to this edition of the rivalry since the start of the season, and the game has loomed larger and larger as both teams marched through their schedules, dominating all opponents. Neither team has had a close game.

Rivalry, you say?  With Monroe?  A team we regularly beat like a drum? What rivalry?  

Monroe is Lake’s oldest and most bitter rival.  Or actually, I should put that the other way around.  Lake Stevens is Monroe’s most hated rival, the team they most want to beat.  I guarantee the Monroe players want to beat Lake Stevens so bad they will practically be bleeding from their eyeballs Friday night.  Everywhere they’ve gone in town for months, the old timers have asked them if this is the year they’ll finally beat Lake Stevens.

Lake and Monroe have always been together in the same league, for more than half a century.  When Lake was a single A school playing in the Cascade League with Granite Falls and Concrete, Monroe was in the same league. When Lake moved up to AA and joined to Northwest League in 1969, so did Monroe.  Both schools moved, together, to the Wesco AA league in 1981, both moved up to 3A  in 1997, and both went 4A together in 2001.  Other rivals have come and gone – Arlington, Marysville, Snohomish – but Lake Stevens and Monroe have always been linked, same classification, same league, same animosity, decade after decade, generation after generation.

I saw my first Viking-Bearcat game in 1979, at the old field in Monroe with the visitors bleachers inside the (oversize) track so the fans were right behind the players bench.  Monroe won, 34-0.  Hard to believe, I know, but it used to be a much more competitive rivalry.  My first 6 years here in Lake Stevens, Monroe won 4 times.  Lake Stevens kids talked all year about beating Monroe, and the game was enormous.  In the mid 1980s we had a great run of success, 2nd in state in 1985; undefeated and ranked #1 all season in 1986 until we lost in the playoff quarterfinals; state semi-finalists in 1987.  We dominated the Bearcats those years, but the game was always huge.  In 1986 we played them for Homecoming. Monday morning of that week the Monroe principal called Bob Estes, our principal, and reported that someone had splashed purple and gold paint all over at Monroe High.  Bob went on the intercom and talked about what a classless act of vandalism this was, how it didn’t reflect well on the Lake Stevens High School he knew, and called on those responsible to confess and make amends.  Our ASB officers went over to Monroe to apologize. But no one confessed.  I mean, no Lake Stevens kids confessed.  On Thursday some Monroe students admitted that they had vandalized their own school with purple and gold paint to blame Lake Stevens. Classless?  Hilarious. Typical Monroe, we said.  Then we beat them 28-7.     

Three years later the power had shifted. Monroe had talented, tough kids and a quarterback who could run all over and throw darts.  We were still good, though, and the 1989 game was clearly for the league title, even though it was a midseason game.  We knew it and they knew it.  Just before halftime, trailing 10-7, we decided to run a hook and ladder trick play from our own end, hoping to get a quick score and turn the game around.  The play unfolded perfectly, our receiver ran a good route, the ball was thrown on the money, and here came Richie Chambers, our tailback and maybe the best athlete in the history of LSHS (state wrestling champion, state track champion in both hurdle races, UW football recruit, played on the 1991 National Championship team and in 3 Rose Bowls) barreling up the sideline at top speed to get the pitch.  A sure touchdown.  Except we messed up the pitch, fumbled the ball, Monroe recovered and their quarterback escaped a sack, ran around forever and then hit their receiver in the end zone as the half ran out.  We lost, 31-19.  And the Bearcats were the Wesco champs.  We missed the playoffs.  By a game.

Two years later, Monroe was at Lake, a hard fought defensive struggle.  Monroe led, 6-3, but as time was running out the Vikings broke a long gain down to the one yard line.  We were out of  timeouts, scrambling to run one more play to win the game, but time ran out before we could get the play off.  The Bearcats went on to win Wesco.  We ended up just missing the playoffs.  We were in the west end zone, facing away from the scoreboard.  I’ve always thought that if we’d been going the other way, where our quarterback could see the scoreboard clock,  maybe we could have run that last play and won the game.

In 1994 we had a great team, winning 12 straight games before losing 7-6 in the state championship.  The Monroe game that year, while not close (36-7), did feature the Second Greatest Play in the History of Lake Stevens Football (ask Jake Nelson about the greatest play – “3rd down and 43? No Problem”). On a rainy night, in the first half, with the score still close, we decided to run a trick play,  a double pass.  Our quarterback, Ryan Oase, threw a lateral pass, wide left to Ray Vodegel, who was then supposed to throw downfield to Brandon Nilson, our tight end.  Except Monroe was ready for it.  Their safety had Brandon covered, and their corner and outside linebacker charged at Ray just as he was catching the throw from Ryan. Ray ducked under a tackle and started running back to the center of the field, giving ground as he ran.  Ryan threw a huge block, knocked the Monroe kid on his back and freed Ray to start upfield along the right side.  Another group of Bearcats closed in on Ray, so he cut back left into the center of the field, where another Viking threw a devastating block, leveling one more Bearcat.  As Ray neared the far (Monroe) sideline another de-cleater block was thrown, allowing Ray to break into the clear.  Unfortunately, by now Ray had run about 150 yards back and forth across the field, and as he ran down the sideline fatigue caught him, and also a Monroe kid, who nudged him out of bounds after a gain of about 60 yards.

The Vikings were cheering the huge gain, Ray was  gasping for air, and three Monroe players were laid out on the field as their coaches and trainers ran to them.

But that’s not the best part.  Our first down chain gang, made up of Lake Stevens parents, including Al Roehl, was on the visitors sideline, and as they moved the chains 60 yards after the play they bumped into or were bumped by some Monroe players, and somebody slipped in the mud.  And an argument broke out on the Monroe sideline between our chain gang and the Monroe players and coaches.  Somebody got shoved, bad words were said, and the referees threw a flag, but against who?  Monroe got penalized, but Al Roehl got kicked out of the game!  Al was furious, unjustly singled out and tossed from the game.  Instead of meekly leaving the sideline and slinking off into the dark, he stormed across the field, gesticulating and yelling while he crossed through our sideline and on to the track in front of our crowd.  His twin sons, freshmen football players Mitch and Ryan, were on our sideline in street clothes helping to keep stats.  Ryan hadn’t seen any of the ruckus on the far sideline, and didn’t notice his dad until he was stomping off down the track in front of the stands. “Hey dad!” Ryan yelled.  “Where you going?”  Best play ever.  

At least until 2011.

Lake Stevens has dominated Monroe recently, winning something like 10 of the last 12 games, but the last time Monroe won, four years ago, they won 9-7 at Lake Stevens.  This was also the last time that the Vikings were held to a single digit score.  

I have so many more memories of Monroe games: Monroe assistant coach Smiley Cresswell, a former NFL player, coming after Emil Whitman, our offensive coordinator after a game sometime around 1990  – Walking down the ramp onto the field with the freshman team before a 9th grade game and staring, slack jawed, as a Monroe freshman player urinated on the middle of the field (it was grass in those days, but still…).  Dude, we have indoor plumbing here in Lake Stevens!  – Beating them all 4 years my son played here by a combined score of 147-7.

Larry Palmer, Rodger Anderson,  Andy Knutson, all LSHS grads, no doubt have even more and better memories.

Oh yeah.  What’s a Bear Cat?  Monroe athletic teams took the name from the nickname of a prominent and successful local boxer in the 1920s, Dode “Bearcat” Bercot.  

His granddaughters graduated from Lake Stevens in the 1980s.

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What’s a Bear Cat?