Investigation documents reveal details of highly tense Fish Bowl
The Peninsula School District disciplined coaches from both Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools following the chaotic Fish Bowl football game on Sept. 15, documents obtained via a public records request show.
The district issued letters of reprimand to the coaches. The district also placed several Gig Harbor coaches on leave for an unknown period of time while it completed its investigation, which began just a few days after the game.
The documents paint a picture of a highly tense situation. Those involved told district administrators that it came perilously close to boiling over.
One assistant coach said it was the closest thing he’d ever seen to a “riot atmosphere.” Another said they were “seconds away from a fight.”
Records indicate that school district administrators interviewed about 50 people involved in the game, including coaches, administrators, referees and players.
The district announced on Oct. 23 that it had completed the investigation into events surrounding the game. A brief statement from the school district about the completion of the investigation said “it found the claims of inappropriate behavior (by players) beyond what the game officials addressed were unsubstantiated.”
The school district provided the final installment of records related to the Fish Bowl investigation late on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 4. Gig Harbor Now filed its request for the records on Oct. 14. Long delays between records requests being filed and their fulfillment are common, due in part to the need to redact documents and notify affected employees.
Injury and aftermath
The 2023 Fish Bowl erupted into controversy late in the second quarter, when a Peninsula Seahawks defender hit and injured Gig Harbor Tides quarterback Koi Calhoun. The Seahawks had intercepted a Calhoun pass and were returning it when a Peninsula blocker leveled Calhoun.
The sophomore starting quarterback was down on the field for about 30 minutes. A Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One team was at Roy Anderson Field for the game, but was responding to a non-football medical call there when Calhoun was injured.
Calhoun sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized. Gig Harbor backup quarterback Benji Park rallied the Tides to a 21-20 win, ending Peninsula’s seven-year Fish Bowl winning streak.
Referees penalized Peninsula for a late hit on the play, but did not eject anyone from the game. Gig Harbor coaches and parents, during the game and after, were angry over the violence of the hit on Calhoun.
Tension among coaches
Coaches and others interviewed as part of the school district investigation described a fairly normal Fish Bowl prior to the injury. The atmosphere was intense and the stadium was packed, as is the case for every Fish Bowl.
After the injury, tensions between the two schools’ football coaching staffs spilled into public view.
Tides head coach Darrin Reeves called the play on which Calhoun was injured “one of the most dangerous and non-football-related hits on a football field that I’ve ever seen.”
Gig Harbor coaches told the school district administrators who interviewed them that they viewed the hit on Calhoun as part of a pattern by Peninsula that they also observed during the 2022 Fish Bowl.
Gig Harbor defensive coordinator Jason Geldermann told school district administrators that he believed Peninsula “targeted” the Tides’ quarterbacks in 2022. Geldermann said officials at that game penalized the Seahawks three times for late hits on Gig Harbor quarterbacks.
Reeves made similar comments to Gig Harbor Now after this year’s game.
Peninsula head football coach and athletic director Ross Filkins was incensed by Reeves’ comment. “The statement that (Reeves) made is reprehensible, that I would coach kids dangerously to intentionally injure people, and that stuff had happened in the past,” Filkins said in the school district transcript of his interview. “I was pretty upset by that.”
Filkins noted that he was “troubled” that Gig Harbor Now published the quote, which he called “unprofessional and detrimental to our community.”
The coach told administrators that he had “been hearing for months about how much the current Gig Harbor coaches hated me personally and despised our program” and said he wanted “to clear my name and what my program has stood for for 29 years” after reading Reeves’ quote in Gig Harbor Now.
‘Seconds away from a fight’
Peninsula coaches reported aggressive, combative and foul-mouthed behavior by many Gig Harbor coaches after the injury occurred and after the final whistle.
Peninsula assistant coach Dan Portillo said the “actions of Gig Harbor coaches during the (injury) delay helped raise temperatures.”
A Peninsula volunteer assistant coach, Dan Stevens, told his interviewer: “I’ve coached football for 25 years (and) I’m a lieutenant in (the) fire department — that was the closest I’ve ever been to a riot atmosphere.”
Peninsula principal Mike Benoit was one of many PSD building administrators on hand to help with crowd control. He said he saw Gig Harbor coaches making “inappropriate gestures to our (Peninsula High) fans.” He also reported Tides coaches “yelling at our coaches, animated and angry.”
Another building administrator on crowd control duty, Harbor Ridge Middle School assistant principal Scott Yingling, told his interviewer: “We were seconds away from a fight.”
Profanity by Tides coaches
Several witnesses — some affiliated with Peninsula but also some without a rooting interest — reported hearing extensive profanity from the Gig Harbor coaching staff. Peninsula assistant Brad Harrison said Tides coaches employed “lots of expletives. Very aggressive. This occurred for several minutes.”
Mick Hoffman, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, was in the crowd for what has become one of the best-attended rivalry games in Washington high school sports. His statement to the district supported the allegation that Gig Harbor coaches were highly aggressive.
“I then saw some adults in clothing similar to the (Gig Harbor) coaching staff aggressively confronting individuals from the Peninsula team” after the game, Hoffman wrote. “They were aggressively pointing and walking toward, away, towards, etc.”
Gig Harbor coaches acknowledged that some of them used expletives around students, but described the tone as celebratory and said they were not directed at Peninsula coaches.
Referees who officiated the game confirmed to district administrators that they also heard extensive profanity from Gig Harbor coaches, directed both at the officials and at Peninsula coaches. The refs could have penalized the Tides for the coaches’ language, but head official Kyle Prosser believed that “more flags would have incited a riot.”
Ref: ‘The contact was legal’
District investigators questioned the officials about the play on which Calhoun was injured.
“The contact was legal,” Prosser told investigators. “There was nothing egregious or aggressive, in my opinion, except for the fact it was late, meaning it occurred after the return man had been tackled about 15 yards behind this action. We see this play all the time.”
Joe Horn, an area representative for the officials’ association, was not at the game but reviewed video of the play. He told the school district that he could only make limited judgements from the video, but from what he could see the penalty was appropriately called. “From the video, I cannot discern any action by the tackling player that would make this a flagrant foul worthy of an ejection.”
The district concluded that while Calhoun’s injuries were “inconsistent with a typical football tackle,” its investigation found no firm evidence of wrongdoing beyond what the officials penalized during the game. However, a letter from district chief academic officer John Yellowlees notes that “multiple witnesses declined to participate in the investigative process.”
The investigation documents revealed several other allegations and comments by coaches involved in the game.
- Gig Harbor coaches told administrators that someone fired a gel capsule from an Orbeez-style toy gun at the Tides’ bus while it was at Roy Anderson Field. Police met the bus when it returned to Gig Harbor High.
- Peninsula coaches said they heard threats from the Gig Harbor student section during and after the game. They also alleged that Gig Harbor High administrators did not do enough to rein in their students.
- Gig Harbor coaches complained of an unwelcoming atmosphere toward the Tides at Roy Anderson Field, which is shared by both schools but located on the Peninsula High campus. Tides coaches also said Roy Anderson is inadequate to host a game that draws so many fans.
- Peninsula coaches said the player who hit Calhoun was harassed and threatened via social media in the days after the game.
- Gig Harbor coaches were angered that the player who hit Calhoun later returned to the game. While officials did not eject the player, Gig Harbor coaches said Filkins verbally agreed not to play him. Filkins told investigators that due to other injuries and cramping, that player was the only athlete at his position who was available late in the game.
- Gig Harbor coaches were outraged that the Seahawks did not “take a knee” while Calhoun was being treated on the field. Peninsula coaches said their policy is to stand respectfully, but not kneel, during a player injury.
- About the only thing coaches from both sides agreed on was that it took too long for medics to reach the field following Calhoun’s injury. The on-scene aid crew was on another medical call at the field when the injury occurred; some coaches said another aid crew should have been dispatched while the first was preoccupied.
Coaches reprimanded for their activities during the Fish Bowl and its aftermath, according to the records Peninsula School District provided under the public records act, include:
- Peninsula head coach/athletic director Ross Filkins. In a Letter of Direction to Filkins, the district told him he failed to comply with its policy on civility in the workplace and did not meet the district’s standards for sportsmanship. Further, the district said his actions during the investigation “interfered with the integrity” of the probe, an apparent reference to the longtime coach mentioning or discussing the investigation with parents, despite instruction to refrain from doing so. The district’s letter said some parents declined to make their students available to be interviewed.
- Gig Harbor head coach Darrin Reeves. The district’s Letter of Direction to Reeves said he violated the civility in the workplace policy and “acted in an uncivil manner toward opposing coaching staff during and after the game.” The letter also said Reeves allowed his assistant coaches to interact with referees and opposing coaches in an uncivil manner.
- Gig Harbor assistant coaches Jason Geldermann, Devard Darling, Reggie Ford and Brian Johnson. The district said all violated its civility in the workplace policy by making inappropriate comments and using inappropriate language.