By Tom Rohrer
However, a particular game can sometimes mean more to those playing and coaching in it. That is certainly the case in the boys soccer game between Tumwater and Olympia High Schools Friday night.
The non-league (Olympia plays in the 4A Narrows League, while Tumwater plays in the 2A Evergreen Conference) game on Tumwater’s home field will serve as a platform for cancer awareness. All admission funds for the game will be a donated to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
“It’s something that is close to the surface for both the Olympia and Tumwater communities,” said THS head coach Bryan Winkler. “We like to use this game to create awareness against the battle against cancer.”
Besides the admirable fundraising and awareness efforts of both programs and their supporters, there is another storyline that makes the matchup between two talented and successful teams even more intriguing.
Winkler, who starred at Capital High School in the 80s before playing for The Evergreen State College, will be coaching against his son Bryce. The younger Winkler is a talented junior co-captain for Olympia who is now in his third season on the varsity team under coach Ty Johnson.
It will be the third consecutive year the father and son duo face off against each other in a game that Johnson has coined the “Winkler Cup”.
While the two Winkler’s wish nothing but the best for one another, it is still a competition, one that both father and son are trying to win.
“I will always root for my son, what father wouldn’t? We will shake hands before and after the game. But we’re both competitors,” Bryan Winkler said. “I always think of him as my wonderful son, but during this game, we go at it. We keep it competitve in the right way.”
“It makes it that much more special,” Bryce Winkler said of the matches against the T-Birds. “We’ve been on the same sideline most of my life, so it took some adjustment and really still does to an extent. But it makes for a lot of household fun and is just a great competitive experience.”
Adding to the competitive flavor of Friday’s match is the fact that the games between the two are always hotly contested with dramatic finishes.
While OHS has yet to lose in the match against Tumwater the last five of six seasons, the T-Birds have the talent to match the Bears nearly score-for-score. Last year’s match went to a shootout following a tie in regulation, which the Bears eventually pulled out as victorious.
Tumwater is coming off its best season and sustained run in the school’s history, further evidenced by the school record 22 wins, a League championship and a final four appearance in the 2A state tournament a year ago. This high influx of talent on both sidelines, and the close proximity of the schools create the perfect atmosphere for a non-league game that will prepare each team for the high-intensity associated with playoff soccer.
“We seek non-league games that are competitive and Olympia is always a great challenge for us,” coach Winkler noted. “There is always that playoff level intensity and that really helps develop our team. And our guys just love the fact that they are going against other players they know, other players they may have grown up playing against. It’s just a fun, competitive game to be a part of.”
“You play with the same guys growing up on Black Hills Football Club, and it’s fun to just get competitive with them again,” Bryce Winkler said. “Both schools have a lot of pride and these are the type of games you want to play in.”
Much like he has seen the competitive (yet friendly) rivalry develop between the two schools, Coach Winkler has seen similar development within his son, both on and off the pitch.
“He is a very articulate young man. He proves it through his behavior and his dedication to his studies. He takes AP classes and has a high G.P.A., and he just has the ability to bring his teammates together for a common cause,” Bryan Winkler said of his son. “As a player, he trains hard, he listens to the advice I give him or his coaches gives him. He’s a student of the game, someone who is talented but still makes an effort to analyze and see the game differently. To play varsity at a 4A Narrows League school since his freshmen year, to be the team captain as a junior, those are accomplishments, but he’s put in the necessary work to receive those accolades.”
Not surprisingly, Bryce credits his relationship with his father for his success and perspective on the game and life.
“My dad and I have gone through and gotten through a lot together,” Bryce said. “Soccer is that one thing that no matter what is happening around us, we can go to immerse ourselves in it. I grew up around the game, the high school lifestyle, which is different than most kids experience. I can ask him what I can do better, we watch game film together. He means everything to me.”
Together, the Winkler’s have had to endure the first hand effects of cancer, as Bryan lost his sister Leanne, also a Capital High grad (a standout athlete herself in basketball, soccer and track, who held the school’s 800 meter race record for 19 years) to lung cancer last August. Meanwhile, Bryce said he lost his best friend to the disease last year (the name will not be published in respect to the family).
“It’s been like a plague to our family in a way and we’ve had to get through a lot together,” Bryce said. “And then you have the situation with Coach McDougall, and so many other families in the area that are affected. Making the match against Oly a fundraiser just makes it that much more special.”
“It’s something that really touches everyone in a way, and all people can relate to the situation,” said Bryan Winkler. “I lost my sister, Ty Johnson lost his father to cancer. OHS lost a student to cancer last year. It just goes on and on. It’s part of life, and if people and the community can come together as one, this game is a success.”
A game can be more than just an event that determines a winner and a loser; it can bring a community together; raise awareness for an unbelievably worthy cause; and provide a father and son an opportunity to bring out the best in one another yet again.