Panthers get on the map

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Most skiers don't even notice Randle as they blow through town on their way to the slopes of White Pass during the winter months. Even in the summer, blink an eye and the little town is missed.

But the football players at White Pass High School are trying to change that. With the Panthers' first playoff win in school history, White Pass, and Randle, are officially on the map.

"Everyone can't stop talking about it. We had to print mass amounts of maps to the game on Saturday. All the stores want them," White Pass coach Ken Cheeseman said.

White Pass dumped La Conner 14-7 in the opening round of the 1A State football playoffs, and plays a loser-out game against Kalama at 4 p.m. Saturday at South Sound Stadium in Lacey.

"This is probably the best feeling I've ever had in my life," said WP linebacker Cim Richardson. "I've played football for nine years and I didn't want the season to be over and never be able to play football again."

Richardson also wrestles and plays baseball, but wrestling can wait at least another week, if not longer.

"This is way better than starting the first week of wrestling," Richardson said.

White Pass had a lot of faithful fans cheering the Panthers on and the players expect another big crowd Saturday.

"I was shocked at La Conner. I think we had just as many fans as they did," Cheeseman said. "The kids loved it. To make a four-hour drive and have that much of a fan turnout was really nice."

The Panthers made the playoffs three out of the past five seasons, but lost in the first round the last two times.

"I feel on top of the world. People I've never talked to came up and talked about football," tight end Josh Moody said. "It's been exciting. I can't explain the feeling. It's awesome."

The Panthers lost to the Chinooks by 19 points in their first meeting in a league game this season.

"This is our last chance to play Kalama before we drop down to (Class) B next year," WP quarterback James Rae said. "I think it's fate. We've got another rare opportunity to play Kalama. We've got to make the best of it."

Senior wide receiver Skyler Eastman said the goal of the season, if not to win the league title, was to beat Kalama.

"Not a lot of people get a second shot at a team. It was really exciting to win the playoff game, but now we have to focus on Kalama," Eastman said. "We have to control the line of scrimmage and keep making 3 yards a carry. We have to slow the game down and play like we like to play."

Cheeseman, who is in his ninth season as head man at White Pass, turned the program around since he started. He's only had two losing seasons and now a state playoff win under the program's belt.

"One of the big secrets is you have to make the sport fun for the kids. That was my philosophy from day 1. And then they have to learn some things," Cheeseman said. "The other thing is the stability of the program. We brought in a junior high and Pop Warner program. The kids have a much better time remembering that way."

Back when Lee Grose coached White Pass, the Panthers didn't have a lot of winning seasons.

"I'm very excited for them. I think the people of the district support and follow them very well," Grose said. "I have a lot of respect for what Kenny has done as a coach. They have to have pride in themselves and in the program. I think Ken has instilled that in the kids."

Grose is a 1968 graduate of White Pass.

"I'm terribly excited for them," Grose said. "I think they can beat Kalama. Their defense is outstanding and they have a good shot. They can do it if they believe."

And the Panthers have started to believe in themselves and the community is backing them.

"We used to just be a stepping stone for schools. They knew they could come in and beat us," Cheeseman said. "Now we are a tough game and teams don't want to come and play here."