Guest blogger Claire Schmitt details her experience attending a Seawolves Major League Rugby match.
Sunday, May 8th, matchday. After a quick 25-minute drive south on I-5 from North Seattle and a whopping $6 for parking, we’re at the front gate of Starfire Sports in Tukwila. There’s a sense of familiarity and intimacy about the stadium. People of all ethnicities and ages walk around repping their Seawolves green and blue. It’s the epitome of a family-friendly spot; kids with soccer balls keep themselves entertained on the surrounding fields by taking shots into goals while the adults gather nearby to chat and grab refreshments before the match starts. It smells like well-manicured grass and summer days at the park. I’m in love already.
I leave my friends temporarily at the Chick’N Fix food truck, head past the concession stand and swag booth, get my bag checked, ticket scanned, hand stamped, and enter the stadium. The team is running warm-up drills on the pitch. As I stand at the perimeter field fence, the players are so close I could casually chat with them about what they ate for breakfast if I wanted to. Head Coach Allen Clarke walks up to some folks also standing near me and shakes their hands. I’ve never been to a major league sports event like this before—there’s almost no separation between the players and their fans. The whole atmosphere is refreshing. It feels personal, as if it’s the norm for the team to interact with the community at this level.
People keep steadily coming in and make their way to their seats. I head upstairs to grab myself a beer ($7 for stadium beer? I’ll take it!). When I get up there I see two women dressed head to toe in Seawolves gear. They look legit and one girl is eating a soft pretzel so I decide to approach. Their names are Mikaela Mattes and Kate Crabtree, it turns out they host the PNW Showdown Podcast. Mikaela and Kate cover a wide variety of Seattle sports but tell me rugby is special.
“There’s a high level of respect in this game,” Kate says. “It’s relatively new in the U.S., but people here are really willing to explain all the rules of the game and what’s going on so it feels very welcoming and friendly,” she explains.
Mikaela chimes in,”Yeah, it’s like its own little pod here…” They exchange a look at each other as they realize the Seawolves pun she just unintendedly made. “Ooh, that’s a good one. We should use that,” Kate tells Mikaela and we all laugh. They tip me off about an exciting distinction for tonight’s game. Referee Kat Roche, the first female lead referee in MLR history, is back at Starfire.
The match starts and my crew barely has enough time to get settled in our seats before the Seawolves make their first try (rugby’s version of a football touchdown or a soccer goal). The place goes wild. Green fireworks explode into the air. The Seawolves are leading the match within the first minute, not a bad way to start.
The Dallas Jackals attempt to make it a real game when they score a try of their own at minute 8. For a split second you start to think, can we pull off this win? The Seawolves respond at minute 12, as if to answer my question directly, yes. #TogetherWeHunt. And together, they make it happen. They score another try and AJ Alatimu makes the conversion.
These guys are huge and when their bodies collide the sound it creates upon impact is loud enough to make every single person in the stands wince slightly. I’m half in horror at the fact none of them are wearing pads and half think it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. The Seawolves dominate the pitch (aka the field). It seems like every time they get possession of the ball they systematically manage to drive their way towards the try zone.
Minute 19:40 – Seawolves score a try and conversion. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.
Minute 31:52 – Seawolves score a try. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.
Minute 34:16 – Seawolves score a try and conversion. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.
It’s the end of the first half and it isn’t looking good for the other team. Rucky the Seawolf, the team’s beloved Orca mascot, is making their way around waving and saying hello to all the families celebrating Mother’s Day. There’s a Mother and son duo sitting in front of me looking enthralled. I lean over and ask the kid where he got the Dippin’ Dots he’s eating. He’s missing a tooth when he turns around and smiles at me. He shyly tells me, “the concession stand at the entrance.” I ask him how old he is, “eleven.” It’s their first Seawolves game, the mom tells me. We politely chat about the beautiful weather and I let them get back to watching the game.
A whistle blows and the second half begins, but it’s already clear this will be a blowout. The Seawolves are relentless and won’t let up. Around the 60-minute mark, the Seawolves have scored so much that Starfire has run out of fireworks for celebration.
Jim Stewart Allen or “Broccoli Guy”, a local legend and 2nd-grade substitute teacher turned social media influencer, has been dancing all game at the try line. I can’t resist an opportunity to meet him in person and take a selfie. Jim says the Seawolves have been extending him the personal invite for their games but he started attending during the 2021 season. “Starfire is unique because you get to be so close to the players and the game. I find that Seawolves games create an environment for more fan engagement which is really fun to be around,” he says. And I feel it too.
When the scoreboard hits 80 minutes, the Seawolves stadium erupts in one last outburst of cheers and “Sweet Caroline” starts playing, setting the celebratory mood as folks file down the aisles towards the pitch and exit. We start to gather our belongings, but something strange is happening. No one is really leaving. The Seawolves and Jackals players are gathering together, shaking hands, taking photos, and in some cases even hugging one another. Weren’t you guys just trying to tear each other’s faces off?
Players from both teams are approaching the fence to greet the fans and thank them for coming out to the game. Even Referee Kat Roche comes over! I shake her hand, congratulate her on the game, give player JP Smith a high-five, and take a photo with Seawolf (and 2x Tam USA Rugby Olympian!) Martin Iosefo. It’s a celebration, but not just for the winners or even one team. It’s a celebration for the sport of rugby.
The final score turns out to be an MLR record-setting outcome of 74-7, the most points and tries ever scored by a single team and the largest margin of victory at 67 points. But all records aside, to me, the fan experience is about whether or not I see myself as being a part of the Seawolves community. After this amazing night, the answer is clear. So to you, dear reader, I share the secret of the Seawolves. You’ll thank me later.
Visit https://seawolves.rugby to learn more about the Seattle Seawolves and find tickets to upcoming matches.