Just under 10 miles and 15 minutes away, along the WA-512 highway in the heart of Puyallup, Wash., lies Sparks Stadium, the home field for the Pacific Lutheran University football team. Sparks Stadium doesn’t just serve as PLU’s home field but also serves as the home field for the Puyallup school district athletics like soccer and football.
Two brothers, Brady Winter, a first-year, and DJ Winter, a sophomore, played football for Puyallup High School and currently play for PLU. They both have spent the majority of their high school and collegiate football careers in the wake of Sparks Stadium. However, playing at Sparks in high school was a much different experience than playing there at the collegiate level.
“In high school, under the lights, there was a huge student section…the band was bigger than PLU’s,” DJ recalled. “It’s hard to beat that Friday Night Lights.”
Brady remembered running out on the field through the tunnel on a Friday night through a shroud of smoke while hearing the roar of a home crowd as a Puyallup Viking. His first experience as a Lute though, was much different than how he remembered high school games.
“The first time I ran out the tunnel, it was just weird because it was during the day,” Brady said. “The band isn’t as prevalent, and there wasn’t students going nuts.”
In the eyes of football players, coaches, recruits, fans and the athletic director, a football stadium is what the school needs. PLU is the only team in the conference without their own football stadium with the exception of Whitman, who doesn’t have a football team. Other schools like Pacific, George Fox and their rival Linfield have state-of-the-art, on-campus stadiums that satisfy a football player’s and a fan’s desire for a game day atmosphere.
Even Brady admits to preferring his opponents’ fields over Sparks.
“I love playing at other people’s places,” Brady said. “They have great atmosphere, great tailgating, a huge screen that they play video on before they go out.”
The issue of building a stadium for PLU is not anything new. The late, great coach Frosty Westering, who died in 2013, spent the latter years of his life trying to figure out ways to raise money and support to build a stadium. Current head coach and son of Frosty, Scott Westering, has also pressed the issue of building a stadium or at least a football building, with their own locker room and individual coaching offices.
“I feel athletics at this school are sometimes dismissed,” DJ sounded. “To be a relevant program we are going to have to at some point make that football building happen or the stadium.”
As a historically successful football team, the idea of building a stadium is not a priority in the eyes of higher administration. Meanwhile, interest in football is lower compared to other schools with on-campus stadiums.
“It’s less personal, the campus doesn’t know about it as much,” Brady said. “If you get more people, you’re more excited to play, and it would be a better atmosphere.”
The Winter brothers have played most of their football careers with each other and are happy with their decision to play at PLU. For Brady, the absence of a stadium doesn’t deter from the experience of playing Division III football although it would certainly be an added bonus.
For DJ, a stadium would help push PLU football to greater heights in terms of fan interaction with the team to create a bigger spectacle because he enjoys the “glitz and glamour” of the game.
As for the reality of actually having an on-campus stadium in the near future, the probability looks bleak. For now, the team will continue to pile into their own cars and drive themselves to their own home games.
“We were driving, we were laughing and joking around and then we turned the music off,” Brady remembered. “We realized we were driving to our first college home game.”