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caption: The Royal Guard is the official fan group of the OL Reign, staking out sections 122 and 123 at Lumen Field.
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The Royal Guard is the official fan group of the OL Reign, staking out sections 122 and 123 at Lumen Field.
Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan

Meet the Royal Guard, the OL Reign's most dedicated supporters

For the OL Reign, it's been a decade-long journey to Lumen Field.

The Reign, a founding member of the National Women's Soccer League, initially played at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila before moving to Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center. Then there were three seasons at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma before returning to Seattle.

This last weekend marked the first playoff game for the team in their new stadium, and more than 21,000 fans filled the seats. While this post-season journey ended in disappointment, the Reign's most loyal and inclusive fan club, The Royal Guard Supporters Group, say they're just getting started.

Jai Hillard has been with the Royal Guard since 2018, playing drums the group brings into the stadium, waving flags, and making lots of noise.

Being part of the Royal Guard has changed since Hillard joined the group and games were held at Memorial Stadium.

"You can see the metallic walls that MoPop has, you see the Space Needle, you can see the Monorail," Hillard recalled. "It was a really cool, cozy stadium."

Shortly after that season, the Reign moved to Tacoma, and the relocation made it more difficult for fans in Seattle to attend games.

"The silver lining was that people from Tacoma and Olympia and further south in the Sound really came out for the Reign in an awesome way," Hillard said. "And now that we've moved back to Seattle, and we're at Lumen Field, you see that there are just so many people from all over who come to the games."

caption: Jai Hillard has attended Reign games since 2018, back when the team played at Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center.
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Jai Hillard has attended Reign games since 2018, back when the team played at Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center.
Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan

Adrienne Wu helps direct those supporters. From a podium at the front of the stands, she cues chants to the Royal Guard, helping point as much as possible toward the pitch.

"There's no routine," Wu said. "I just get onto the stand and let the energy of the crowd carry me. It's pure adrenaline."

The Guard has had to fill up even more stadium since the move to Lumen Field, and Wu says the section has continued to grow, along with the number of chants in their repertoire.

The group's "theme song" is titled "From the Sound," and can be heard as powerful shouts of "OL Reign, allez, from the Sound to great Tahoma, we sing for OL Reign!"

caption: Adrienne Wu is the lead capo for the Royal Guard, orchestrating chants from a stand at the front of the field.
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Adrienne Wu is the lead capo for the Royal Guard, orchestrating chants from a stand at the front of the field.
Credit: KUOW / Alex Rochester

To keep the music heavy and booming, Ken Yasuhara mans an old bass drum fitted into a stand, a banner connecting it to a tandem drum farther across the aisle.

"Back when we were in Memorial Stadium, I noticed that there were only four or five people cheering, and it looked like fun," Yasuhara said. "So I joined them, and I never looked back. And actually, I never really played the drums before either. But when you're small, we do what we can."

Yasuhara's drum is the pulse for the section's chants, which alternate music responsibilities with the Reign City Riot, an in-stand pep band one section over.

But music isn't the only thing adding to the Royal Guard atmosphere.

"I noticed there weren't very many people coming out to the Reign games in Memorial [Stadium], so I wrote a comic about them," said local artist Amy Camber.

Camber designs the "tifo" for various matches throughout the season, a large, hand-painted mural that's hoisted in front of the section at the start of each game.

"Memorial [Stadium] was hard because there was no infrastructure for hanging anything," Camber explained. "We were holding sheets up from the stands."

Her favorite tifo is from the close of last season, featuring a phoenix rising from a dumpster fire.

"The league had its first major story break about the abuse that was happening in the NWSL, and so it felt like a major dumpster fire," Camber said. "And yet, we have these players here, and we have this team here, and we wanted to support them."

caption: Ken Yasuhara and Amy Camber help bang the drums and paint the tifos (the canvas murals designed for individual games).
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Ken Yasuhara and Amy Camber help bang the drums and paint the tifos (the canvas murals designed for individual games).
Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan

Mark Cannizzaro was there at the beginning, when the Reign played their first games at the Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.

"It was pretty horrible in most ways," he recalled. "It was very difficult to get to. It was not appropriate for professional players."

As the team has moved, Canizaro has been there at every step. He's now the vice president for The Royal Guard Supporters Group. This weekend's festivities were a highlight that stood out, especially after the team almost left the state.

"I was convinced that we were going to lose our team," Canizaro said.

The move to Tacoma was a lifeline that also expanded the team's fandom. It also helps that the team has stayed consistent through the last 10 years of play – the Reign has three players and a coach who have been with the team for their entire career.

caption: Mark Cannizzaro and John Edwards hoist their scarves in support. Both have been members of the Royal Guard for years.
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Mark Cannizzaro and John Edwards hoist their scarves in support. Both have been members of the Royal Guard for years.
Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan
OL Reign_Flags
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Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan

"It is so glorious to get the recognition of what we're seeing," Canizaro said. "We have people streaming in. We've wanted this for years. We wanted to see it in other stadiums as well."

Jon Edwards, a fellow Guard member since 2015, agrees. He spent his early days in the stands farther afield from the Royal Guard, but he's now a season ticket holder with a rightful place in The Keep, the sections that house the group.

"I think it just draws you in," he said. "You get more and more involved because you want the game to be bigger and bigger for the players."

caption: More than 21,000 fans attended Sunday's fixture against the Kansas City Current. Kansas City ultimately prevailed, defeating the OL Reign 2-0.
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More than 21,000 fans attended Sunday's fixture against the Kansas City Current. Kansas City ultimately prevailed, defeating the OL Reign 2-0.
Credit: KUOW / Alec Cowan

Sunday's game was a raucous atmosphere, but the team ultimately lost to the Kansas City Current 2-0.

There is one silver lining from the season, however – the Reign won the NWSL Community Shield for having the best regular season record. And for the Royal Guard, the next game at Lumen Field can't come soon enough.

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