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  • Ednold

Canby 11/12/21

This week was the second round of the playoffs, and we made our way to Canby to watch the Cougars host the defending state champion Thurston Colts in a matchup of the #4 and #5 ranked 5A teams in the state. Highway 99E runs through Canby in western Clackamas County just south of where the Molalla River enters the Willamette, and situated between Oregon City and Wilsonville and Woodburn and Molalla, the town is another one of those communities that are right in the middle of everything, yet surrounded by prime Willamette Valley farmland.

Canby’s town plat was filed in August of 1870, just about a week after the arrival in Oregon of the new Commander of the Army’s Department of the Columbia, Major General Edward Canby, so it was decided that the town would be named for the General. General Canby fought for the Union in the Civil War and later was the only General ever killed in the wars against the American Indians. He was killed by Captain Jack of the Modocs during the Modoc War in 1873 in what is now the Lava Beds National Monument just south of the Oregon-California Border. It seems like Canby was a decent guy, at least for the times he was in, but if you know the story of that conflict it’s hard not to feel at least as bad for Captain Jack as the guy whose throat he slashed.

Ralph Coleman

Twenty-two years after the General’s death, Ralph Coleman was born in Canby and went on to attend Canby High School, where he graduated in 1914. If you’ve ever attended a baseball game at Oregon State, you’ve been at the field named for him. He pitched for the Beavers his senior year and then coached the team for 35 seasons. I guess most people know that part, but did you know he spent his first three years in Corvallis as a middle-distance runner on the track team and, until WW1 broke out and the games were cancelled, was considered a top contender for a spot on the Olympic team? Another fun fact: Coleman’s coaching gig was just a side job that began as basically a volunteer position. So during the depression the university had him concentrate on his main job in the Physical Education Department and the younger Slats Gill coached the baseball team from 1932-1937 in addition to his duties as head basketball coach. Can you imagine how much you’d have to pay someone to do both of those jobs today? Not something we’ll probably ever see again. As well as having the baseball field named for him, Coleman was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

There were only a few hundred people in the town when the highway was built in 1920, but by the end of WW2 the town had more than 1,200 residents. It’s tripled in size in the past 50 years and now has over 15,000 residents, but 99E is still the main road through the middle of town and we drove through to see what we’d find.

Oddly, though Oregon City is the county seat of Clackamas County, we found the county fairgrounds right there in Canby, where they host the fair each August. We saw signs to the Canby ferry that operates on the Willamette just north of town, but we didn’t need a ferry so we kept driving and guess what we found? Canby has a roadhouse! The Highway 99 Roadhouse on the north end of town was pretty empty for our pregame snack, but we had fun playing an impromptu modified version of Name That Tune with the bartender and a few early-arriving Friday night regulars. I realized I can’t name a single song from this century, but for some reason I’m ok with that. I’m sure it has more to do with my impeccable taste in music than it does with my age. The Roadhouse is a big place with a roomy dancefloor and I would have stayed and cut a rug with the half-naked ghost of Patrick Swayze, but by the time our bowl of frickles was empty it was time to head to the football game.

With the growth of the town the high school has grown accordingly, but it still sits on the south side of town just north of the Molalla River, and the lights from the football field were a beacon as we approached the campus. We parked The Bucket in the lot just north of the field and paid our $8 each at the ticket booth on the north side, but there is also parking to the west, in front of the school, with a separate entry and ticket booth on that side. Canby are the Cougars, which is one of the most common team mascots. There are Cougars everywhere, but check out the Canby logo. That’s what you do when you have a common mascot and want to make it unique to your school. Somebody put a lot of effort into that and no other Cougars have one quite like it. Nice job, somebody.

The playing field is artificial turf and the grandstand for the home spectators is on the west side of the field attached to the back of the gymnasium. There is a large section of uncovered bleachers on the east side for the visitors. Those visitors’ bleachers are set up inside the running track just off the field, so the visiting fans are quite a bit closer to the action than are the home fans, which must have been nice for them. The facilities are generally very nice, but I did identify a few things that nowadays people would call “opportunities for improvement”. The PA speakers are all pointed out toward the field and the sound was perfect for the players and the visiting fans. But seated in the grandstand the announcer sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s mom. You could hear that he was saying something, but I didn’t understand a word he said all night. Also, as an athlete in training for the next summer Olympics I appreciated the opportunity to practice my coxswain sitting position for a few hours, but others may have been more comfortable with more than four inches between rows of aluminum bleachers. Things were a little tight.

Home (west) grandstand
East side visitors' seating

Now, to the positives. The grandstand is big. Not big enough for this state quarterfinal game, as much of the crowd was standing around the fenced-off field, but still big. The Cougar band is really good, and played appropriately loud music at the appropriate times. The national anthem included fireworks, and we had heard that they are also part of each touchdown celebration and were looking forward to seeing lots of them. The students and band have their own section, which was boisterous all night, and the rest of us had the rest of it. There’s a nice roof that covers the entire thing, and there are lights underneath that roof so we could see. And Canby has nailed the concessions. There are large, permanent structures on both the north and south sides to allow you to get a snack without standing in line for more than a minute or two. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about the quality of the food since once we took our seats it would have been impossible to get back to them. The old couple next to us were immobile, making any exit or reentry more trouble than it was worth, so we stayed put. But the rest of the crowd were full of spirit and the group of players’ moms in front of us knew all the cheers, and even got some of them started when the students were quiet for a few seconds, which wasn’t often. It was a huge contrast from last week’s game and it was fun to be in the middle of it all. And the weather? It was warm! And mostly dry. Mrs. Ednold claimed that it was raining, and it’s true that everything not under cover got wet so she was probably right. But it wasn’t much more than a misty sprinkling that didn’t last very long and, since it had stopped by the time we got up to leave, it’s almost like it had never happened.

Thurston, the defending state champs, came into this game as the District 4 champions with a perfect 8-0 record, while the Cougars sported an 8-2 record, good enough for second place in District 2. It seems like we’ve seen a lot of blowout games this season, but in a playoff game between the 4th and 5th ranked teams, I wasn’t expecting another one, and I was right. For three and a half quarters neither offense could consistently gain any yardage. Thurston got close enough in the first quarter to kick a field goal, but those were the only points scored through the first three quarters and we were prepared for a dramatic finish. But a few mistakes, both mental and physical, by the Cougars combined with a few curious calls by the referees that went against the Cougars, and Thurston took control of the game. They scored three times in a matter of just a few minutes to make the final score 20-0, but it was much closer than that and the lack of scoring didn’t detract at all from the excitement. This was the second time we’d seen Thurston play this season and neither of their opponents had an offense to speak of. I assume that won’t be the case as they attempt to defend their title over the next few weekends and it will be interesting to see how they fare.

In all of their years, dating back to before Ralph Coleman was a student, the Canby Cougars have never played in a state championship football game. With a win in this game they would have been one game away from that achievement and even though we were only Cougars for one night, it was tough to see their season come to an end. But as the clock was winding down the student section made their way to the sidelines to congratulate their team on a successful season and the moms led the “Love Our Cougars” cheer from the stands. And, though it may not have been their best performance of the season, they had had the Ednolds on hand to watch it, which I’m sure made everyone feel a little bit better.

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