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  • Ednold

Coquille 9/22/23

Something I've noticed over the years is that, for some reason, it always seems like the first day of autumn is the best day of the year. The weather is always nice and everyone's always extra nice to me. I don't know what that's about, but that streak was fully intact as I headed south toward the town of Coquille. Mrs. Ednold still thinks it's more important to pay the bills than attend football games. Someday she'll see the light, but on this night I was on my own. For the first time I had gotten onto Highway 38 south of Cottage Grove and headed for the coast, not knowing what to expect, but it turned out to be a very scenic route. It's a little twisty and turny, and a little up-and-downy, but for scenery on a beautiful day it's hard to beat. And as soon as I turned off the interstate I had a Police escort the rest of the way, making things even better. Sting and the boys were pretty dang good.

Eventually I arrived in Coquille, a town of 4,000 or so, about a half-hour up the Coquille River from the coast in a wide, fertile valley. The natives of several Coquille villages in the area were moved to the Siletz reservation in the mid-1800s when white settlers began moving in, and before long the settlement became a small but thriving community based on timber and dairy products. The first post office was opened in 1870 and the town was incorporated in 1885. Steamboats were soon carrying both passengers and cargo between Coquille and Bandon, and a railway was running up to Marshfield, on Coos Bay, connecting the small town to the rest of the world. Even after Highway 101 bypassed Coquille in 1960, the town survived due to the strength of its wood products industry.

Through the first several decades of Coquille's existence, the county seat of Coos County had been Empire City. But in 1895 county residents voted to move that designation to Coquille, which was done the following year. And now neither Empire nor Marshfield exist anymore: Marshfield changed its name to Coos Bay in 1944, and in 1965 Empire City voted to merge with Coos Bay, so Empire is now just a neighborhood within the larger city, on the west side of town.

Coquille is bisected by a wetland through which the Calloway and Cunningham creeks run, separating the town into eastern and western sections of approximately the same size. The lumber mill with its huge log pond, the high school, and several residential neighborhoods make up the western portion, while the hospital, county courthouse, business district, and more residential neighborhoods can be found to the east.

I had a little time to kill before the game started, and I didn't have any trouble finding something to do. I could have driven twenty miles east up into the mountains and seen the tallest living Douglas fir tree in the world, but The Bucket let me know that he wasn’t really up for it. The tree is over 300 feet tall, so maybe one day I'll leave The Bucket at home and go see it by myself. I also could have driven a few miles northwest to see the former site of Beaver Hill. My world has changed drastically lately. Just a few weeks ago I had thought I knew everything there was to know. Then I found out who Johnnie Ray really was. And this week I learned something else I hadn't known: Coal mining used to be a thing in Oregon. Seriously.

In the late 1800s and the first decade or two of the 1900s, many people made their living digging up coal and shipping it to San Francisco, and the biggest mine was at Beaver Hill. There’s nothing left of the company town today, but in the 1890s it had over 100 black residents, many recruited from the mines back east. One of those was one Preston Jeter, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in the 1870s. He later moved to Seattle, where he married Clarice Lawson in 1914, and they went on to have seven children. Their youngest daughter, Lucille, married Al Hendrix in 1942 and later that year their first child was born. Initially Lucille named him Johnny, then his dad renamed him James, but eventually the world knew him as Jimi. No, YOU get outta town! It's true: Jimi Hendrix' grandfather had been a coal miner in Coos County, Oregon.

Instead, I drove to the riverfront, where I took a little stroll along the River Walk. The paved path along the Coquille River was built on land that had originally been an important commercial area for the town, but when Highway 42 replaced the original main street, land to the south along the river was cut off from the commercial life of Coquille. So they built the River Walk on that land, and now you can get some steps in while you read about the town's history on several signboards place along the route.

Then I walked around the downtown area for a while. It's a small town, so after a few blocks in each direction I had seen the main attractions. There's the courthouse, of course. If it doesn't look quite like your typical courthouse, that's because the main building, built in 1916, was originally just an addition to the original courthouse. When the main building was torn down in 1951, that addition became the courthouse and it got two additions of its own, one on the east side and one on the west.

Then there are the impressive-looking Sawdust Theater and the Coquille Broiler. There were lots of likely spots downtown for my pre-game nosh, but the Broiler is right on the corner of the highway and Central Blvd., the road that connects the two halves of the town, and it's housed in an old bank building, so I had to check it out. It's a little more casual inside than the exterior would lead you to believe, but that suited me fine, and the food was extremely good.

Then it was time to drive up Central Blvd. and find the high school, back in west Coquille. You can't miss it and, conveniently, the huge, paved parking lot is right inside the gate. The sun was still bright and, though forest fire smoke threatened to drop down from the surrounding mountains, the breeze from the west kept the skies blue over Coquille. I stopped by the booth on the north side of the field just long enough to hand over a $5 bill to get inside, then I grabbed a seat in the top row of the rapidly-filling grandstands. It's a beautiful, old wooden stand with comfortable wooden benches. On the far side there is a small set of aluminum bleachers for the visitors, but they went unused by the Cascade Christian crowd who traveled well and took over much of the main grandstand.

The Coquille football team has played in two state championship games and won them both. They did it in 1970 and again in 2021. Their 1939 team deserves a mention, though, also. That team went undefeated and outscored their opposition 320-0 during the regular season. Then they lost to Medford in the Southern Oregon championship game, 6-0. Everett Smith, a halfback on that Coquille team, went on to Oregon State and won the Rose Bowl with the Beavers before joining the Marines and being killed in the South Pacific.

After winning that championship in 2021, the Red Devils moved up a level last season and currently play in the 3A classification in Special District 3, and were 2-1 so far this season after a close loss last week to North Valley. This would be a tough league game against a league-leading and undefeated Cascade Christian team from Medford that had beaten that same North Valley team by 23 points in the season opener. The Challengers were also undefeated state champions last season, so were riding a 16-game winning streak into this game. The christians against the Devils; matchups don't get much more epic than that.

When the Red Devils ran out on the field before the game, they did so through a ring of fire, continuing their devilish theme. It was pretty cool until, moments later, the band struck up the University of Oregon fight song. In all of human history, nobody has ever heard that song and then gone on to victory in any meaningful game, and on this night it spelled doom for the Red Devils. Unlike in the real world, the Christians had no trouble vanquishing their demons, and their domination began not long after that song was finished.

The lonely, east side visitors bleachers

The Devils did march down the field in the first quarter to take an early 7-0 lead, but by the end of that quarter they trailed 7-13, and by halftime it was 7-33. The deficit was 14-49 by the end of the third, and the fact that the clock ran continuously throughout the final quarter didn't stop the Challengers from scoring again, making the final score 56-14. The Challengers ran and passed at will, but it wasn't all Will's fault. Nobody else could stop them either. The Coquille offense was largely ineffective, and they may not have completed a single pass all night. Their running scheme, some weird type of wishbone thing, was tricky and probably works well when the matchups are right, but Cascade Christian was just faster and stronger all around. Add to that the Red Devil's complete inability to provide any resistance to the Challengers' offense, and it was a long night for the home team, and it didn't help matters that the visitors chose to leave their starters in for the entire game, running up the score long after the outcome was in doubt.

Both the band and the small 7-member cheer squad had been bright spots in an otherwise kind of painful evening, and another was the Devil's Hut snack bar. Somewhere in the middle of all of the Challengers scoring all those points, I made my way down to get my popcorn and coffee. I don't know if it was because their grandstands had been invaded by so many visitors or if that's just the way they do things in Coquille, but many of the home fans had eschewed the comforts of a grandstand seat for a place in the large group of people loitering on the running track near the Devil's Hut. Maybe they just wanted to be close to the popcorn, which was theater-quality and possibly the best football popcorn I've ever had. Or maybe it was the proximity to the coffee machine, because when I went to get mine, they were down to their last coffee pod. "All we have is this one pod of Chai Latte. That okay?" I didn't know what that was, but she promised me it would be hot, so I went with it. I still don't know what it is or what's in it, but it was actually pretty tasty.

And that was my evening in Coquille. It's a nice place with nice people and an interesting history. And I think their football team is probably even better than they looked tonight. but if you're expecting me to change the name to Cold Popcorn and Hot Chai Latte, don't hold your breath.

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