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  • Ednold

Franklin 9/8/23

That lady in the GPS has a nice voice, but I don't always trust what she's telling me, and when she had me driving down Barbur Blvd. to get us to east Portland, I was a little skeptical that she knew what she was talking about. I had planned on taking 205, but she thought it would be better to go through downtown. A few minutes later, after flying right by the stalled traffic on I-5 down below, we were crossing the Ross Island Bridge right on time, headed to Franklin High School. They say Franklin is in southeast Portland. I say that if Portland was a dart board, Franklin might not be the bull's eye, but it could be the bull's lower eyelash. If Mt. Tabor was a few hundred feet taller and the earth's axis changed by about 20 degrees, you could say it sits in the shadow of Mt. Tabor. It's in that mysterious area right in between the three interstate freeways that us non-Portlanders seldom venture into unless it's for something special, like a football game. And the GPS lady really did know the fastest way to get us there.

Franklin High School dates to 1914, when it opened as Portland's fourth high school, after Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson, and the current building was opened three years later. A new addition was added in 1947 to make room for classes in art, home economics and industrial arts, and the whole thing was expanded and modernized again between 2015 and 2017. Its similarity to Roosevelt High School is no coincidence, since Roosevelt was modelled after the Franklin design, but if anything, Franklin is even more stunning to look at.

With almost 2,000 students Franklin is Portland’s second largest school, and it is huge. But even today, after the recent renovations and additions, it has a classy look. Those people a hundred years ago knew how to build schools, and Franklin’s got the classical colonial design including columns framing the north entrance, white-trimmed colonial block-paned windows, and a cupola on top. The symmetrical grounds create a park-like feel in both front and back, and there’s even a statue of Ben Franklin on the elevated lawn between the running track and the school, installed in 1942. Altogether, it just looks like a place where smart young people would go to school before going off to college and becoming really successful, and it makes me feel like, if I’d have gone to school here, I would have turned out a lot smarter than I did.

On a perfectly cool and dry evening for some football, we entered the parking lot from 52nd Street and found it closed but, luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve and I played it to the nice lady in charge. You see, Mrs. Ednold sprained her ankle recently and is practically immobile, and we have a temporary handicapped parking pass. It's just a piece of plastic that we hang on the rearview mirror, but it might as well be solid gold. They didn't move heaven and earth to accommodate us, but they did move a few tables and chairs and we found a perfect spot right next to the school just in time to partake in the Franklin Athletic Boosters community tailgater. They had some games, including the world's tiniest cornhole setup, and they had some food carts on hand for our dinner. This brought to mind that famous old Ben Franklin saying: "Hunger is the best pickle". I've never understood what he meant, but Corn dogs and French fries from the Rolling Cabana Grill seemed like an appropriate pre-game meal, and we ate in The Bucket so Mrs. Ednold could rest her aching ankle.

When it got closer to gametime we headed down to the grandstands on the west side of the football field. The uncovered aluminum stands are split in two, and we weren't sure who was supposed to sit where, but Mrs. Ednold spotted a few empty seats near the bottom of the south stands that she could get to in her semi-invalid state without too much difficulty, so we grabbed them. Soon we realized that we were sitting in the visitors section and the Franklin supporters were all in the north section, so for the first time we did not spend the evening with the home fans. We still rooted for the Lightning, but weren't too vocal about it. Everyone knew who we were rooting for, though, because on our way to our seats we were each given a Franklin bucket hat courtesy of a local orthodontist. I don't think they'll be getting much of our business, but now I can ride around in The Bucket with a bucket hat on my head.

The bleachers are a lowlight of the Jon Abraham Field. Abraham was a coach at Franklin for 28 years and his namesake stadium is a very nice venue. The artificial turf field surrounded by a rubber running track sits in a depression north of the school with the gym/locker rooms/athletic building on the east side and the statue of Ben watching on from the south. When it came time for the national anthem we also realized that the Franklin band was seated on the far north end of the north stands and, though we could hear them, they were a long ways away and making out what they were playing was confounded by the echo bouncing back from the gym a few seconds later. We were in position to see the Lightning cheerleaders at the south end of the other stands, but they were drowned out by the Warrior cheerleaders in front of us. If you can judge a cheerleading squad by the success of their team, though, they must have been pretty good.

Franklin has never been a powerhouse on the Portland sports scene, and in their 106 years have never played in a state championship football game. But Steve “Snapper” Jones did lead them to a basketball championship over Mel Counts’ Marshfield team in 1959. Jones went on to the U of O, then played professionally for several teams, including the Portland TrailBlazers, while the Quakers, as they were known then, went on a 60-year drought. They didn’t win another state title in anything until they won both the boys’ cross-country and soccer titles in 2019.

Former WNBA All-Star MVP Shoni Schimmel was a high school All-American and 2010 graduate of Franklin, and Legedu Naanee played quarterback at Franklin and graduated in 2002 before going to Boise State and then onto a short career as a receiver with the Chargers, Panthers, and Dolphins.

Hey! Remember Claire Phillips? The spy that came to the world’s attention when I wrote about her a few years ago? You may remember that she went to Franklin High School before running away with the circus. And did you know Douglas Engelbart went to Franklin, also? Me neither, but he did. Then he graduated from Oregon State and in 1967, while working for the Stanford Research Institute, he applied for and was granted a patent for the computer mouse he had invented. SRI didn’t really understand what it was and didn’t know what to do with it, so they eventually sold it to Steve Jobs for peanuts.

Regarding this next Franklin alum, somebody out there owes me an explanation. Specifically, why, exactly, have I heard Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners several thousand times and seen their video almost as many, and not one of you cared to inform me that “Poor Old Johnnie Ray” was born in Dallas, Oregon and attended Franklin High School. And those really are original shots of Johnnie and his fans in the video, from when he arrived at Heathrow in 1954. Explain to me how someone Tony Bennett called “the Father of Rock and Roll” and who, in the early 50s, was actually the biggest singer on the planet for a while, could have grown up right here without me even hearing of him. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, yet he was completely unknown to me. I had thought Johnnie was just some obscure British guy from Kevin’s Wolverhampton neighborhood, but no. For the past 33 years Johnie’s been in Hopewell Cemetery, just up the road from the Wheatland Ferry, and I’ve driven right by him a few times. Jonnie loved Oregon and his final gig was at a benefit for the Grand Theater in downtown Salem in 1989 but, other than a small exhibit at the Polk County Museum, Oregon seems to have forgotten him. I hope that inside the school somewhere is a plaque or bust of Johnnie, maybe in the music room or the theater. It would be a crime if any Franklin students don’t know his story. His style and his career were both unconventional and inspirational, and he’s worth a Google if nothing else.

As I mentioned, Franklin used to be the Quakers. But some people questioned the appropriateness of having a public school represented by an organized religion, so in 2019 they had to choose a new name. The Turkeys was one suggestion, but it got the axe. And I guess it’s not really all about the Benjamins, because that name was turned down too. Support for Sasquatch proved elusive, and whoever suggested The Meerkats may have done better with mere Cats. They were all rejected in favor of The Lightning. I’m not a big fan of using singular-noun inanimate objects for mascots, but they certainly could have done worse. And their roving mascot at the game is still big Ben, so I don't know how much it even mattered.

Franklin competes in the Portland Interscholastic League in the 6A classification. With the exception of a 4-2 record during the weinerpus season in the Spring of 2021, Franklin hasn’t had a winning season since moving up to 6A in 2014. It looked like that might change last season when they got out to a 4-0 start, only to lose their final 4 games to the 4 teams that finished above them in the PIL. But they’re off to another good start this season, having won their opener last week by a single point, 28-27, over Gresham, while tonight's opponent, Aloha, lost to David Douglas, 7-12.

I had readied several Franklin-themed similes and metaphors for the Lightning football team, but I should probably have saved the effort. I can't truthfully say they were electric. I can't say they were as hot as a small metal-lined stove. Their play was not as poetic as music played on an armonica. It's not true that even a man wearing bifocals could see how terrific they are. They are good, but it took them a while to get going in this game, and despite the final 35-0 victory, they never were electric, or any of those other things. I guess I could say they showed flashes of how good they can be. It was 0-0 after the first quarter before they came alive to lead 21-0 at halftime.

I took the intermission to get up and try to take some more pictures, but that would not be happening. Franklin has partnered with a non-profit group to provide security at their games, and they wouldn't let me just wander. There were fences and barricades and security guards at every turn. It was nice to know someone was keeping the shadier folks in attendance on a short leash, but you'd think someone like Ednold would be exempt from the rules everyone else has to follow. If the quality of the pictures suffered this week, now you know why. I did have a chance to pick up some popcorn and coffee from the snack bar behind the stands before returning to my seat, both of which were adequate to get me through the second half.

When play resumed the Lightning picked up where they had left off and scored once in each of the final two quarters. Their final score, coming with 10 minutes remaining, meant that the clock ran continuously after that, to everyone's relief, even the fans in the visitors' section. But Aloha just isn't very good, so it's hard to judge how the Lightning will do against better competition. Regardless, they are now 2-0, which isn't something most teams can claim, and with a little luck they just may have a shot at their first winning season in a decade if they don't forget what Ben used to say: Diligence is the mother of good luck.

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