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  • Ednold

Gaston 9/30/23

We chose a Saturday afternoon game this week to change things up a bit, and for week 5 of the season we drove up Highway 47 through Yamhill County. It may have been more appropriate if we'd taken a bus and spent the trip sippin' on gin and (grapefruit) juice, since we were going to see the Greyhounds, but we didn't. There wasn't a cloud in the sky on the last day of September, and there is no contradiction in saying that it was both comfortably cool and pleasantly warm. It was one of those rare days when both statements were true. Some of the leaves had begun to turn and fall, and that drive, which is scenic on the worst of days, was at its best. We had almost entered Washington County before we saw the sign welcoming us to Gaston, but not quite. The southern edge of town sticks out into Yamhill County, and the rest of the small town, population somewhere south of 1,000 people, is just north of the county line.

The town is surrounded by farm and timber country, along with the Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a wetland that was drained for farmland in the 1800s but has largely been restored to its natural state. The wine industry has also crept into the surrounding area, and now several wineries can be found within a few miles of the town. The guy who drained Wapato Lake, Joseph Gaston, was trained as a lawyer but had gotten involved in the railroad business during the 1860s. He was hoping Oregon's main railway line would run on the west side of the Willamette Valley, but when the supporters of the east side railway eventually won that legal battle, Gaston settled near the Tualatin River in southern Washington County and helped the area grow from a small railroad stop into an actual town. He was the prime booster for the community and donated land for its first school, and for his efforts the town, which was incorporated in 1914, was named for him.

In 1915 a high school was built on the land Joseph Gaston had donated on the hillside above the main street, and that high school was in use through 1987. When the old building was condemned that year, the county threatened to combine the Gaston district with Forest Grove, and residents were motivated to construct an updated school. Just five years ago the current version of Gaston High School was finished and, though not spectacular, it's pretty impressive given the size of Gaston.

We had some time, though, before the 3:00 kickoff to find a suitable lunch spot in town. The highway serves as the center of commerce for Gaston, so we strolled the few blocks and decided the Screamin' Chicken Diner would do the job. Mrs. Ednold played it safe and had pancakes for lunch, while I more adventurously chose the Roadkill Burger. I never thought I'd say it, but that possum was awesome!

Fully stuffed, we headed up the hill a few blocks to the high school. I didn't know if their football team was any good, but it would be hard to beat the view from Gaston High School on a clear day. The junior and senior high schools share half of the Gaston campus, and the elementary school is just around the corner, so there was plenty of parking in the vicinity and someone had been considerate enough to place several signs pointing us to the ticket booth. We found that booth between the elementary school and the high school just northeast of the football field and paid our $6 each for entry and a printed program, which is something else Gaston does right: These days, where many schools just post a QR code on a lamppost and consider that a proper program, Gaston printed theirs, which contained the rosters, and also included a couple of QR codes on the back in case you want other information. It's a thoughtful touch that I hope catches on elsewhere.

We followed the concrete path to the field and found the home seating area on the east side in a relatively large length of uncovered wooden bleachers. It's not fancy, or the most comfortable thing I've ever sat on, but it wasn't aluminum and there was ample room, so there was no reason to complain. On the opposite side of the natural grass playing field could be found some smaller aluminum bleachers, which appeared to be about the right size for the visiting crowd from Corbett, as well as the announcer's booth which includes a snack bar on the bottom level. There are lights around the field, and Gaston usually plays their home games on Friday nights so I'm not sure why this game was being played on a Saturday afternoon, but they picked a perfect day for it.

We walked into a very casual atmosphere where some had chosen to set up camp chairs at the edge of the field and watch the action from there, and others milled around the sidelines without ever sitting at all. We opted not to sit in the far north corner of the bleachers, which a sign told us was The Pit, which we assumed was the student section. Instead, we planted our butts in the middle, in what turned out to be the parents and little siblings' section. More than one mom had spent some time making signs to hold up, encouraging their sons and letting us know who they considered to be the star of the show. Jaxton's mom sitting next to us didn't have a sign, but after you meet someone's parents it's hard not to root for them, and we did. There is no track around the field, so our seats were close to the action and directly behind the Gaston bench.

Gaston doesn't have a pep band, or cheerleaders. There was no halftime show, this wasn't homecoming or any other special occasion, and there never was an organized group of students cheering on their team in any organized way. But the residents of Gaston took advantage of the flawless early autumn weather to come out in force to support their Greyhounds and catch up with their family and friends, and they didn't seem to miss any of those traditional trappings of high school football.

Gaston plays in Special District 1 of the 2A classification. They lost their first two non-league games this season but have rebounded to win their first two league games. They have never played in a state championship game, but made the playoffs in 2021, their first winning season in a long time, before returning to their losing ways last season. The Corbett Cardinals were coming in at 1-3, so this was a great opportunity for the Greyhounds to stay unbeaten in the league and make another run at the playoffs.

As far as I'm aware, Gaston are the only team in Oregon with Greyhounds as a mascot. Greyhounds are the fastest dogs in the world. They’re built for speed, and there used to be dog tracks all over the country where they could show their stuff. Until 20 years ago you could watch them at the Multnomah Kennel Club. Before each race, as the dogs were getting ready to enter the gate, the guy on the loudspeaker would announce “Rrrrrrusty’s Rready!!” I believe Rusty was the mechanical hare they would chase, and when he was ready you knew it was time to sit down and watch the action. The races were fun to watch but the tracks weren’t money makers and animal rights groups, probably with good cause, spoke out loudly against them and today there are only two tracks left in operation in the whole country, both in West Virginia. Many former racing dogs, like Santa’s Little Helper, have been adopted and now lead more sedentary lives, though I’ve yet to see a fat greyhound.

In very ungreyhound-like fashion, the Greyhounds didn't exactly bolt from the starting gate when play began. Both 9-man teams were able to move the ball well, but several turnovers by each team put an end to scoring opportunities early. But the Greyhounds gradually asserted themselves and went into halftime with a 14-0 lead. They sprinkled a few passing plays into their predominantly run-oriented attack that featured lots of pitches and options, and once they stopped turning the ball over were able to sustain some long drives.

Throughout the action the announcer was one of the highlights and very comparable to his counterpart in Colton. I couldn't see him, but I have a picture in my mind of a friendly grandfatherly person who has seen many a high school football game and knows what the job of an announcer at a 2A football game on a sunny Saturday afternoon should be, and he hit that note perfectly.

With no festivities to watch at halftime, I made my way across to the snack bar underneath the announcer's booth. With a belly still half full of roadkill I wasn't terribly hungry, and coffee didn't sound good on a warm afternoon, so I just got a bag of microwaved popcorn and a Diet Pepsi. I hadn't experienced fresh-from-the-oven popcorn at a football game before, but it works, and it certainly wasn't cold. And the small crew running the booth did a nice job keeping the line moving while bringing in money for the booster club and the senior class, so it was all good.

In the third quarter Gaston really hit their stride and ran off 28 unanswered points, and I'm not exactly sure what their secret was. The teams appeared evenly matched in both numbers of players and the size and speed of those players. There were no obvious mismatches anywhere, so I'm afraid there may just be something in all of those coaching cliches that usually just make me roll my eyes: Maybe the Greyhounds just "wanted it more". Maybe they just "executed better". Maybe they had a better "focus on fundamentals" or did a better job of taking things "one game at a time". Whatever it was, it separated the two teams that seemed to be physically fairly even.

By the end of the third quarter the score was 42-0 in favor of the Greyhounds, and they were understandably content for that to stand as the final score. They still aren't even ranked in the top 20 in the state, but they're now 3-0 in league and in good position to stake out a spot in the playoffs. And, given their dominance against the Cardinals, might this be the year they finally make it all the way to a championship game? “Rrrrrrusty’s Rready!!”

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