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  • Ednold

Mapleton 9/30/22

For week five of the 2022 season I made the trip to Mapleton. It’s a trip I’d already made with Mrs. Ednold during the weinerpus season, but our plans to see that football game had been foiled by the zealously-applied Covid precautions of the locals. We weren’t related to any of the players so we weren’t allowed on the premises. I wasn’t too pleased with that, but we ended up at our back-up game at Siuslaw that night where we saw them beat Sutherlin handily. So, Mapleton was still on my list and I figured this would be as good a time as any to try again.

I had to go solo this time, and since we’d taken Highway 36 the first time, I decided to switch things up and get on Highway 126 at Veneta and head through the Coast Range. I wondered, as I drove, how much Mapleton had changed since last I was there. I wasn’t too shocked to find that it’s still, after a year and a half, still a small town of about 1,000 people, and it’s still in Lane County about 15 miles up the Siuslaw River from Florence. There was originally a post office called Seaton established in 1885 just upriver from what became Mapleton. Then the Bean family moved to the Mapleton area the following year, and Julia “Grandma” Bean noticed there were lots of maple trees around, and named the place accordingly. By 1889 the post office had been relocated to Mapleton and Grandma Bean became the postmaster, but it was seven more years before the name of the post office was changed to match that of the town.

Today Mapleton consists of a bridge across the Siuslaw, some residences and a tiny business district along the riverfront on the west side of the river, and a larger residential district near the elementary and high schools on the east side. Prior to the game a made a quick stop at Frank’s Place in that little business district for some refreshment. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. But sometimes you just want to go where people treat you like they’ve never seen you before. Frank’s had been nice when Mrs. Ednold and I stopped by for a pregame meal a year and a half ago, but I didn’t expect anyone to call out my name when I walked in, so I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t happen. I only had time for a short drink, so I ordered it, paid for it, drank it, and was on my way. I like Frank’s, and maybe in the spring of 2024, like a comet, I’ll pass through again.

Back across the bridge in east Mapleton, I drove up East Mapleton Road to the school and drove around back and up the hill to the parking lot. It’s a funny parking lot on top of a hill that separates the high school and middle school from the elementary school, and the road to the top could use a guardrail. I would be shocked if no car has ever gone off that road and tumbled 50 feet to the ground below, so when I made it successfully to the top and parked The Bucket I already felt like I’d accomplished something. From that vantage point you can look down on the tops of the different school buildings on either side, most of them looking like they've been there for many decades. Built in the 1950's maybe? The 40's? Earlier than that? I'm not sure, but there was a sense that Mapleton High School has been there a while and hasn't changed all that much over the years.

Then I made that walk that I’d made once before, toward the entrance and the lady standing in front of it with her little cash box, half expecting someone to approach me with a clipboard and tell me I wasn’t welcome. It didn’t happen though, and the polite lady took my $5 bill and I was so grateful I told her to keep the dollar I had coming back to me. She had earned it. Then I did my little stroll around the grounds to see what the Mapleton football team was working with.

I found that one unique feature of Mapleton High School is their running track, located up on a plateau behind the football field. Built, as it is, between the football field on one side, a mountain on another, and homes on the other, there apparently was no space for a traditional oval track, so the track is triangular in shape and only 300 meters long, instead of the usual 400. It’s actually a pretty clever solution to the small space they had to work with, but for many years they couldn’t host meets at Mapleton because the track didn’t meet the criteria for setting records. None other than University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman got involved and petitioned to allow national records to be set on tracks of non-standard lengths, and he used the Mapleton track to demonstrate his case. He was successful, and now meets can be held on the Bill Bowerman track in Mapleton, but I don’t know of any national records that have been set on it.

The football grandstand is on the slope between the track and the north side of the football field. It’s an old wooden structure with a press box on top accessed by a ladder from the top row of bleachers. Some portable bleachers are set up on the south side of the field for visitors, but the seating appeared to be wood instead of the usual aluminum, which is nice. The concessions and bathrooms are just beyond the east end zone next to a playground that was probably the most popular spot in the whole place, at least with the little kids and their moms. Somebody nailed it when they came up with that idea. In the middle of it all is a natural grass field.

Home (north) Grandstand

To match the size of their town, Mapleton also has a small football team that competes in 1A Special District 2 North, a 6-man league. They came into this game with a 1-3 record, and this would be a non-league contest for them. That one win is already one more than they had all of last season. 2021 would have been their first at the 6-man level after playing 8-man for several years, if they could have found six players. As it was, they took a year off and now they're back. Mapleton has never played in a state title game, but they went 6-4 and made the playoffs in 2019 and had a winning 3-2 record in the spring of 2021.

Hey, I have one for you: What’s black and white and green and played a football game in Mapleton? Riddle! Riddle is a town. That was a riddle about Riddle. That’s kind of funny. Or, maybe not. Riddle won their first two games of the season before losing 55-0 to Glendale last week, so I was curious to see which Riddle team would show up. Riddle are the Irish, if you were wondering, and Mapleton are the Sailors, I guess because the town is located at the head of navigable waters on the Siuslaw River. Their mascots are Salty and his gal Sally. Four years ago the school considered retiring the Salty logo in favor of something new, but when it was put to a community vote Salty won in a landslide, so he got to stay. If you’re curious about the insignia on his sleeve, Salty appears to be a Petty Officer First Class, and those four stripes mean he’s served for at least 16 years. Assuming he enlisted right out of high school, he’s in his mid-30’s, and has been for several decades. I didn’t see Sally at the game, but Salty was there, conspicuously high-fiving little kids and strutting around with the swagger of a true sailor. I'm always a little suspicious of anyone that handsome and happy, and some of the smaller children were frightened of that giant Tom Cruise smile, but everyone else loves him and he obviously holds a special place in the hearts of Mapletonians. It is a pretty impressive outfit and with no band or cheerleaders at the game Salty was on his own to create a little gameday atmosphere, and he did.

South side visitors' seating

There may have been a few hundred spectators altogether, but most of them opted to stand around the field or watch from the top of the slope above, or hang out at the playground. Without a band playing or cheerleaders cheering, and only the mute Salty to provide any spirit, there was nothing to hold the small crowd together and they dispersed throughout the area, making for a strangely quiet game, at least for the first three quarters.

The Sailors got off to a fast start, running and passing equally well to jump out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. Riddle got 6 points of their own in the second quarter to draw within 8 by halftime. With no halftime show to watch, I decided that would be a good time to have dinner, and the cheeseburger meal from the concession stand was outstanding. If Mapleton ever has another season without a football team I suggest they just open up a restaurant at the field called The Concession Stand and sell cheeseburgers every Friday night. They'd do very well.

After three quarters the Irish had scored again and the Mapleton lead was down to 2, and another score early in the fourth quarter gave the Irish the lead, 18-14. A few minutes later, as the sailors looked to be about to score the go-ahead touchdown with about five minutes remaining, I saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: The Mapleton quarterback handed the ball off to an opposing player. Or he held the ball out and the opposing player took it. Either way, it was weird. The big fella from Riddle grabbed the ball and went rumblin’, bumblin’ and stumblin’ about 50 yards before a gang of Sailors were finally able to bring him to ground. It was amazing, and may have been the farthest that big guy had ever run in his life.

So, as the night got a little cooler and a little ground fog started collecting around the players on the field, Riddle had the ball and were ready to put the game to bed. Until the Sailors forced a fumble on the five yard line and recovered the ball! The crowd, and I, went crazy. Still within four points, a game-winning 95 yard drive with 3:54 remaining seemed very possible. It was at this point that one of the Mapleton coaches became cheerleader, waving his towel and exhorting the crowd to get on their feet and cheer our Sailors on to victory. I was just one of many on the sidelines yelling like a madman, trying to summon a miracle from an exhausted Sailor team.

According to the printed roster, the Sailors have 10 players on their team, but only 8 had suited up for the game, and there may have been a few of them who were on the field for every single play. Little #2, who may have weighed 90 pounds soaking wet and wearing his lead underpants, and Big Emily were the two who spent the most time on the sidelines. When #2 would get in the game he’d get flattened by someone three times his size and hop back up, ready to do it again. Emily didn’t play a lot, but when she did she held her own and gave her teammates a much needed break for a play or two. It was pretty inspiring to watch, knowing they were the only two subs the team could call on, and the stamina of the rest of them was remarkable.

The entire Mapleton roster

I may as well have saved my breath. The Sailors were unable to get a first down and gave the ball over to the Irish, who scored quickly to put the game out of reach with just over a minute left. But it was still fun. I don’t know what the other 700 or 800 people in Mapleton were doing that night, but whatever it was it didn’t have the excitement or the drama of what they missed by not being at the football game. And even if the game was lousy you'd still get that feeling that you’re watching a football game being played under the lights in a clearing in the middle of a forest, because you ARE watching a football game being played under the lights in a clearing in the middle of a forest! And there are little kids running around playing and bumping fists with a big, smiling Salty and parents cheering on their players and a nice lady grilling cheeseburgers on the edge of the end zone. It’s pretty awesome.

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Gil Stewart
Gil Stewart
Oct 01, 2022

It was before your time....the fall of 1956 when Sharon Sheperd arrived on the Linfield College campus, fresh out of Mapleton High, where she was an athletic powerhouse, and just weeks away from a 4th place finish in the US Olympic Shot Put trials.

Three years later she was Silver Medalist in the Pan American games. In 1963 she won the US Championship title. After graduating from Linfield Sharon would go on to complete in 3 more Olympic trials.

The lady was big and powerful......with a big ole smile for everyone. Chances are Mapleton High has never turnout a better athlete, or nicer lady.

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