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  • Ednold

Marshfield 10/25/19

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Friday night in Coos Bay. All by myself. Except for the 15,000+ other people in the city. A few thousand of whom were right there in Pete Susick Stadium with me to watch the hometown Marshfield Pirates take on the Marist Spartans of Eugene. But as I crossed the mist-shrouded McCullough Memorial Bridge across the choppy waters of Coos Bay, through North Bend and into the city of Coos Bay, I was flying solo for the first time, with Mrs. Ednold and every other family member and friend I invited having occupational commitments to attend to. Someone has to provide the financial support for this little project, so she stayed at the office while I handled the difficult task of attending the game and writing some silly story about my trip. I love you, Mrs. Ednold.

Marshfield is the largest high school on the Oregon coast, in the largest city on the Oregon coast: Coos Bay. Umpqua, Siuslaw, Coquille and Coos natives lived in the bay area before Europeans arrived in the mid-1800s, and the word “Coos” was derived from a native word meaning both “lake” and “place of pines”. Coos Bay and La Pine are very dissimilar, yet both have names inspired by pine trees. Interesting. Or at least worth noting. Although founded in the 1850’s, the city wasn’t known as Coos Bay until 1944, when residents decided to ditch the original name of Marshfield, which was the name of founder J.C. Tolman’s hometown in Massachusetts. So from its opening in 1909 until 1944 Marshfield High School was actually in the city of Marshfield, hence the name.

Marshfield has a history of football success, claiming at least five state championships over the years, the last coming in 1992. OSAA records show that they lost the 1950 title game to Grant 12-7, but they prominently display a banner that claims they won that game so I don’t know what the true story is. Regardless, they have a history of football excellence. Marshfield is also the alma mater of basketball great Mel Counts, who made a career out of backing up legendary centers in the NBA: After majoring in basketball studliness at Oregon State and winning a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics, he was understudy to Bill Russell in Boston before ending up in Los Angeles playing behind Wilt Chamberlain. But Marshfield’s most famous son must be Steve Prefontaine, who at one point held every American record at every distance on the track. Ok, maybe not, but pretty darn close to it. The guy never lost a 5k or 10k race in his whole collegiate career at Oregon. Never. Never-ever. He would have accomplished even more amazing things but for his tragic death at age 24. He still holds Marshfield school records for the 800, 1500 and 3000 that will likely last forever. Not to be outdone by his more athletic peers, aviator Elgen Long, a 1945 Marshfield graduate, set many flying records including being the first to circumnavigate the world flying over both the North and South Poles. He also happens to be the world’s foremost authority on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

There is a large parking lot just east of the football field off of 7th Street. Did I park there? I did not. There is also a parking lot on the lower terrace of the campus above the field to the south. You have to climb 73 steep steps to reach this lot. Did I park there? I did not. There is also a lot at the top of campus near the main entrance to the school, up an additional 25 steps from the lower terrace, which is where I parked. If you don’t know me well you may think that I am just a Rimrock Trailhead who didn’t do a thorough recon job before parking The Bucket. But people close to me could explain to you that, being fitness-minded and always a careful planner, I had the forethought to park in a place that allowed me to get in a football game and an excellent lower-body workout on the same night. So, yes, I purposely put myself in a position to have to make like a mountain goat and climb those 98 stairs up the side of a cliff at the end of the game. Yep. Just the way I planned it.

And, in addition to allowing me to get in a good workout, this location gave me another opportunity to take a look at the school buildings. The beautiful Art Deco main building dates from 1940 and all of the other buildings on campus have been built in the same style. Sitting on a hillside above downtown (and, comfortingly, the tsunami zone) the school is a striking sight, and sits as an imposing presence above the football field.

The football stadium is named for former coach Pete Susick, who won three state titles in the mid-fifties. From the late 1940’s through the late ‘70’s he was the winningest coach in the state and is in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. This is the first field I have encountered with the sidelines on the north and south sides instead of east and west. Maybe the site, located at the bottom of a precipice below the campus, lent itself to this configuration. Or maybe being in a sort of hollow in the side of a hill made normal considerations of sun and weather irrelevant. Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Just an interesting outlier. Entry to the stadium is from the northeast corner. $6 will get an adult in the gate and another buck will get you a nice program. To the left of the ticket booth you’ll see Buck’s Place, a food concession named for super-booster Buck Williams (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Buddy Ryan, judging from the caricature on the side of the building) and run by the booster club. Another concession stand with standard fare is located beneath the main grandstand. It doesn’t get much better than a football game preceded by a baked potato dinner. Why isn’t this a more common menu item? It should be. I am hereby starting a campaign to make baked potatoes a high school football staple. This is a word-of-mouth campaign folks. Get to it.

South (visitors) grandstand. Under construction but usable.

Buck's Place. Baked potatoes!

North (home) grandstand

The field is artificial turf surrounded by a track. Seating for the home crowd is on the north side in a huge concrete structure stretching a whole hundred yards, with a wooden roof and composite bleachers that don’t freeze your bum. Visitors’ seating is on the south side in what would be an extremely nice home grandstand at most schools. After several years in its current roofless state, a “Raise the Roof” campaign was recently begun to add a roof and other amenities to the south grandstand. Construction is in progress now and the final product should add to the already impressive facilities. The scoreboard at the west end is complete with a small video message board flashing out encouraging words for the Pirates throughout the game.

1950? Are you sure?

Apparently Marshfield didn’t get the memo. Not only did they decide to make this their homecoming game, but they also had to one-up everyone else and make it their Senior Night while I was in town. They pulled out all the stops for me. The night started with a fly-over by a Coast Guard helicopter, which drew a roar from the crowd. Then there was a presentation of the senior players with their parents prior to kickoff. The halftime festivities included a routine by the Upbeats dance team, a couple of songs by the Band of Pirates (love that name), some cheers led by the cheerleading squad with help from a group of tiny Future Pirates, and the crowning of the homecoming queen. Somehow, at some previous time, the king had already been chosen so the focus was all on the six princesses with their escorts; fathers, step-fathers or brothers. This was a different twist to the ceremonies we’d seen before and was a nice touch, in my opinion. It was also more traditional than some of the other ceremonies, with the princesses all in fancy dresses and dads in sportcoats. It is interesting to see how each school chooses to stage their homecoming ceremonies. They have all been good in their own way and it makes me wonder how much each community is reflected in the way they approach it.

The mist and fog had disappeared, at least at the football field, by the time the game started and it was a balmy 55 degrees at game time and stayed pretty close to that the entire evening. Both defenses started out equally warm, resulting in a scoreless tie at the end of the first quarter. But by halftime the visitors led 14-20 and stretched that to 14-27 by the end of the third. The Pirates fought valiantly and made it 21-27 with a few minutes left but couldn’t recover an onside kick and never got the ball back after that. A really strong effort, led by the brothers Niblett, was undone time and again by a defensive secondary that seemed intent on allowing Spartan receivers to run right by them for long receptions.

The size of this crowd was the biggest I’ve seen this season. Even so, the massive size of the grandstand made it a less intimate setting, with plenty of room to stretch out between your neighbors. But, unlike some of the games we’ve seen, the Marshfield crowd was into it from the opening kickoff. For them the game wasn’t just a sideshow at a Friday night social event. They were cheering for every yard gained and every tackle made. It seemed to be of equal importance to little kids and grandparents. Going down by 13 in the third quarter only made them more boisterous and more attentive to the play on the field. You can tell there is an expectation of success that comes with being a Pirate. When they finally finish the south grandstands and fill the whole place for a big game I would love to be there to see it. As long as they also install an elevator up to that damn parking lot.

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Oct 27, 2019

Well, As a relative of yours, I hope to be invited to one of the games. (hint, hint). I love your narrative Ednold. You have a real knack for writing. It's hard to wait a whole week to see where you'll be next week.


Oct 27, 2019

Good job, Ednold. A shame you had to travel alone. You're right about Marshfield High. Though Pirates didn't get it done last night they do have a history of football success.

Sadly, however, they are not above padding their resume a bit. I know for a fact the 1954 State Championship they claim on the signboard was in fact a 'Co-Championship,' earned by a totally horrendous fourth quarter pass inference call, and shared with the mighty South Salem Saxons. Seems like that ought to call for an asterisk or something. Still, there was no doubting Pete Susick. He could get it done.

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