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  • Ednold

Pleasant Hill 9/1/23

It was the first day of September, and we were headed to our first game of the new football season. Fortunately, the rain over the previous few days had helped suppress the forest fires, but we could still see plenty of smoke on the horizon in the direction we were heading. That happened to be southeast, past Eugene and along highway 58 toward the Willamette pass. The presence of the smoke and absence of any visible fire instigated a long conversation between me and Mrs. Ednold regarding the truth of the old maxim that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”, and finally an agreement to settle on the new maxim of “where there’s smoke, there could be fire or there recently was fire”. I think it’s more accurate than the old one and is equally pithy, so I hope it catches on. We didn’t stay on highway 58 for long because we soon crested a small hill and saw the sign announcing our arrival at our destination for the evening: Pleasant Hill.

The unincorporated community of Pleasant Hill was first settled in 1846 by Elijah Bristow. When Bristow arrived in Oregon he ventured south through the Willamette Valley looking for a suitable place to settle. According to his wife, “On arriving at a point between the Coast and Middle Forks of the Willamette river, on a low rolling ridge, sparsely covered with oak, fir and pine timber, ever since known as Pleasant Hill, Mr. Bristow’s eye was attracted towards the panorama of mountain and vale stretching out before him that reminded him of a like scene in far-off Virginia, where he was born”. Bristow had found his spot and would live out his days in a place that was aptly named, which isn't always the case (yes, I'm looking at you, Lakeview). There is a hill and, judging by our experience, it's just as pleasant as Elijah Bristow described. Even the smoke in the sky was minimal, though it was a little hazy.

1910 was a big year for the community of Pleasant Hill. That’s the year the railroad arrived in town and a bridge over the coast fork of the Willamette was completed. That same year the high school was built, and the first class graduated. That school building isn’t the one we’d be visiting, however. The new high school was originally built in 1961 and renovated in 2016, But that wouldn't be our first stop on this night.

We had a little exploring to do before the game started, and first on that list was the short trip to take a look at Ken Kesey’s old farm. Kesey went to high school in Springfield, but after his first two books were published he left his wild California life behind and returned to Oregon, settling on the family farm just north of Pleasant Hill, where he lived until his death in 2001. His granddaughter has turned it into some sort of artists' retreat now, but it’s still owned by his family and looks like it hasn’t changed much since he was around. We turned in the driveway but were greeted by a locked gate with a keypad where you can enter a password. I didn’t know the password, so I took my pictures and we departed before any burly men showed up to show us the way out. There’s not much to see, but you can imagine all of the other people who have made that same pilgrimage before you, and you can't really say you've been to Pleasant Hill without stopping there.

After our peek at the Kesey farm, it was time for our pre-game refreshments, and we had several options in Pleasant Hill. There’s a pizza place, an Italian place, a Mexican place, a café, and a bar and grill. But if you have to choose one place to stop within the Pleasant Hill school district, you kinda have to drive the 6 or 7 miles further southeast on highway 58 to the town of Dexter and find the Dexter Lake Club. The Club is famously the place where Boon, Otter, Pinto and Flounder took their dates for an evening of fun and dancing in the movie Animal House. It’s one of those places I’ve been by literally a thousand times, but this would be our first visit, and we were hoping things would go better for us than it had for the Deltas. (Yes, that is Robert Cray on bass guitar right behind Otis.)

Once we were inside and had a chance to look around, I quietly let Mrs. Ednold know “We are gonna die”, because I think it’s obligatory for anyone entering for the first time. I didn’t really mean it, though. The place does have a rustic feel to it, but it’s a charming rusticity that you’d expect if you’ve seen the movie. There’s lots of Animal House memorabilia on the walls, and I probably couldn't have ordered a Boneyard IPA back in the day, but otherwise it looks like things haven’t changed much, and it wouldn’t have felt quite right any other way.

I imagine over the years they’ve had thousands of idiots come in, lean against the bar, and make fools of themselves by yelling “Otis! My man!” above the din of conversation and music, and I have to admit I felt like making a fool of myself too, even though the place was pretty quiet except for the football game on the big-screen. But Mrs. Ednold was with me so, out of consideration, I stayed in my seat and just yelled it under my breath. It still felt good. If those people thought I was a fool it wasn’t because they heard me yelling at someone who wasn’t there.

The drive back to Pleasant Hill and the high school was just long enough to wonder at the links between Ken Kesey and Animal House that might not be obvious at first thought. Kesey’s first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, dealt with the virtues, and risks, of non-conformity. It came out in 1962, and Animal House is set in the autumn of the following year. Kesey always claimed he’d been too old to be a hippie, but that’s because he was really the first one. He’s the one who started experimenting with mind-altering drugs during and after participating in a top-secret study of those drugs while in grad school. After his book became a hit, he lived a semi-communal life at his house in the hills, where the Grateful Dead were the house band at his parties. By the time his second book was published in 1964, he was riding around with a group of acid freaks in a psychedelic school bus. You can’t get much more hippie than that. It had taken a few years, but the 50s were finally turning into the 60s, and Kesey was one of the people who made that happen.

Meanwhile, back at Faber College… Remember that parade at the end of Animal House? In the minds of its writers, that took place on November 21, 1963, the day before President Kennedy was shot: The last day before the 60s started in earnest. Just a few months earlier Martin Luther King had delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Ten days after JFK’s death The Supremes released their first top 40 song, and less than a month later I Want to Hold Your Hand was released in America. George Lucas set American Graffiti at the end of the summer of ’62, so I guess people can debate exactly where that fulcrum between the decades should be put and, of course, I wasn’t around at the time so I’m probably not the person to ask. But wherever you draw that line, it must have been an interesting time to be alive.

Just as I was coming to that conclusion we turned south from the highway and saw the school in front of us, looking a combination of a modern school and an old-school school, with those 2016 renovations clearly visible along with a few of the original structures. In 2009 the elementary school was closed, and the K-5 students moved into the middle school building next to the high school. Since then, the high school has housed all of the grade 6-12 students.

So, things are a little different now than they were when Russ Francis graduated from Pleasant Hill in 1971. In his senior year Francis set the national record in the javelin, a record that stood for 17 years before being broken by Art Skipper of Sandy High School. That record was later held by Sam Crouser of Gresham. For reasons I can’t explain, Oregonians seem to be pretty good at throwing sharp objects a long way. Russ Francis is remembered for playing a few seasons of football for the Oregon Ducks, but most people forget that he then transferred and spent his remaining college days at Oregon State, making him a true platypus. He then played professionally at tight end for the Patriots and 49ers, winning a super bowl with San Francisco in 1985.

The Legacy Rock

Pleasant Hill are the Billies, so I was a little surprised that not a single one of their players is named Billie, or Billy, or even Bill, William, or Will. There are no Billy Joes or Billy Bobs. Judging from their logo, the name refers to a billy goat, which is a male goat, and I didn’t see any evidence that their girls teams are called the nannies. Not calling them nannies seems kind of sexist, but calling them nannies would also seem kind of sexist, which might create quite a conundrum for the residents of Pleasant Hill. Or maybe they’re just sensible people who don’t overthink things when it comes to their high school mascot. After we parked The Bucket in the spacious lot just south of the field, paid our $5 each for entry and made our way through the entrance, I noticed that on the front of the old wooden grandstands is painted the motto “Fear The Goat”. We would see if there was really anything to be afraid of or not.

Pleasant Hill plays in the 3A Mountain Valley Conference, while their opponents for this game, the Cottage Grove Lions, compete at the 4A level in Special District 3. The Billies won 4 games in 2019 and 3 games in 2021 before going winless last season. They’re on a slide, but there’s nowhere to go but up now, so hopefully this game would get them heading in the right direction. They did win a state championship as a AA school back in 1974, and then lost two successive championship games to Scapoose in 2000 and 2001, so football success is not completely unfamiliar to Pleasant Hill.

The Billies play on a newish artificial turf field with a big goat logo at mid-field surrounded by a black running track. The grandstand on the west side of the field is of the old wooden variety. It has a solid concrete foundation, but the seating is all wooden bleachers and the poles holding up the roof are rough-hewn logs. It looks like there may have been small bleachers on the other side for visitors at one time, but now there is just a small terrace where the bleachers would have been. A few Lions fans had brought their camp chairs and viewed the game from the terrace, but most of them chose the north end of the grandstand that had been designated as their territory. There were also signs designating sections for students and the band. If Pleasant Hill has a band, they had chosen to sit this one out, but there was a vocal gaggle of students in their assigned section with plenty of Billie pride, led by a reasonably-sized and tireless cheerleading crew on the track in front of them. Just south of the grandstand, the snack bar served up the usual menu of football food.

The east side visitors' terrace

And as soon as the team made their entrance onto the field I knew that things would be different this year. On the front of their jerseys it doesn’t say Billies or Pleasant Hill. On their navy blue jerseys with white stripes on the shoulders it just says THE HILL, with player numbers underneath. You don’t wear jerseys that cool unless you’re pretty confident. Or maybe you’re really confident because you have cool jerseys. Either way, I knew they would not be losing this game.

It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was more of a Picasso than a Rembrandt for both teams, and in an effort to keep things positive I’ll just say that it was as ugly a game as I’ve ever seen, with both teams looking like they could have used another week of practice before playing for real. The plethora of penalties did allow me to grab a hot dog and coffee from the nice guys at the snack bar without worrying about missing any of the action, so I didn't starve, just in case you were concerned about that. But season openers are rarely perfect, and by mid-season I can envision the Billies being a pretty decent team. They showed enough speed and grit to take a 20-0 lead into the final quarter before allowing a late touchdown to make the final score 20-7 for their first win in a very long time, against a 4A team, no less. In the animal kingdom goats would stand little chance against a pride of lions, but when you come to THE HILL, there just might be a reason to fear the goat this season.

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