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  • Ednold

Prairie City 10/8/21

It was Friday evening and we were following the John Day River east. The cramped canyons of Wheeler county had widened just a little bit in Grant County to provide enough flat land for ranches on either side and, to our relief, for the highway itself to become relatively straight. We reached the town of John Day and saw the signs for the county seat, Canyon City, and Seneca beyond. We passed within a mile of Grant Union High School, but the Prospectors had already played an afternoon game that day so we continued east out of town. Thirteen miles later we arrived in Prairie City.

Prairie City was founded by a group of miners who were working the Dixie Creek up in the hills a few miles north of the John Day River. After a while they decided it would make more sense to build a town next to the river itself, and Prairie City was born. I guess compared to the mountains that surround it, the few square miles of relatively flat land must have seemed like a prairie. The town got a post office in 1870 and was incorporated in 1891. I think every town in eastern Oregon is the gateway to one thing or another, and these days Prairie City is known as the Gateway to The Strawberry Mountains.

We took a little time to drive around the town and get the lay of the land and discovered that Prairie City is another town that’s divided into two distinct parts. The highway, or Front Street, as it is known within the city, runs through town on the north side of the river. The downtown area along the street is tidy and appears to be doing well. We weren’t looking to spend the night but if we had, The Hotel Prairie looks like it would have been a good choice. You can take either Bridge Street or Main Street south, across the river and into the separate southern part of the town where there’s a small residential area. Continue south on Overholt Ave. and you’ll find the school and, a few blocks later, the football field: Don L. Parker Memorial Field.

Though we had arrived plenty early the air was already starting to get chilly outside so we grabbed a choice parking spot where Mrs. Ednold could watch the action from the car if it came to that. As I was casing the joint before the game several high school girls arrived with balloons to decorate the bleachers, and I knew that this would be a first for us. We had been present earlier that day for the homecoming game in Spray and tonight, for the second time that day, we would see another homecoming game.

North side (home) seating

South side (away) seating

The field is natural grass with a nice rubber asphalt track around it. The bleachers on the home side are small and those on the visitors side are even smaller, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Prairie City. Mrs. Ednold and I sat in the bleachers and at times during the game there may have been half a dozen other people there with us. By the end of the game I was literally all alone and people were probably wondering what was wrong with me. Everyone else just stands around the edge of the field to watch the action. There were no cheerleaders and no band, so other than comfort there really wasn’t any reason to sit, especially if you wanted to mingle with the crowd. I’m guessing it’s always this way in Prairie City because one mom who’d obviously experienced this before had brought some Tonka trucks for the children to play with in the long jump pit beside the field. The kids were happy and mom got to watch the game. Nice.

The Prairie City Panthers have teamed up with the athletes from Burnt River High School from Unity, several miles to the east. They compete in 1A Special District 4 and came into this game at 3-1, so their fans were expecting a win against their opponents from Pine Eagle. I was rooting for the Panthers too because Pine Eagle aren’t the Eagles, like they should be. They are the Spartans, which makes no sense and made me want to root especially hard against them. There are less than a thousand people in Prairie City so the crowd was small. And if you’re thinking “but what about all those fans from Unity who were there too?”, keep in mind that, as of 2010, there were 71 people in the whole town of Unity. But the game was well-attended and being, as they were, right on the sidelines, the spectators were attentive to the action and supported their team loudly.

I feel quite a bit older now having attended the Prairie City halftime homecoming ceremony. I can remember when “classic cars” were from some time way before I was even born. The “classic cars” that transported the homecoming princesses around the field in Prairie City were cars that haven’t been around nearly as long as I have. I felt like telling some of the kids that those were just regular cars and there was nothing “classic” about them, but I didn’t want to be a party-pooper. Otherwise, the ceremony was very nice, although the night had gotten downright cold and the princesses were wearing dresses they probably picked more for looks than warmth. They were very patient as all the photographers took pictures of the four photogenic couples. Patient or maybe just frozen, one of the two.

And, finally, we got to see a really exciting game. It was sloppy, with each team fumbling the ball several times, but that only added to the unpredictability.

The Panthers took a 12-6 lead into halftime and held on in the second half for an 18-6 win. It was a game that could have gone either way, and the Eagles, I mean the Spartans, were within 6 into the fourth quarter. In 6-man football big plays are common and even a double-digit lead isn’t as safe as you might think, so the outcome was in doubt right up to the end. Mrs. Ednold was more confident than I was though, and spent the last half of the fourth quarter getting The Bucket warmed up for the drive home. So I got the best of both worlds: I got to watch the game up close right up to the final whistle, and I got to climb into a nice, warm car at the end of it. Now that’s what I call a win/win. We haven't forgotten about Burnt River and we're on the hook for a trip to Unity one of these days, but if you were looking forward to that story you'll just have to wait.

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