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  • Ednold

Rex Putnam 11/4/22

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

The rain had started before I even left the house. Nothing exceptional, just that usual Willamette Valley light, constant, shower. I think Mrs. Ednold had a premonition, though, and had stayed home. If you’re wondering what I do with nobody to talk to on my way to a game, this time I wrote a song that I’ll attach at the end of this story. It’s kind of a punk song and it needs another few verses, and I don’t really know what it’s about, but I’ve got a good start on it. I just wish I knew someone who had a band that could turn it into a real song. By the time I got to I-205 it was raining in earnest, with a howling wind blowing the raindrops sideways. I was on my way to Rex Putnam High School to watch them host Dallas in a first round playoff game, and my desire to see a sturdy roof over their bleachers when I got there was increasing by the minute. I’m not old enough to remember the Columbus Day Storm, and neither is Rex Putnam High School. That was in 1962, before either of us was around, but the fact that it was another holiday 60 years later did not bode well for the weather forecast.

Rex Putnam had been 8-0 until they went to Wilsonville last week and lost, and they had finished second to Wilsonville in 5A Special District 1. That earned them the right to host the Dallas Dragons, who had finished fourth in the Mid-Willamette Conference. Putnam has never played in a state championship game, but they came into this game ranked #5 in the state, so maybe this would be their year.

When I looked up Rex Putnam High School it had a Milwaukie address, but as I drove up McLoughlin Boulevard I found that it’s not in Milwaukie at all. It’s really in the unincorporated community of Jennings Lodge, surrounded by the neighborhoods of Oak Grove and Oatfield between the cities of Milwaukie, Gladstone and Johnson City, across the Willamette River from West Linn. It’s just a mile from Gladstone High School, which is kind of weird, but when the North Clackamas School District needed another high school in the area, that’s where they decided to put it. For several decades beginning in the 1920’s Highway 99, of which McLoughlin Blvd. is a part, was the main north-south highway on the west coast, but today you’d think it was just put there so that every brand of car you could imagine could open a dealership along the route. Starting in Gladstone and heading north I don’t think there’s any brand of car that can’t be had, and it had me wondering what kind of high school I would find around there.

I took a right on Roethe Road and headed up the hillside a ways before catching the unlit, postage-stamp sized Rex Putnam sign in the corner of my right eye as I drove by. The school is invisible from the street and I was lucky I hadn’t missed it completely. I made a U-turn, drove back, and entered the school driveway. When I pulled into the parking lot I wasn’t too surprised to find that Rex Putnam looks as much like an industrial park as a high school, and if I told you it opened in 1963 you could probably picture the lack of architectural beauty that went into it. It’s not ugly, just very functional-looking, and it’s smaller than I was expecting. I’m sure there can’t be enough parking for everyone in their tiny lot, and it’s hemmed in by residences on every side with no wiggle room anywhere.

Now that you know Rex Putnam opened in 1963, it may not surprise you to know that they are The Kingsmen. The Kingsmen, a group from Portland, had just recorded Louie, Louie earlier that year and the song was a huge hit, so they chose the name of the local band as the name of their mascot. How cool must those people have been back then to do that? Well, not THAT cool, as it turns out. I was incredibly disappointed later when I learned that the name didn’t come from the band. It came from Rex Putnam himself. Dr. Rex Putnam served as the Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction throughout the 40’s and 50’s and was generally a big shot in the world of education. He retired in 1961 when plans were underway to build a new high school near his hometown of Milwaukie, so they decided to name the school for him. Rex is latin for king, so they are the Kingsmen in honor of Rex. Not nearly as cool as I was thinking, but at least they aren’t the Cougars or Eagles or Tigers, so it’s still pretty good.

I parked The Bucket, threw on my rain jacket, made my way to the entrance on the north end of the field and paid the $10 that the OSAA is charging these days for a playoff game. It was a bit of a let-down to see the artificial turf field that would rob the players of what could have been a great experience. It’s one thing to play in a monsoon. It’s another to play in a monsoon in a quagmire with mud 6 inches deep, and these young people would never know what that’s like.

West side main (home) grandstand

That disappointment quickly faded, however, when I saw the big roof over the large grandstands on the west side of the field. It’s a solid-looking wood, concrete and steel structure with a press box on top. As an early arriver, I had my pick of the plastic bench seats and chose one on the south 30 yard line where I’d be able to hear the band and students 30 yards away to the north without losing my hearing by the end of the night. This proved to be an interesting spot as the home fans filled in the seats to my left and visitors who preferred not to be drenched in the uncovered visitors’ seating across the field filled up the section to my right. I was right on the border, perfectly placed to hear the cheers and groans from both contingents simultaneously, though no one listening could have had any doubt that I was one of the Kingsmen for the night. Due to the weather, there was nobody watching the game from the rubber asphalt running track surrounding the football field. It just wasn’t the kind of night for that.

Visitors (east) seating

Scott Brosius went to Rex Putnam, before playing baseball at Linfield College and being drafted by the Oakland A’s. He played most of his career in Oakland but was traded to the Yankees and was named World Series Most Valuable Player his first season in New York in 1998. He retired in 2001 and returned to Linfield and coached them to the NCAA Division III national championship in 2013.

Bella Bixby went to Rex Putnam too, kind of. She did go to school there but her name was Bella Geist at the time, as it was when she played goalkeeper for Oregon State. Now that she’s won a championship with the Portland Thorns she’s known by her husband’s name, Bixby, and she moonlights as head coach of the Rex Putnam girls soccer team.

There were no horses at the game and they would only allow 11 players from each team on the field at one time, so I’m not sure if all the king’s horses and all the Kingsmen could have stopped the Dragons’ option running attack, but 11 players didn’t seem to be nearly enough. Dallas never even considered throwing a pass, but half the time I couldn’t tell who really had the ball and the Kingsmen players apparently had the same problem. After three touchdowns and three failed extra points Dallas led 18-0 early in the second quarter and I settled in for another blowout loss. Then, amazingly, considering the weather conditions, Putnam got their passing game going and got to within five points by halftime and it was still anyone’s game.

Rex Putnam has a really good band that kept things lively throughout the game, but they took a break during halftime and there was no other entertainment other than marveling at the amount of rain coming down. Even the cheerleaders in their jackets covered with transparent rain ponchos took shelter under the roof while they could. It was wet, and it was windy. Somehow, even under the roof I was managing to get wet, and the Dallas cheerleaders and a few dozen of their diehard fans that chose to remain on the other side of the field looked positively miserable. That’s when I remembered that this was another holiday and I should have known all along that it was going to get bad. How could I have forgotten that it was Easy-Bake Oven Day? It was November 4th. That’s always Easy-Bake Oven Day, and I was watching a football game in the middle of what historians will soon be calling the Easy-Bake Oven Day Storm. The Easy-Bake Oven came out in 1963, by the way. There's that year again! The Kingsmen, the Beatles, the Oven, and Rex Putnam High. What a time that must have been. Fifty-nine years later, however, it was just stormy. No wonder Mrs. Ednold had chosen to sit this one out. She probably knew what I was in for but just didn’t have the heart to tell me.

Eventually the players returned to the field just as I made my way behind the grandstands to the Snack Shack. I’m always a little wary of eating food from any place that calls itself a shack, but the hot dog meal was warm and tasty and the popcorn was deliciously cold. The best part was that they were fast and I hadn’t missed a thing by the time I returned to my seat to see the Kingsmen pick up right where they had left off. They scored early in the second half and took the lead, 20-18, having scored 20 straight points. They still couldn’t stop the Dragon running game, though, and were trailing once more, 20-26, by the end of the third quarter. Rex Putnam battled, but didn’t seem to have any more big plays in them, and when Dallas kicked a 25-yard field goal in the middle of the final quarter the Kingsmen were unable to answer, and the final score was 20-29 in favor of the Dragons.

Still, it had been Rex Putnam’s best season in 36 years and it seemed a little unfair that, as a team that relies on its passing game, the storm impacted them much more than it did the run-only Dallas offense. If they hadn’t had to play the game on Easy-Bake Oven Day might things have turned out differently? I think they very well could have.

Wreck Sputnam

My hairs are all too long, I wish someone’d get busy cuttin’em

Then I can buy some new shirts, put em on, and then I’ll button’em

And then I’ll catch some fish and fry’em up when I’m done guttin’em

Then to top it all off I’ll go out and wreck Sputnam

Then if anyone’s still hungry we’ll be out late Pizza Huttin’em

That door’d better still be open, I’m tired of people always shuttin”em

For anyone who doesn’t get it we’ll have to show’em what’s what’nm

Sometimes that’s what happens when you go to wreck Sputnam

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