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Roosevelt 10/29/21

Updated: Oct 31, 2021


For the last week of the 2021 regular season we headed north, or True North, as people in the Portland neighborhood of St. John’s call it, to watch the Roosevelt Rough Riders host the Lincoln Cardinals. Roosevelt is in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland. Or the St. John’s neighborhood. Or the St. John neighborhood. Nobody is really sure which is correct, so to avoid confusion I will alternate between them for this story. The guy who started the town and named it after himself was either James John or James Johns, but nobody knows for sure and I guess at this point nobody ever will. He himself spelled it with an S on his land claim contract, but in other places, including a plaque at the school, it’s John and not Johns. Whichever is correct, James was by all accounts a generous man and had earned the nickname “saint”, and he must have thought that was pretty apt because when it came time to give his town a name he called it St. John, or maybe St. Johns or St. John’s. Upon his death in 1886 he left land and money for the town to build its first school, and it was named for him too.

For a full fifty years after its founding in 1865, the town of St. John’s was separate from Portland, being about five miles up the east side of the Willamette from downtown Portland. In 1915 it was annexed to Portland and has been a part of the big city ever since. But it’s still kind of its own place due to its location in the extreme northwest corner of the east side, and the fact that a railroad cut was made just south of the town in the early 1900’s, just before St. Johns became part of Portland. The cut, a huge trench running southwest from the Columbia river, almost completely cut St. John off from the rest of the metro area. Even today there are only four or five overpasses that provide access to St. Johns from the rest of Portland to the south.


St.Johns’ biggest landmark, literally, is the St. Johns bridge across the Willamette. It’s the only suspension bridge in the whole Willamette Valley and when it opened in 1931 it was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. Construction of the bridge started just a month before the stock market crash of 1929 and for the next two years provided important jobs for many in the St. John’s community. Lots of people seem to really like the design of the bridge and it always finishes at or near the top when anyone ranks Portland’s bridges. To me, there’s something wrong about the scale of the big towers; they’re a little too scrawny for their surroundings. I’m not a big fan, but it’s better than no bridge so I’m glad it’s there.


The original James John High School was eventually condemned and a new school was built on a different site. The plan was that the new school would also be named James John High School, but then Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919 and Portland Public Schools decided they needed to name a high school for him, so the new school got a new name. It was finished in 1922 with a capacity of 1,200 students.


Teddy Roosevelt was a New York aristocrat who was an asthmatic child. Later, both his wife and mother died just a few hours apart in the same house on the same day. His physical frailties and his anguish over the loss of his wife and mother prompted him to become a super-macho outdoorsman and he later volunteered to lead a unit of volunteers in the Spanish-American War. He became famous for leading the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the war, and parlayed that notoriety into a successful run for Governor of New York. Still, he was a long shot to ever be president. Then, President William McKinley’s vice president, Garret Hobart, died and he needed a new running mate for his second term. Roosevelt’s fellow Republicans in New York didn’t care much for him and were able to make him the Vice Presidential candidate to get him out of the way. They won the election and, when McKinley was assassinated six months into his term -bingo, bango, bongo- Teddy became president. And if any of those things wouldn’t have happened, or if Teddy would have lived just three more years, the high school in Portland would have been named after James Johns and there never would have been a Roosevelt High School. History is funny like that.


But all that stuff did happen, so the athletes from Roosevelt High School are called the Rough Riders, after the nickname for Teddy’s unit during the war. It was a name that they had actually stolen from a group of riders in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, so we can thank Bill for Roosevelt being the Rough Riders. Did I already mention that history is kinda funny?

A personal memento from Rusty

Fourteen years after the school opened, Len Younce graduated from Roosevelt. He played football at Oregon State and then played for the New York Giants for ten years and was named to the NFL’s “All 1940’s Team”. In 1960 Carolyn Davidson graduated from Roosevelt. You may not recognize that name, but I think you’re probably familiar with her work. She’s the one who designed the Nike swoosh. But my hero, James Allen, graduated from Roosevelt in 1946. Allen went on to create and play the role of Rusty Nails on Portland television through the 1960’s, and I was a huge fan. Later, Rusty was the inspiration for the character of Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons, because creator Matt Groening had grown up in Portland, but Krusty is no Rusty. Nobody is or ever will be again.



We came over the bridge headed east into the center of St. Johns. From the little downtown area you could easily look around and imagine yourself in any small town. That’s where we found the Stormbreaker brewpub for a little pre-game snack. Being clean-shaven, I wasn’t sure they would allow me inside a pub in Portland, but I had my mask on so I don’t think anyone even noticed. But after we sat down and our drinks came (I messed around and got a Triple-Double. A Triple-Double IPA, that is!) the mask had to come off. To make matters worse, the Triple-Double is so strong it can’t be served in a pint glass: If you drank an entire pint you may never recover! So it must be served in that most feminine of drinking vessels - the snifter. So, there I was. In a Portland pub. No facial hair. Drinking out of a snifter. But you know what? Mrs. Ednold didn’t even flinch. She sat right there next to me and just ignored all the pointing fingers and curious glances. Seriously though, the onion rings were awesome and the atmosphere is pretty cool too.

Seniors

After our little aperitif we drove south a half mile or so and found the high school on Ida St. There isn’t a parking lot, and most of the surrounding streets were full of parked cars, but for some reason we found a lot of free parking just around the corner on Smith St. It was weird. People were cramming themselves into the tightest of spaces on one street, while just around the corner was an entire street of empty spaces. But we didn’t spend too much time wondering why. We parked and walked up to the entry on the north side of the field where we were informed that we needed to show proof of vaccination to get in. It only took me about 25 minutes to find a photo of my vax card in my phone, then we paid our $6 each and walked in the gate. I must say, it’s comforting to know that everyone around you at the game has been vaccinated.

For being 99 years old, Roosevelt High looks amazing, but it’s the mullet of high school campuses. With the brick facade and the tower up above, it has a classic look from the front. Around back where the football field is, it is an ultra-modern twenty-first century building. From certain angles you’d never know the massive building is a blend of both styles, and it’s almost like seeing two completely different schools.

Home (west) grandstand

The grandstand at Roosevelt isn’t huge, and there’s no roof, and it’s just aluminum bleachers. But the one nice feature is that the press box in the middle separates the student section on the south from the old folks and families on the north. The band was just about the right volume from where we were, and the whole set-up was nice. There are some small bleachers on the other side of the field for visitors and the turf field and rubber track in between are both in good shape. It looks like there is a concession stand area available behind the grandstands, but for whatever reason it’s not being used now and the only concessions were a folding table south of the bleachers where they were selling random bags of chips and a few other things. It was a chilly night but at least it was dry and I was able to make it through the game without any hot coffee. But if I had gotten really cold I could have just grabbed another coat because they also had some free-coat racks set up next to the concession table. Seriously. Anyone who didn’t have a coat or needed a new one could just grab a coat off the rack. Now, that is an idea that needs to spread, and now I’ve done my part. You all can take it from here.

Roosevelt finished the 2019 season with a 5-5 record, but they finished second in their league and made it to the playoffs. They lost in the first round, but that was a far cry from where they were 10 or 12 years ago. In their almost-century of existence they’ve never won a state championship but things are looking up at Roosevelt. I’m not exactly sure when the story was written, but you have to read this article from ESPN to fully appreciate how far the Rough Riders have come.

It’s kind of long but I promise you it’s worth it. Spoiler alert: The Arizona Cardinals were kind of indirectly responsible for the resuscitation of Roosevelt football. As if anyone would be surprised by that. Sometime after the story was written Roosevelt spent a few years playing in the 5A classification, and had some modest success there. Since 2014 they’ve been back at the 6A level and have been holding their own.

Visitors' (east) seating

Both Roosevelt and Lincoln compete in the Portland Interscholastic League, or 6A Special District 1, as it’s known for football. Lincoln came in at 3-5 and the Riders were 6-2, so I liked the chances for the home team and there was plenty of school spirit to help them along. Roosevelt had pulled out all the stops for us and this night was both Senior Night and Homecoming. Before the game each of the senior players was presented, and there were a lot of them. Halftime consisted of a show by the Roosevelt drum-line, a tune or two by the band as a whole, then the ceremony to crown the Homecoming princes, princesses, king and queen. The band was good and peppy and the ceremony was a little disorganized and chaotic. In my opinion, they could take a page or two from just about any of the other schools we’ve seen do it, but they did it their way and I guess there’s something to be said for that.

Carolyn Davidson's little creation on the turf

By this time the Rough Riders had taken a 20-7 lead into halftime, but the Cardinals had had some chances and didn’t look to be out of it. It still may have been anyone’s game. The Riders have a quarterback with a really good arm and Lincoln doesn’t, but otherwise the teams were fairly evenly matched. But the Cardinals weren’t very disciplined and almost every positive play was offset by a penalty and Roosevelt were able to assert themselves. After Roosevelt scored early in the second half the result was never really in doubt, though it wasn’t as lopsided as the 34-7 final score would lead you to believe.

Roosevelt is a really big school with a lot of community spirit. They've got a nice facility, a rockin' band, lots of cheerleaders, and Mrs. Ednold and I may have been the only two in the whole place not sporting some kind of Roosevelt gear. It felt good to have rooted the Rough Riders onto victory, and almost as good to find that Smith Street had turned out to be the perfect parking place. I just made a U-turn and got us headed back north and found Lombard Street to take us back to the bridge, where the gothic spires standing out in the moonlight looked appropriately creepy for a Halloween weekend. We were heading west now, having seen True North.



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gilromastew
gilromastew
Oct 31, 2021

You are a brave couple traveling to Portland! Don't you know it's the new murder capitol of the world. Glad Mrs. E got to go with you after all. Thanks for the geography lesson. I didn't know anything about St. John. You should have been a teacher! RJS

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