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  • Ednold

Santiam 3/12/21

I haven’t been keeping track over the years so I can only give you an approximate number, but I would estimate I’ve been through the town of Mill City on Highway 22 about 5 million times. And on none of those occasions have I ever, once, left the highway to see the actual town. Until this weekend I had only ever seen the tip of the Mill City iceberg; the part north of the river along the highway. But thanks to the Santiam High School Wolverines, I have now seen the other 90% of the town, south of the river in Linn County.

Since I wasn’t sure what the attendance policies would be for this game, I gave Mrs. Ednold the night off and took little bro with me instead. And it was a major sacrifice on his part, since the Pac-12 semi-final basketball game between the Ducks and Beavers was being played at the same time as our football game. And poor Mrs. Ednold had to spend the evening in a nice, comfortable, warm chair, watching the game on TV with my mom and dad. Sorry, honey.

The burned-out site of The Swiss Village in Mehama

As we made our way up the Santiam Canyon we saw plenty of evidence of the fires that had destroyed much of the canyon last September. It was sad to see that the old Swiss Village restaurant (recently called Northfork Crossing) was completely gone, and Fishermen’s Bend campground just outside of Mill City took an especially hard hit. But the town itself seems to have largely escaped lasting damage and, though the cleanup effort continues, things appear to be mostly back to normal.

The Santiam Wolverines compete at the 2A level in Special District 2, and their opponents on this night, the Gervais Cougars, are also members of that same league. Both teams came in having lost their first games, so someone would be getting their first win of the season. Until the end of the last century the towns of Mill City, Detroit, Gates and Idanha were served by separate schools and school districts, but have since been consolidated into the Santiam School District with all of the schools in the town of Mill City. The Wolverines have had some recent success on the football field, finishing state runners-up in both 2017 and 2018, as well as 1994. Their only championship came in 1972. The town of Detroit, by the way, got its name from the large number of former Michigan residents in the area who chose to name their town after the city in Michigan. And I wonder if that’s also how Santiam High School came to have the Wolverines as their mascot.

Mill City is located a half hour east of Salem up the Santiam River canyon, and has almost 2000 residents. You may be shocked, or maybe not, to learn that Mill City got its name from the fact that there has been at least one lumber mill there since the late 1800s, and the mills have always been the lifeblood of the town. In the old days I liked riding through town at night because from the highway you could see the mill’s wigwam burner glowing, with the sparks coming out the top. That’s a sight you can’t see anymore, but there are still two mills in town, so the name still fits. There are two bridges crossing the Santiam River in Mill City. Unfortunately, one of them is just a pedestrian bridge and the other is under construction, so there is only one traffic lane going in and out of the downtown area right now, making it even more challenging to get to the heart of Mill City. The confusing stop light situation and the flashing sign saying “Mill City is Closed” on the north side of the bridge may have discouraged less determined fans, but if they were thinking that would stop Ednold, they’ll need to think again.

The Mill City Grill. Yum.

We arrived at the high school in time to see what the situation was and, upon consulting with the couple of people manning the entry, found out that they would not be allowing any spectators inside the football field enclosure. We were welcome to sit outside the fence and watch from there, but that’s as close as we were going to get. From what I could see at a distance, the home grandstand on the east side of the field was all aluminum with a press box at the top. I wasn't able to see any seating on the other side for the visitors. The field is natural grass surrounded by a rubber asphalt track and, most importantly for us, about 20 yards separating the track from the fence on the north side of the field, adding that much more distance between us and the action.

So, since there would be no concessions available and we had time before the game started, we took the opportunity to have a beer at the Mill City Grill down the street and around the corner. We grabbed some takeout food, headed back to the school, and found that most of the area outside the fence on Evergreen Street on the north side of the field had been occupied in our absence by other spectators. There are lots of pickup trucks in Mill City and a good portion of them had made their way to the game. Everyone backed them up to the fence, set up there folding chairs in the beds, and had their own little makeshift grandstand for the night. Without a pickup, we were left to just park the Bucket across the street and set up our chairs on the ground next to the trucks. Not an ideal place to view the game, thirty yards behind the north end zone, but it would have to do.

East side home grandstand

And it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if the ball had spent any time on the north half of the field. But it didn’t. Oddly, almost the entire game was played in the far half, making a bad viewing situation worse. There were four touchdowns scored in the game, one in each quarter, and all of them were scored in the opposite end zone. It was uncanny. The ball almost never got within 100 yards of where we sat. The result was that nobody except the players, coaches, and referees ever had an accurate idea of what was going on. From our perspective the ball could have been at mid-field or on the other 5-yard-line. It was hard to judge the distance. What looked to be big gains turned out to be no gains at all, and vise versa, and we had to rely on the spotty play-by-play from the announcer to make any sense of it.

Interestingly, when the Cougars finally scored in the fourth quarter to make the score 20-8 it was the first fourth-quarter points the Wolverines had given up this season, because it was the first fourth quarter they had played this season. Last week the Santiam Athletic Director had removed the team from the field in the third quarter due to concerns that Covid protocols weren’t being followed by their opponents, the team from Culver. All players are required to wear masks throughout the game, and when that rule wasn’t being enforced to his satisfaction, the AD took his players and went home. The game was recorded as an 8-0 victory for Culver, but it’s pretty cool that the guy had the guts to do that for his kids.

To summarize, I’ll say that the Wolverines dominated most of the game. At least that’s the way it looked from my vantage point. They didn’t have much of a throwing game but managed enough yards on the ground to put the game away before Gervais finally got their passing game going in the fourth quarter. For the Cougars, it was too little, too late, and Santiam held on for the win. So, yes, the Ednolds are 2-0 so far this season. Or 3-0, if you count the fact that the Beavers also destroyed the Ducks while we were freezing our tails off in Mill City. A W is a W, as they say, but I hope next week I don't have to watch the game through a chain link fence.

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