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Spray 10/8/21

For various reasons, there are some schools in the state that just have a difficult time finding enough players, even for a game of 6-man football. Several schools have taken the step of combining their athletes with those from other schools in an effort to keep their teams alive and give their students the opportunity to play for, or just root for, a football team. In Wheeler County the Wheeler High School Falcons, Mitchell Loggers, and Spray Eagles have joined forces to create the Wheeler County Rattlers football team, and they’re pretty good.

This game prompted a meeting with the CPHC board of directors to nail down the requirements for including these schools in our little blog. Could we just go to Spray and watch the game and cross all three schools off our list? That wouldn’t seem quite right. Did we have to witness a game played at each school before we could say we had seen them play? That didn’t seem right either. What if a school never played another game at their own school field? So, the board has ruled that we don’t have to see a game at each school but we do have to visit each school and report on the community and their football facilities. That made sense to me, so off to Spray we went.

Wheeler County in north central Oregon was created in 1899 out of parts of the surrounding counties and named for Henry Wheeler, an immigrant from Pennsylvania who settled in the area in 1862. I wanted to mention Henry so that I could also mention his wife. His wife was named Dorcas. I don’t want to offend any of my readers named Dorcas, but that is a funny name. Spray is a small town, which probably goes without saying since there are only about 1500 people in the entirety of Wheeler county. It was named for John Spray and his wife who was not named Dorcas. She was Mary, which is not nearly as funny. John set up a ferry across the John Day River and helped get the town established. By 1900 they had a post office and came in third in the voting for selection of the county seat, a vote that was won by Fossil. Spray was incorporated in 1958 and today it has about 150 residents. Spray is one of a handful of schools in Oregon that have taken to hosting students from outside the district to make ends meet. They have a dorm close to the school that hosts students from all over the world who add a little international flavor to the community.

Spray is situated on the John Day River surrounded by mountains, with ranches occupying the available flat, low land along the river. The town is known as a haven for hunters, fishermen, campers and other outdoorspeople and it is incredibly beautiful. It doesn’t offer much in the way of services, but it does have one little motel and the small Lone Elk Market just across the street which has a little cafe in the back. I hope they didn't have to kill too many eagles to make my Eagle Burger, but however many it was it was worth it. Very tasty. We checked in to our room at the River Bend Motel (the Moose Room, if you’re curious) and it didn’t take long to see the town. There is a nice Riverfront Park, and the school of course, but not much else. But that turned out to be plenty.

This game was a matchup of the Wheeler/Spray/Mitchell Rattlers and the Dayville/Monument Tigers. The Rattlers were undefeated at 5-0, while the Tigers were winless at 0-5. On paper it didn’t look like a close game, but the game isn’t played on paper, as they say.

Unfortunately, I’m sure a few Tigers players wish it had been. The final score was 63-6 and the Rattlers were dominant. Unlike the Riverside team from our last game, Dayville/Monument did show flashes of what they were capable of. They broke several long plays and had a couple of really good athletes, but it was obvious from the beginning that the game wasn’t going to be competitive. With the score 26-0 after the first quarter, it was all but over.

North side (home) seating

South side (away) seating

All of this got me wondering about the guidelines for combining teams. The Wheeler County team had almost 20 players, 5 or 6 of whom were big enough to play on the line for any team. Dayville/Monument had 9 players suited up, two of whom were girls, and none of whom were big enough to block the bigger Rattler players. I’m not against girls playing football and without the two there may not have been any team at all, but they only served as speed bumps for the opposing rushers and blockers and it was hard to watch. I don’t know what the rules are, but it seems like there should be some limits on teaming up with other schools to build an unbeatable football team. It will be interesting to see how well the Rattlers do in the playoffs and whether, if they’re a little too successful, there are calls from elsewhere to break up the team.

If you were able to kind of forget about the action on the field, which wasn’t too hard, the game at Spray was a thoroughly enjoyable event. This is only our third season, so I’m not ready to put a tiara and sash on Spray just yet, but the atmosphere at this game was unlike anything we had experienced before. For starters, this was Senior Day for the Rattler seniors. There were only two of them, but they were ridden onto the field on the backs of Harley motorcycles and there was a presentation with their families. Then the rest of the team followed them on a trailer driven onto the field to the cheers of the sizeable crowd. It was, without a doubt, the coolest thing we have seen on our CPHC travels. And if that wasn’t enough, for the first time this year we were in attendance for a homecoming, and got to see the crowning of the king and queen at halftime.

All of this happened on the field behind the school, which also happens to be part of the rodeo grounds. There was no concession stand, but there was a bake sale tent set up where we bought some zucchini bread and a couple of pumpkin strudel muffins to get us through the game, and that busy booth added to the sense that this was a football game combined with a country fair. Spray claims to host “the best small town rodeo in the West” each Memorial Day, and the grounds are bigger than you would expect from looking at the rest of the town. Some of the corrals border the playing field and there was a single horse in one of them that was pretty vocal throughout the game. It sounded just like the recording played at Mountainside games, only this one was real. There are small bleachers set up on either side of the field, but they weren’t anywhere near large enough to hold all the spectators, who gathered around the sidelines to stand in groups or sit in camp chairs. Many also just stayed in their cars and had a perfect vantage point from the elevated parking lot.

There are no lights for the field, hence the 2:00pm start time, and given the size of the crowd I have to assume that most of the residents are ranchers or others who can set their own hours and take a Friday afternoon off to watch a football game. The players had a lot of support. I don’t know if all gamedays in Spray are as good as this one, but it was just about perfect. Some enterprising person could make some money busing a group of city slickers across the state for a day of football in Spray. It's that good. The little town is a long way from anywhere and you really need a good reason to go that far out of your way, but there is that rodeo at the end of May, and there’s a half-marathon there that same weekend. I just may have to get myself in shape for that.

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Kristin Sweeney
Kristin Sweeney
Oct 13, 2021

Thank you for coming to our little town for a great game! I'm sorry you missed the concession stand next to the bake sale... you'll have to come again and try our "haystacks"! I'll even make sure that it's on the house. 😉

Oct 18, 2021
Replying to

Thank you Kristin. I don't know what a haystack is but I can't wait to try one. We'll be back! 😀

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