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  • Ednold

Springfield 9/17/21

A few weeks ago we spent a nice evening at my father’s alma mater, South Salem, and it was fun to imagine him going to school in that building every day several decades ago. This week Mrs. Ednold and I made the trip to Springfield to check out my mother’s old high school. My mom wasn’t on the football team, but the school and the football field are on the same site they were on back then and we had the chance to imagine what it may have been like back in the days when Springfield High was the only school in town. Nowadays they share the city with their rivals, the Thurston Colts, who just happened to be their opponents for this game.

5th and Main St. downtown Springfield

My mom’s parents have been gone for a long time now but, when I was a kid her mom still lived in Springfield and we would occasionally spend time there. So we took a little side trip to find the old house on Cottonwood St. just down the road from Autzen Stadium. We saw it, but nothing much about it looks the same after all this time. Then we rolled south on the Pioneer Parkway and cruised the two main one-way streets in the heart of downtown, A Street and Main Street. Though other parts of town look like they could use a boost, or at least some lawn maintenance, the tidy downtown area appears to be thriving.

Having only a general idea of where the high school was located, I drove north on 8th St. until we saw the south side of the school building, which both Mrs. Ednold and I mistook for a prison, so I drove around to the main school entrance on 7th Street. It still looked like a prison, except that it had a nice, big, blue sign out front welcoming us. It’s a modern concrete building that must not have been around back in mom’s time, but it’s not a warm, comfy-looking place.

We continued on around the school looking for the football stadium and found it east of the school on 10th St. Silke Field has been around for about 70 years, but the stadium looked newish. The parking lot is tiny and I imagine many people ended up walking a significant distance to get in, but us Ednolds arrived early enough to get a prime spot right outside the gate. We each paid our $7 to get in, grabbed a program, got a little Miller stamp on our hands, and proceeded through one of the tunnels beneath the grandstand, emerging on the other side to see a huge expanse of seating. It’s a well-designed stadium with student sections for each team at either end and lots of space for everyone else in between. Most of the seats are aluminum benches and most of them are covered by a roof. For the second week in a row there was no visitors’ seating on the opposite side of the field, but the single grandstand at Silke field was large enough to accommodate even the huge crowd for the rivalry game.

Silke field grandstands

There were signs everywhere reminding us that masks were required in the stadium for the duration of the game and, unlike last week, everyone actually took that seriously. There were periodic reminders from the announcer to keep our masks on, but they really weren’t necessary. I don’t know how happy people were about complying, but they did it without complaint. And even though the two rival schools shared one grandstand there wasn’t any visible animosity between the two groups. Maybe it’s just because the two teams are on opposite ends of the success spectrum and Springfield is not a perceived threat to Thurston’s success, but everyone was very respectful during a game that could have produced some ugly moments in the stands.

The natural grass field is surrounded by a rubber asphalt running track, and it’s no ordinary track. The track originally was commissioned in 1950 by Eugene Silke, who was then the Springfield High School superintendent. The track was designed by legendary Oregon runner and coach Bill Bowerman and completed in 1953. The track, and the football field inside it, aren’t oriented north-south or east-west like most other fields because Bowerman did wind studies of the area and found that this particular diagonal orientation was best for runners on the track.

The Millers have never made it to a state championship football game, but they’ve had plenty of outstanding athletes over the years. Pro basketball player Mercedes Russell was a Miller. You may remember the 6’6” Russell, who thought she was too good to play in the Pac-12 and went all the way to Tennessee to play college ball, only to have her career end with a loss to Oregon State on her home court in 2018. It was the first time the Lady Volunteers had ever lost a home playoff game, and the irony was delicious. But she led the Millers to two state championships and this year she won a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm, so she’s not a total loser.

Writer Ken Kesey was a standout wrestler for the Millers and earned a football scholarship to the U of O when he graduated in 1953. He eventually moved to California and wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and got the whole hippie movement started before returning to Oregon. His little brother Chuck, also a Miller, went on to found the Springfield Creamery, makers of the famous Nancy’s Yogurt after he and his wife graduated from Oregon State. My mom was between the Kesey brothers in age, so she knew both of them as classmates and especially remembers Ken performing on stage at a school assembly hypnotizing a group of fellow students. He was apparently quite a showman.

Bill Dellinger, who was a year older than Ken Kesey, was a state champion middle-distance runner for the Millers before running for Oregon and competing in three Olympic games, winning a bronze medal in the 5000m in 1964. He later became the head track coach at Oregon and his teams won five NCAA championships. And Maria Mutola was the 1991 cross country state champion as a Miller before winning Olympic gold in the 800m in 2000.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening was not a Miller. He went to Lincoln High School in Portland. But he hasn’t made any secret of the fact that when he chose Springfield to be the home of the Simpson family he wasn’t thinking of Springfield, Illinois, or Springfield, Vermont, or Springfield anywhere but Oregon. So, of course we had to make a stop at The Simpsons mural downtown on 5th St. during our tour of the city before the game.

Springfield is The Millers because there’s always been a mill or two in the town. Elias Briggs and his wife Mary arrived in the area in 1848 and built their home near a spring. The spring was in a field. So, Springfield wasn’t named for Springfield, Massachusetts or any other Springfield. It was named for a spring in a field. Mr. Briggs was very literal when it came to naming things. By 1854 Elias had dug a mill race to provide water to a saw mill and a flour mill. Briggs platted the town of Springfield in 1856 and by 1885 it was incorporated as a city.

The first teacher in Springfield was my distant cousin, Agnes Stewart. I don’t know the whole genealogy of how the Ednolds are related to the Stewarts, but Agnes was a survivor of The Lost Wagon Train on the Oregon Trail (I don’t have time to tell that story here). I only mention her so that I can include this plaque that some prankster went to a lot of trouble to make and post outside the middle school that bears her name. It’s all made up, but it would be pretty cool if it were true.

This week’s random fun fact: There are two players on Thurston’s team named Miller! There are no players on the Springfield roster named Miller. Or Colt, for that matter. And I must say that researching information on the Springfield Millers is no easy task. Even if you type in Springfield, Oregon you get results for all of the towns named Springfield in every other state, and there are a lot of them. And when you type in Millers you get results for a bunch of people named Miller. Every search was a dumpster-dive but I learned that there are lots of interesting Millers in lots of places named Springfield.

Ellie Miller

There are at least five lumber mills still in operation in Springfield and there is something to be said for tradition and longevity, but can I be the first to suggest that maybe it’s time for Springfield to update the Miller on their logo? Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were both recently retired, rightly I might add, because they depicted people in a demeaning and unrealistic way. If I worked in a mill I would be quite demeaned by that obese, pencil-legged oaf on the logo. It’s time someone spoke up, so let me propose a new Miller: Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman on the show Broadchurch. Her boss is Detective Inspector Hardy, played by David Tennant, who just calls her “Miller” in his thick Scottish accent. It’s fun to listen to and even more fun to refer to people around you as “Miller” in the same way, as Mrs. Ednold and I do during and after each episode and did throughout this game. If I didn’t have to wear a mask I would have been saying it to the Springfield fans around us too, but it loses something when your face is covered. I think Ellie would be an appropriate Miller for the 21st century.

Springfield has never won a state football championship and has spent a lot of time in the athletic shadows of the Eugene schools and their Springfield rival, Thurston. Thurston are the two-time defending state 5A champions, but after this game I don’t have any idea what their chances are of winning a third straight title because Springfield was just so bad. Other than by forfeit, I am willing to bet my house that they will not win a game this season. The Colts led 37-0 at the end of the first quarter, and if the clock hadn’t run continuously the entire second half they may have scored 200 or 300 points if they had wanted to. I’m glad they didn’t get the chance. The 58-0 final score was bad enough. The Millers didn’t gain a single first down the entire game, and most of the Colts' touchdown drives lasted only a play or two. I’m usually not a fan of schools dropping down to lower classifications but Springfield is a special case. I’m not sure they’d be competitive against 3A or even 2A competition. If you enjoyed this game you also probably like seeing baby seals get clubbed to death, or a bunch of hungry lions taking down an antelope and tearing it limb from limb. If my mom had gone out for the team she’d probably be the Miller’s starting quarterback. I don’t mean 70 years ago - I mean now, and she’s in her 80s. They are that bad, and it was sad to watch. I suspect even the Thurston fans didn’t enjoy what they saw. A win is a win, but I hope nobody took any satisfaction from what happened on that field. If my children had been watching I would have covered their eyes. It was brutal.

What might have been.

To make matters worse I wasn’t able to sample anything from the snack bar. When I went down to get a bite in the middle of the second quarter the line was literally fifty yards long. Had I stood in line I would have missed the rest of the game. It’s a good-size concession area but they could have opened two or three more just like it and they all would have stayed busy. If I had been a real Miller fan I would have stayed in that line just to avoid the carnage on the field.

Mrs. Ednold reported that things were much the same in the cheerleading department: Though the Miller cheer team seemed adequate and made some noise, the Thurston cheerleaders were much more disciplined and skilled and generally took their jobs more seriously. I don’t know how much that matters so you can draw your own conclusions. Just an observation.

I guess Springfield can take some solace in the fact that they produce some great athletes in other sports. They produce great thinkers. They prepare people to be super moms, not super throwers or tacklers. They’re lovers, not fighters. There are probably lots of things the Millers are good at. Football isn’t one of them.

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