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  • Ednold

St. Helens 10/14/22

Before we even left home this Friday, we knew we were going to see some history made at the football game. The St. Helens Lions were hosting the Scappoose Indians at Doc Ackerson Stadium 100 years and one day after the first time the two teams played each other back in 1922. They were calling this game the Centennial Showdown, but it’s usually referred to as the 7 Mile War in reference to the approximate distance between the two towns, and we were not going to miss it.

Anyone else ever notice that traffic in Portland is a nightmare on a Friday afternoon? The nice thing is that none of those many thousands of people wanted to go to St. Helens, and we flew right by the exit lanes where those people may still be waiting to get off the freeway. Part of me felt a little guilty cruising by at 65 while they were parked in the gridlock, but the other part of me was pretty damn happy. And I guess it’s not true that nobody else was going to St. Helens, and we did have some company as we headed up Highway 30, but it was comparatively traffic-free and we rolled into town and made the left turn on Gable Road in time to grab a prime parking spot in the SHHS parking lot. People in St. Helens were expecting a big crowd, and this is the first high school game I’ve attended where they were running shuttle buses from the neighboring elementary school for overflow parking. Unfortunately, the large crowd meant we’d have to forego our usual exploratory drive around town to hold on to our parking spot, and even at that time there was a string of fans walking the trail to the stadium entrance.

We didn’t get to see much of it in the daylight, but I can tell you a little about St. Helens anyway. It’s right across the water from the very tip of Sauvie Island and was founded in 1845. It was originally called Plymouth, because that guy was from New England and I guess that’s the best name he could think of. Five years later the name was changed to St. Helens after the mountain you can see from town about 40 miles away in Washington. A few hundred years ago when white immigrants were giving anglo names to geographic features in North America, it was common for them to use people’s titles instead of names, and we can all be thankful for that. For example, the city of Baltimore is named after Lord Baltimore, whose name was Cecil Calvert. Can you imagine Calvert, Maryland today? The Calvert Orioles just doesn’t sound right, somehow. New York was named for the Duke of York, the future King James II, whose last name was Stuart. Luckily, today we have New York, New York and not Stuart, Stuart. What an awful name. Simply dreadful. I mention all of this because, like I said, the town of Saint Helens was named for Mt. St. Helens. You may remember that Captain Vancouver named Mt. Rainier after one of his friends, and he likewise named Mt. St. Helens after another of his friends, Alleyne FitzHerbert. Thank god, Mr. FitzHerbert had a title: Baron St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens sounds way better than Mt. FitzHerbert, and I can’t even tell you how much happier I am to be going to a football game in St. Helens than I would have been going to a game in FitzHerbert. And the residents are probably glad they don’t have to live in FitzHerbert and send their children to FitzHerbert High School.

In the 1850’s St. Helens battled with Portland to become the dominant port in the area. But when Portland improved the old Canyon Road over to the Tualatin Valley, giving that port easier access to the agricultural area west of the Willamette River, they won that competition and most of the population that went with it. St. Helens was incorporated as a city in 1889, and now it’s the county seat of Columbia County with a population of around 15,000.

St. Helens was a lumber town for a long time, but it’s less so now and has become more of a bedroom community for the Portland metro area, and those people are apparently pretty crazy about their Halloween. St. Helens celebrates the entire month of October with a Spirit of Halloweentown in the downtown area where there are spooky events and a parade and other Halloweeny stuff. I don’t like to be tricked, so I don't get into Halloween much myself but, if I did, this is the place I would come for my treats.

According to the OSAA, this would be the 100th game between these two teams. Here at CPHC we know that is incorrect. This would actually be the 100th anniversary of that first game, won by St. Helens 48-0. One hundred years is a long time, and just to put things in perspective, when that first game was played Warren Harding was president of the United States, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age had just been published, and Betty White was 9 months old. Nobody seems to know how many times these two teams have played each other over those 100 years, or what the respective records are for each school in those games, but from what I’ve been able to gather, Scappoose has dominated the series recently.

Saint Helens won the matchup in 2016 when they were in the 5A class playing a 4A Scappose team, but the Lions have lost the last five meetings since then. The Lions have had success over the past 100 years though, winning two AAA state championships in 1992 and 1996. They also lost championship games in 1952, 1954, and 1989. This year both St. Helens and Scapoose have moved down to the 4A level from 5A, and both are members of 4A Special District 1.

The Big Fish

To mark the centennial of the rivalry game, the two school districts got together and created a trophy to be presented to the winning team that will henceforth be given to the winning side each time they play. It would be nice to get something for winning the game that you can display in the trophy case at the school, and I like the idea of a trophy like the Old Oaken Bucket, the Little Brown Jug, the Platypus or the Apple Cup or Paul Bunyan’s Axe. That axe, by the way, only got started in 1948. Before that Minnesota and Wisconsin played for the Slab of Bacon, which was a terrible idea. If you name a trophy after the tastiest thing mankind has ever invented, it’s going to disappear. And it did. Anyway, I don’t know if this fish trophy has a name yet, but I’m calling it the Big Fish. For me personally, I’m not sure if that particular trophy would elicit my best performance like a slab of bacon would, but a Big Fish is not nothing.

According to Scappoose athletic director Dale French, “St. Helens and Scappoose have a storied history of rivalries in many different activities. This game presents an opportunity to celebrate our relationship as neighbors and come together in the name of friendly competition.” The St. Helens AD said “Players competing in this game will compete at a high level while adhering to our high standards of sportsmanship and respect”. I wasn’t present for the pre-game talks by either of the coaches, but I’m betting neither one included any crap about “friendly competition” or “adhering to our high standards of sportsmanship and respect”. Friendly competition and sportsmanship are wonderful, but so is kickin’ your neighbor’s ass.

Did you know NFL linebacker David Mayo is from St. Helens? Yep. Unfortunately for the Lions, after being born in St. Helens David moved with his family to Scapoose and played high school football for the Indians, graduating in 2011. So, sadly, thanks to Mr. Mayo, the lone name on my list of distinguished alumni of St. Helens High School is Hugh Hefner’s former main squeeze, Holly Madison. Since she’s the only one on the list, I had to mention her, but I’m not giving her any more free publicity than that. If you want to know more about her and her story you’ll have to read it somewhere else. I do have several family members who have attended St. Helens High, though, so maybe that list will expand a little bit in the future. Not to apply too much pressure, but we’re all counting on you guys.

Doc Ackerson Stadium

My guess is that Doc Ackerson was some kind of coach for the Lions at some point, but any information about who he was or why he has a stadium named after him has been carefully hidden by the people in St. Helens, so your guess is as good as mine. But his name IS on the stadium, so he must have been pretty important. Mrs. Ednold found us some seats on the far east side of Doc’s stadium among a section of parents and other Lion supporters. The student section separated us from the band, with other miscellaneous Lions fans beyond. It’s a good-size steel and aluminum structure that I imagine has plenty of room for games that aren’t Centennial Showdowns. On this night, though, it was a packed house on both sides of the field. The visitors section on the north is built into a small berm with a concrete foundation supporting uncovered aluminum bleachers that couldn’t hold all of the Indian fans that made the trip, but many just made themselves comfortable on the little hillsides or standing against the fence that rings the rubber running track. In the middle of all of this was the artificial turf football field that looks to be fairly new.

Visitors (north) seating

It was a comfortably warm night in St. Helens, with no need for as much as a light jacket, but by the end of the game both of us were wearing our coats. As nice as Doc’s stadium is and as nice as it is to know you have a roof over your head just in case, the stadium acts as a wind tunnel and it felt like we had an industrial strength fan right in our faces the entire game. This resulted in a need to squint into the wind for four quarters, and by the time it was over my entire face, including my eyeballs, was chapped.

As gametime finally approached, a combined Lion/Indian band played a nice arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner, after which Mrs. Ednold proclaimed “Play Ball”, and The War was on. Kind of. It was more like a battle, I think. Little Big Horn, to be exact. Just as they did in that first Centennial Showdown in 1876, the Indians thoroughly decimated their foes and took no prisoners. Scappoose scored early in the second half to go ahead 41-0 and the clock ran continuously thereafter. The Lions scored a garbage-time touchdown to make the final 41-6, which wasn’t as bad as the Indians lost that first game 100 years ago, but it was a mismatch from the opening whistle. The difference, it seemed to me, between this game and Custer’s debacle is that nobody appeared to be too surprised this time. The Lions and their fans seemed to know what was coming and had no expectations that it would turn out any different than it did.

But a pattern seems to be developing in our games this season: The worse our team is, the more energy everyone else puts forth to salvage the night. St. Helens doesn’t have the flashiest band we’ve seen, but they were good, and they were the only band I’ve ever heard play a Beastie Boys song, so they get extra credit for that. The student section was boisterous and led by a group of cheerleaders that tried hard to instill some hope into the home fans. The one exception to all of this, I must say, was Leo the Lion. Leo the listless, lame, lazy, lugubrious Lion. He had all the energy of a dead possum. Not a possum just playing dead - a really dead one. He alone appeared seriously affected by the Lions’ poor performance on the field, and may require counseling.

Concessions and Restrooms

This is the part where I’d usually tell you all about your noshing opportunities at the stadium snack bar, but I won’t be doing that this time. I may have had to place my order sometime last Tuesday to get anywhere near that place during the game. I just couldn’t see missing half a football game to stand in that line that never seemed to get any shorter, so if you ever attend a game in St. Helens you’ll have to do it without any handy tips on what to eat. The result was that I was probably on the verge of literally starving to death by the time the game ended, so we took some time to check out the St. Helens nightlife and get a bite to eat.

We got back on Gable Road and headed east this time, into the heart of St. Helens, and it turned out to be another of those towns that has a split personality: There’s the Highway St. Helens, and there’s the real town of St. Helens away from the highway. After a longer drive than we were expecting we came to the downtown area, where there are several eating and drinking establishments, boutique shops, that Halloweentown we had heard about, and a riverfront harbor area. It's really nice but you'd never know it's even there if you don't leave the highway. But on the way there we had passed the Pour House, which struck us as funny, so we decided to go back and give it a try. I've spent several years on its doorstep, so I figured I may as well go in for once. It turned out to be a bar for a young crowd, so we didn't feel out of place at all. They like their rock music a little louder than I prefer mine, but everyone was nice and the food was good. The tip would have been bigger but my drink didn’t come with a girl in it, as I had been led to believe it would.

So, that was our night in St. Helens. It was fun, but I hope that when my great, great grandchildren go to the Bicentennial Showdown in 2122 they will finally get to see a competitive game between these two schools.

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17 oct. 2022

Fun to read this local story! We know the Mayo family and “Holly’s“ family. We should have told you to look for our plaque in the stadium. You would probably need to part the band to find it. We will be Lions fans for 4 more years until C graduates, then will switch teams. Questionable loyalty I know.

Mrs Big Bro

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