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  • Ednold

Wilsonville 11/10/23

Though the Willamette River generally flows south to north, it takes a sharp right at Newberg, and from there to Canby runs perpendicular to all the traffic going to and from the Portland metro area. There had to be a river crossing somewhere along that stretch, and this is the place Mr. Boone chose to put his ferry. At the site where natives had crossed the river for centuries, Daniel Boone’s grandson, Alphonso, established a ferry in 1847, and Alphonso’s son Jesse built Boone’s Ferry Road north and south of the river so that the north-south traffic through the valley could access the ferry.

The community that grew up around the ferry landing on the north bank of the river was known as Boone’s Landing, but that name was changed to Wilsonville 1880, after the town’s first postmaster, Charles Wilson. Ten years later the railroad had reached the town, and the town’s future was secured. The Boone family continued to run the ferry into the early 20th century, even after 1872, when Jesse was shot dead on his ferry by a guy who mistakenly believed Jesse had killed his sheep. Operation was eventually taken over by the state of Oregon, and after the Boone Bridge was opened a few hundred yards to the east in 1954, the ferry was decommissioned, and the north landing is now a city park.

As late as 1970 Wilsonville’s population hovered around 1,000, but it’s exploded in the last 50 years and now that number is about 30,000. Today, most of Wilsonville is in Clackamas County, but the far north end of town sticks out into Washington County. With Wilsonville’s growth, that section of I-5 has become one of the biggest bottlenecks in the state, and any sensible traveler driving through it, north or south, will add an extra half hour buffer to their travel itinerary. Like a gawky Wilsonville High student in highwater pants, the town has just grown too fast, and its traffic infrastructure hasn’t kept up with that growth. On most days, taking a ferry would be every bit as fast as driving over the Boone Bridge, and if any of the Boone descendants still know how to operate a ferry, they may want to think about getting back into the business. I can see why they may not want to, though, considering the whole dead sheep thing.

By 1995 the West Linn-Wilsonville School District decided they needed a high school in Wilsonville, and Wilsonville High was opened. Fortunately, students living south of the river attend Canby schools, so they don’t have to worry about crossing that bridge. During their 28 years of existence the Wildcats have become a perennial contender in the state football picture, and were coming into this week's game ranked #1 when Mrs. Ednold and I, along with Little Ednold, made the trip to see them play.

Before the game, we made sure to leave enough time to see the sights around town. It didn’t take long, but there are a few interesting things to see in Wilsonville, beginning with the site of the old ferry landing. From the city park you can walk down a trail to the river’s edge and see… Well, there’s really nothing to see, but you can stand there and just imagine all of the cars and buggies and wagons and livestock that passed over that same river bank for over a hundred years after Daniel Boone’s grandson went into the ferry business, and you can see the traffic crawling across the bridge in the distance. The Boone Bridge that finally killed Boone’s Ferry.

On your way there, you can also see the Old Town section of Wilsonville, which is the only part of town with that lived-in feel to it. Everything else is just so new it doesn’t really feel like a real town, and the Stepford vibes are pretty strong. But the older part of town does give you the sense that people have been living and working there for a very long time.

Then we took the short drive west from Boone’s Landing to Morey’s Landing. Morey’s Landing is one of countless housing developments in Wilsonville, each surrounded by privacy walls and obviously heavily influenced by their respective HOAs. It’s all very nice. A little too nice for my personal taste, but Morey’s Landing was developed after the owner of the property passed away in 1972, and that guy happened to be the writer Walt Morey. Morey was the guy who wrote Gentle Ben in 1965 before it was turned into a TV show two years later. He wrote a bunch of other books too, but the book about the boy with a bear for his best friend is the only one I’m familiar with. So, in the middle of this housing development is Walt Morey Park (for use only by residents of Morey’s Landing, a sign informed us), and in the park are several statues of bears, the biggest being of Gentle Ben himself. So, we saw it, then got out of there before anyone could call the authorities and report the non-residents looking at their bear statue.

One thing we didn’t see in Wilsonville was Frank Cady, because he’s dead. If you’re old enough to know who Gentle Ben was then you’re old enough to know Cady, too. He’s the old man (who I now know was somehow considerably younger then than I am now) who played the storekeeper on Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies back in the 60’s. When he left Hollywood, Cady retired to Wilsonville and died there in 2012 at the age of 96, so he wasn’t accepting visitors, which was just as well because we had a football game to get to.

Wilsonville competes in Special District 1 of the 5A classification. It’s an 8-team league but, strangely, each team only plays 3 league games during the season, and Wilsonville won the league with a 3-0 record. Their record was 10-1 overall, with the lone loss coming against a 6A Tualatin team early in the season. The Wildcats lost a 3A championship game in 2003 before winning it the following season, and have lost 3 championship games at the 5A level since then, including last year’s loss to Summit. Other than their one loss, they have destroyed all of their opposition this season, including a season-opening 44-15 thrashing of the same Thurston team they’d be playing in this game.

We found a spot for The Bucket in the parking lot just north of the field, but the crowd was large and I’m not sure where those who arrived after us found a place to park. We paid our $10 OSAA admission and received a media guide as we entered Randall Stadium through the gate. I don't know who Randall is, or was, and there is no mention of him or her in the media guide, or anywhere else, but if I'd done something cool enough to have a stadium named after me, I'd want everyone to know who I was, or am, so maybe that's something they can add for next season. The artificial turf field sat down below on a middle level between the upper north parking lot and a lower-level south parking lot beyond the south end zone. The large covered concrete grandstand for the home fans is on the east side, while a similar uncovered grandstand for the visitors is on the west, next to the school building. It was a chilly night, and though it wasn't raining at that moment and there was no wind to speak of, it's always comforting to see that we'll be spending the evening with a roof over our heads.

The grandstands are accessed from the elevated walkway behind them, so that you walk down from the top of the stairs and, seeing the band and student section on the north end, we looked for some seats closer to the other end. The first thing we noticed was that the top several rows in each section had been reserved for parents, and whoever had made arrangements ahead of time. They were clearly marked with names, and for schools where it matters it seems like a pretty good idea. It's a very nice stadium, and fundraising is underway to add a new giant LED video scoreboard in the next few years, which will make it even better. We chose our unreserved spots on the aluminum bleachers and settled in for some playoff football.

It's a big grandstand, with lots of seats, but access to the track surrounding the field had been blocked off, so if you wanted to watch the game you had to sit in the stands, and the conditions were pretty cramped by the time the game started. And, though it may have been different out on the field, from where we were sitting it sounded like Charlie Brown’s mom was announcing the game. You could tell he was saying something, but none of it was intelligible.

What we could hear was the combined Thurston-Wilsonville bands playing the Star-Spangled Banner after a presentation of veterans at mid-field, including a 99-year old WW2 veteran, to celebrate Veteran’s Day. It was a nice, short ceremony, and done really well. And with that, the Thurston band made their way back across the field, Mrs. Ednold yelled "Play Ball!", and the players were wise enough to do just that.

Visitors' (west side) bleachers

From the beginning it was clear that Thurston wasn’t going to be able to hang with the Wildcats for long. They had some talented players, but Wilsonville was just bigger, stronger, and faster at every position, and the only question was how much they would end up losing by. Wilsonville led 13-0 after one quarter, and that's when I went upstairs for my popcorn and coffee. Neither were exceptional, but I can't say the same for the ladies working the snack bar. They worked with clinical efficiency, and I was back in my seat in less than a minute. As good as the Wilsonville football team is, that snack bar staff is just as impressive. The brevity of my snack bar trip meant that I didn't miss any of the scoring, even though the Wildcats scored another 22 points in the second quarter and Thurston added 7 of their own to make it 35-7 at the half.

None of the action in that first half seemed to come as a surprise to anyone watching the game. It was clear that everyone around us expected their team to win big, and they were vocally enjoying the show. The large student section didn't need much coaxing to make noise, and the reasonably-sized 8-girl cheer squad was more than enough to keep them in full voice throughout the game. The odd acoustics of the grandstand kept us from hearing more than a muffled drone from the pep band, but the enthusiasm of the crowd around us filled that void.

When the Wildcats scored again shortly after halftime the clock ran continuously thereafter, and when all was said and done they had themselves a 28-point victory. The Thurston Colts never gave up, and matched the home team in second half scoring, but their defense didn’t have an answer for either the running or passing of the Wilsonville offense, and once they got behind they were never going to make up that deficit. So, it's on to the semi-finals for the Wilsonville Wildcats, who will play #5 Summit next week at McCullough Stadium in a rematch of last year's championship game. If they leave right now, they can probably make it across that bridge and arrive on time.

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