I watch a high school football game most every Friday night in the fall. There is a special buzz to the Friday Night Lights as a community comes together in all kinds of weather to root on the town team.
Most of the venues for these games, with some exceptions, are cut from the same cloth. Bleachers. Sometimes a roof. Natural grass or sometimes artificial turf. Most times — but not always — a track surrounds the field and puts some distance between the action and the spectators.
Then there is St. Paul.
On Oct. 6 I saw Kennedy of Mt. Angel play at St. Paul in a Class 2A matchup in one of the most unusual venues in Oregon high school sports. The Buckaroos play their home games in the 8,000-seat stadium that St. Paul uses for its annual July 4th weekend rodeo.
But first you have to GET to St. Paul. Like another one of my favorite high school stops, Cascade in Turner (well, NEAR Turner) you travel through farm fields that never seem to end. And just when you become convinced that your directions are wrong or you missed a turn and you are going to miss the game … you see … lights! You find a parking spot that looks like you will have an easy time exiting … and enter another world.
At St. Paul the first thing you see is the massive wooden rear side of the rodeo grounds. No school logo. No nickname there. Just St. Paul Rodeo in massive letters. You enter underneath gigantic antique wooden bleachers and emerge onto the largest expanse of turf for a high school football field I have ever seen.
The massive bleachers and covered grandstands and the rodeo grounds essentially form a circle (see chart above). And for football season a rectangular football field is plopped down onto that circle. With the stands being even farther away from the action than those stadiums with a track.
The resodded field was in great shape, although I’m told that in rough winters the grass all but disappears. Also, because of its primary rodeo use the field has no crown to assist with drainage. Just a flat grass field. Also unusual are the tunnels underneath the wooden covered grandstands, tunnels that include the concessions areas amid caged pens for livestock
It’s not often you see a man on horseback parading the American flag around the field during the anthem. Or horse tracks in the grass. Or 500 people in an 8,000-seat stadium watching a Class 2A football game. But that’s football at St. Paul.
Adding to the festivities the night I was there was that it was senior night for the Buckaroos and at halftime St. Paul inducted new members into its athletic Hall of Fame.
All in all a pleasant night with a slight breeze and no rain to watch two of the top teams in Class 2A in one of the most unusual venues in the state.
Know of another unusual venue for high school athletics? Shoot me an email or give me a call.