Grin and Barrett: Crazy 8’s

By Barrett Henderson, The Observer September 23, 2008 01:37 pm

When I first heard that there was eight-man football, I wasn’t sure what to think. I grew up in Florida and the closest thing we had to that was flag football on a Sunday.

As I mentioned in my introductory column, I went to a high school with 2,700 students.

I spent the last two weekends in North Powder and Cove and experienced true small town athletics for the first time.

I loved it.

The smell of hotdogs coming out of the concession stand. The announcer running play-by-play as if it was radio, it was great.

There was something warm and intimate about the games. I was an outsider and I’m pretty sure it was noticeable in a town where everyone knows everyone. But, at the same time, I felt welcome.

I’m sure almost the whole community was at both football games and may have talked about it much of the day prior to kickoff.

Old faces, young faces, all glued to 16 boys playing a game. The older crowd shared stories, while the younger ones threw a ball or played tag off in the distance.

The women in the stands watched their sons and grandsons with pride.

The men had their eyes locked onto the field remembering times not too long ago when they played on the same exact field. They talked about the other teams in the league as if they were all coaches who scouted them.

You see, that’s what makes these games so special. It was not about the game that brought people to it, that was secondary. It was the social outing that surrounded the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw some great football by some terrific athletes. But it was the warmth I felt on some chilly nights that left with me.

The fans in Cove huddled under umbrellas and stuck it out for two hours in constant rain. In North Powder, the fans wrapped up in homemade blankets and quilts with Powder Valley colors.

For the Badgers, it was their first-ever game under the lights. It was a project that the community funded, and they all came out to enjoy. Salmon River may have left with the win that night, but North Powder will have more night games to look forward to.

The rain poured in Cove, and so did the Leopard scoring on poor Greenleaf. But, despite the weather, no one left. People were cold and wet, but nobody went home. They were so happy to see Cove be on the other side of a blow-out, no one wanted to miss it.

Even when the junior varsity team came in for much of the second half, everyone enjoyed seeing what the future had in store. I must admit, I found myself chuckling as everyone else did, when Greenleaf threw the ball numerous times to a player who is usually on the offensive line. The 220-pound lineman caught the ball, turned up field, and dragged three or four Leopards with him before falling.

I recommend to any football fan, if your team is away and one of these Old Oregon League schools has a game, go out and watch. Even if your school has a night game, these games usually begin in the afternoon — since most do not have lighted fields.

I met a gentleman in Cove who is originally from Tennessee. He moved to the area in the sixties, but went back to Tennessee. It didn’t take him long to remember what he loved about Cove. He moved back one final time.

“I love it here,” the gentleman said. “You get nothing like this in the south. I get to see my grandson play the game. It gets no better than this.”

I happen to agree with him. I’d take 8-man football in a small Eastern Oregon town over 11-man in the south any day.

 

Barrett Henderson is sports writer for The Observer. Reach him by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .