Fans cheer the Antelopes in the 1A state championship game on Saturday, Nov. 30, in Hermiston. Wearing No. 27 is Stella Nichols, below her is Breanna Morford, to her left is Mariah Furtado, and to her left is Isabelle Garza. To the left of Morford is Miley Zimmerman, below her is Lucy Martin, and to the left of them is Zoe Nelson. (Angie Sillonis/Special to the Enterprise)
Adrian/Jordan Valley’s state football title victory Saturday was about a lot of things – grit, determination, courage and skill – but it was also about community.
Two communities actually.
Two years ago, Adrian and Jordan Valley merged their football programs, an experiment that paid off in a big way last weekend in Hermiston when the football team defeated St. Paul 38-32 in the Class 1A football championship game.
Rusty Bengoa, principal, superintendent and athletic director at Jordan Valley High School, said Saturday’s win was huge. Bengoa said the people who couldn’t make it to Hermiston were watching the game from home, and afterwards the news of the win blew up on social media.
The state title is a huge win for the schools – and the close-knit towns of Adrian and Jordan Valley, population 174 and 173, respectively.
Nickie Shira is chair of the board of directors for Adrian 2040 – a group that promotes growth in the city. The group is brainstorming ways to celebrate the win, said Shira.
“I think the teams and the coaches have been working hard and the community’s been behind them all the way,” said Shira. “It was awesome being able to travel with them and to see the amount of support there and the number of community members that traveled from Adrian, Jordan Valley and the surrounding areas.”
Robert Radford was one of those supporters. Radford has snapped photos of Adrian athletics since the early 1980s, after moving to the city in 1972.
“I’m just glad I had an opportunity to share it with them because I know how important it is,” he said.
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Radford’s enthusiasm was apparent at the championship, where he shot more than 1,500 photos.
“They’re not going to forget it; it’s a memory they’re going to cherish, and very few get an opportunity to be the best at something,” he said.
Radford said he’s most proud of the team’s sportsmanship. He caught shots of players shaking hands with referees after the win Saturday, he said, and that’s just one example of what a class act the Lopes are.
Artie Freytag, owner of Don’s Lumber & True Value Hardware in Adrian, wasn’t at the game Saturday.
“Whenever I’m there, they lose,” she joked.
But Freytag made sure she continued her business’ tradition of supporting the Lopes by providing pies for them every Monday after they win a game.
It started as a joke with Freytag’s late husband, Don, in the early 1980s. A player on the team who worked part-time for Don asked him if he would buy pie if the team won a game. Don’s Lumber has been purchasing pies after wins ever since.
When her husband passed away in 2003, Artie continued the tradition.
“The joke’s on us this year, though,” Freytag laughed. She’s bought the undefeated Lopes six pies a week every week.
The win was big news as well in Jordan Valley, which added four players to the roster this year.
“The majority of the Jordan Valley community was at the game as well,” Bengoa said, noting that “the stands were completely packed.”
Bengoa said the dedication of the Jordan Valley players – seniors Kort Skinner and Don Youren, junior Blaise Warn and sophomore Birch Eiguren – was tremendous.
The players practiced with their teammates in Adrian – 68 miles away – three or four times a week starting in August, 66 practices in all.
When the two football programs merged, Jordan Valley rancher Bryce Kershner, the assistant coach for the Antelopes, acquired a commercial driver’s license and a school bus endorsement. He said he took on the driving role to make it more affordable for the program, a sacrifice he was glad to make for the team.
The final destination of the 2019 Adrian/Jordan Valley football team was not as important as the journey, he said.
“Even if we lost, it would have been worth it,” Kershner said. “We didn’t have to win a state title for this to be worth it.”
Skinner, a receiver, said playing for the Antelopes was a challenge, one that entailed learning to be self-motivated and to manage time.
“I mean, you learn not to put stuff off,” he said. “The teacher gives you class time and you take advantage of it for sure… Sometimes we study on the bus and we try to utilize as much time as we could.”
The decision to play football also meant late weeknights. Occasionally after practice the Jordan Valley players didn’t reach town until after 8 p.m. and then some of the players had to drive another 20 minutes to get home.
“If Adrian wouldn’t have taken us in, we wouldn’t even have a football team here,” said Skinner.
Bengoa lauded both the players and Kershner for their dedication.
Despite the logistical challenges, the players are required to keep their grades up, said Bengoa.
“If they weren’t getting good grades they wouldn’t be able to go,” he said.
Kershner expressed his gratitude to Adrian for making it possible for Jordan Valley to share in the collective triumph.
“They (Adrian) are willing to cut everything in half and share it with us,” Kershner said. “They don’t need to open the doors for us and they do it gladly, and it’s been a great co-op.”
Kershner was thrilled with the program – and the win.
“I’m super proud of the boys,” Kershner said. “They earned it. They wanted it and they found a way to get it done… It shows what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
Shira, whose husband Nolan Shira helps coach for the team, said she was proud of the Lopes for being such a great reflection of the community; she praised the players for their sportsmanship and determination on the field.
“For the community to come together and stand side by side has been a great, positive experience,” Shira added. “It’s really what athletics should be about – building that character – it’s not just about the win, it’s about coming together and supporting each other.”
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