By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.–Yeah there were some frustrations going back to the compacted, concrete-like dirt they’ve been practicing on for the last three weeks out by McKay park after warming up on the turf, but once they got back on it to finish up their walkthrough practice, it was worth it as they found their rhythm on their new turf that was finally ok’d to practice on Thursday after a final inspection on it.
There’s obvious emotions about it being out there for the first-time breaking in the green carpet as the black rubber pedals flew up on every movement, cut and ball snap and hands exploding up from it.
“Dude it’s so exciting, I’m honestly so happy right now,” said Raul Solis on the field. “Like before, I was going out there (the field they’ve been practicing on all summer long) and practicing like ‘eehhh’ you know and just going to that, we’ve been practicing in McKay Park.
“But coming here, it makes me feel so good and it’s been a big blessing.”
Floating around practice was a McKay-legend in 1994-grad Ardell Bailey, who’s a few records still stand today as the 42-year-old floated around McKay Park watching practice before everyone transferred back to the turf field, joking around with a few of the Scots coaches as he reflects on how his Alma Mater was able to chance up the pace by installing a turf field in 2017.
“It’s awesome, being one of the last schools in the Valley to be able to get turf and get rid of the big mound that I remember playing on back in ’94,” said Bailey. “It’s amazing to see the evolution and progress that has came with the program since coach Riddell has been here.”
That mound that was legendary with McKay’s grass field, Bailey remembers the glory days running up and down, side-to-side, of the gridiron back in the old Valley League that preceeded the Central Valley Conference and the Greater Valley Conference during his time in the Green and Gold.
“Well, I ran a 4.5 40, but running down the side of the hill I could probably get down to a 4.34, 4.2 you know,”laughed Bailey. “I mean, it was a nice little slope and then it was nice because you couldn’t see your opponents on the other side half the time it was so high up, you couldn’t see over the top.”
Even Duane Riddell, who coached linebackers in 1994 at McKay before becoming the Head Coach there a few years later, made reference to not being able to see 5-6
“And now I remember, now I’m kind of short, but I remember looking over on the other side and there was some other guys who were short, I could barely see their heads,” joked the roughly five-seven, five-eight or so Riddell. “But this is great, I’m really excited for the kids and the community and for the community, it’s going to be a great deal here.”
Something that everyone in the McKay-side of Salem will get to enjoy in other sports than just football.
“It’s just huge, this will be a gathering spot,” said the older Riddell. “This will be a gathering spot for the community and that’s going to be great for everybody, young and old…but no, I’m excited for it.”
The Project Manger, Danielle Bethell, who’s also the McNary Club President and a 1997 McKay Alum and was on the Scots softball team during her McKay days, there’s a sense of pride in being able to help out her Alma Mater. To leave her mark on the McKay community in some form or another as McKay did for her back in the 1990s when she wandered around the halls of the school.
“There was a hill here when I went to High School here, but for me, it’s not necessarily happiness, it’s pride to be able to come from a community that gave to me that I can give back to,” starts Bethell.
“I think it’s important for these kids to know that they might come from a little more challenged environment background, that they can make something of themselves and I hope that myself and Ryan Allbritton, who worked on this project and did go to McKay have taught them something and follow in our footsteps.”
Chris Tarver, who is a part of the McKay Booster Club as an At-Large member, has been on the forefront and lending a hand whenever it’s needed and was helping out pressure washing the stands while the team was practice, absorbed himself into the McKay culture even though he didn’t go to McKay nor is from the State of Oregon.
“This is beyond anything I could ever hoped for, it’s deep,” starts Tarver, who was taking a breather before continuing working in the stands. “It took so many people, to get this thing done. I was a small player, but I was glad to be one. It’s going to benefit these guys beyond what they even know and the school, it’s excited. The teachers inside, these guys, the other teams, it’s just growing and I just can’t wait for tomorrow night.
“I hope that this place is just packed to the gorge….this is going to be a game-changer, this has that much momentum and excitement and anticipation built up, that I do think that this is going to be the thing that gets these guys to understand that there’s a lot of people behind them that they don’t even know and may never will.
“But the ones that will be behind them: the parents, whether their students, teammates coaches,” continues Tarver. “I mean this is beautiful, I’m probably going to cry six times, maybe seven times here in the last week. I had doubts, I think we all did a little bit. But it got done, and that’s the bottom line, it got done and they deserved it to get done. And now it’s time to go to work.”
With practice wrapping up, Bailey spoke to the team about the fight between the Frog and the Duck and trying to inspire the team through not giving up. The basis of it is the Frog is fighting for his life, as in sports your fighting to win, your fighting to survive and you’ll do what you need to do to survive and win.
So the Frog has the Duck by the throat and the Frog says that he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to beat the Duck and the story comes down to never give up; and as they wrapped up just one of many practices on the turf, the first game on it is just a few hours away.
For Solis and Jovi Davis, there’s that nervous excitement to it as well.
“We’re very, very, very, very, very, very nervous, but it’s also honestly, it’s a really, really good feeling,” said Solis. “I kind of don’t want to let people down because it is a new field. I don’t know, I just don’t want to let anyone down on the new field, the first game. But honestly, it’s incredible, like I don’t know.”
“Everyone is going to be excited to play, but I think once we stepped onto that field,” starts Davis. “I will be hype coming onto the field, being during pre-game just mind set for the game because it’s the start of the season, and I think once we come down to kick-off, the butterflies will flow; but just because it’s suppose to be a packed house.
“We’re suppose to have a bunch of people. We’re suppose to have our sponsors there and we’re going to try to make it a good scene for them and trying to pull out a ‘W’ over West, espically with them being one of the toughest opponents on our schedule.”
For ‘OG’ Riddell, the feelings of both will be there as he returns to McKay as a coach for the first time in a long while.
“I have butterflies, I have some anxiety and to be honest to me, I’m alive,” said Riddell. “So I’ve had that, whenever I played football or coached football, it just means that I’m alive and, ‘hey, I’m still kicking’.”
Tailgating starts at 5:30pm with the ribbon cutting at 7p and the game starts at 7:30pm Friday.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald