News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Six-man football championship staged in Sisters

The Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler football team won the state 1A six-man football title over the Triangle Lake Lakers 30-0 on Saturday, November 13 at Reed Stadium in Sisters.

Six-man football, you ask? There’s a history of the six-man game in Sisters. Old-timers and history buffs in Sisters Country know that the Sisters Outlaws won the six-man State title, played in Sisters, all the way back in 1959, their second title in two years.

In the smallest rural schools in Oregon, high school sports are often the only game in town when it comes to bringing the community together, but these very schools can have a tough time rounding up enough athletes to field teams. This can be especially true for football, which is why at the 1A level in Oregon football is played with eight on the field rather than 11.

So what does a school do if even eight is a stretch? The answer: six-man football.

Over the past three years a total of 22 teams in Oregon have fielded six-man teams as a pilot program, and organizers hope that the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) will adopt the six-man football format officially in the years ahead.

In the meantime, the participating teams have formed two special districts (west side and east side) and come up with a playoff format that led to the Wheeler County Rattlers and the Triangle Lake Lakers for Saturday’s championship face-off.

While not fully sanctioned by the OSAA yet, everyone involved in Saturday’s game considered the contest the State title game.

To get a clear picture of how small these towns and schools are, consider that as of 2020 the entire population of Wheeler county was estimated at fewer than 1,500.

Players for the Rattlers come from the three high schools in Wheeler County, east of Prineville — Spray High School, Mitchell High School, and Fossil’s Wheeler High School. For practices, teams rotate among the three communities, which are between 26 and 44 miles apart from one another, underscoring the commitment required to make the team function.

The Rattlers rumbled through a 9-0 season, which included one forfeit. The team averaged 54 points a game and outscored its opponents 432-101.

The Lakers on the other hand completed a 5-2 season and scored an average of just over 50 points a game in its wins.

While the Lakers held the Rattlers to their second-lowest scoring output of the season, they were no match for the Wheeler County boys.

Ed Greninger, who has lived in Spray since 1979, has been to hundreds of sports contests over the years and has yearned for the time when the local kids could bring home a State title.

“I love it that these three little towns, all in Wheeler County, from these ranch families, get a chance to play this game,” he said. “And six-man football is a lot of fun, a lot of action. It’s crazy.”

“Rattler Fever” certainly caught on during this epic season as at least 300 Wheeler County faithful showed up for the game in Sisters.

Six-man football has some special rules including that the field is 13 yards narrower; point-after kicks count for two points; to earn a first down requires 15 yards; and each play must include a clean exchange of the football (no quarterback keepers).

Even after getting doused with 10 gallons of water following the game, head coach Jerry Anderson’s enthusiasm was not dampened.

He said, “This is fantastic for our communities. I love all the support we’ve had; the parents cook meals for us, they do everything they can to support us, so it’s a win today for everyone!”

For superintendent/principal James Smith of Wheeler High in Fossil, this season has been particularly sweet.

“COVID put a stop to most sports over last year, so starting the year with this football team has meant so much to our kids, our families and the communities,” he said. “None of these schools has won a football State title since Wheeler High did it back in 1966.”

With a roster that includes just four seniors among 20 players, Wheeler County may not have to wait another 55 years for the next one.


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