Dieckhoff: Thanks for a year of great memories, Jefferson County
Well, folks, I'm heading back to where I came from, back over the mountains. Before I go, though, I want to say with the utmost sincerity: thank you for the memories.
Following some unexpected twists of fate, I have accepted a position within Pamplin Media Group that is taking me back to the Portland metro area. I will continue to cover prep sports, and until my replacement arrives at the Pioneer, I'll still be covering the Buffs and Bulldogs from afar.
That said, though you'll still see my name on bylines in these pages in the coming weeks, you won't be seeing me at the fields and courts in Madras and Culver anymore. Instead, I'll be in Clackamas County covering more than a dozen high schools in nearly as many different communities.
Now, as I leave Jefferson County on my way back to the Willamette Valley, I take with me a year's worth of memories that will last me a lifetime.
Here are a few of my favorites.
Fall (August 2021 — November 2021)
When I started this position last August, it was my first foray into 'big-J' journalism, my first attempts at being a sports photographer and my first dive into the puzzling world of page design.
The fact that I was learning on the fly may have been apparent in the early days, and so a special bit of gratitude goes out to the 2021 fall sports teams who bore the brunt of my inexperience, especially in the photo department.
Despite those early shortcomings, I still think back to one night last fall that stood out above the rest: Oct. 22, 2021.
On that crisp Friday evening, I had a tough decision to make. It was Homecoming Night at Madras High School, and the Buffs were gearing up for a football game against those bitter rivals from Crook County. Meanwhile, the Culver volleyball team was on the cusp of clinching a state playoff spot as they hosted a district tournament match against Sheridan.
Eventually, my colleague in Prineville, Lon Austin, agreed to cover the homecoming festivities at MHS while I went to Culver for the volleyball match — and then raced back to Madras for the end of the football game.
What happened next swept me off my feet.
Culver came back from the brink of disaster to beat Sheridan in five sets, clinching their first state playoff berth since 2018 and kicking off a bench-clearing celebration that resulted in tears and screams of joy. When Kayden Benningfield's match-winning kill hit the floor, my heart raced and I sprung into action trying to capture the ensuing moments.
Driving back to Madras, my heart was still going at full pace — and only built up speed as I wondered how the football game was going. When I parked on Buff Street, I saw the scoreboard: Madras, perhaps unexpectedly, was ahead 21-12 in the fourth quarter.
Less than an hour later, another bench-clearing celebration started. The Buffs had just beaten the Cowboys for the first time in 12 years.
More tears, more screams, more joy.
Around the same time, I experienced my first-ever Senior Nights as a sports reporter.
As jaded as I may be about some things, these events proved adept at pulling on my heartstrings. That was especially true when MHS teacher and coach Cam Rosenfield had to choke back tears as he announced the names of the boys soccer seniors. In that moment, I think we were all a little choked up.
During the Madras volleyball team's celebration, I witnessed the honor song and Native drum circle for the first time. The performance floored me that night, as it would every other night War Face came to town.
In November, I even had the chance to see my very first six-man football game — and at the same time, I got to cover my first state championship after Wheeler County trounced Triangle Lake in the title game.
There's simply nothing like the first time — and the 2021 fall season was my first time feeling like a real journalist.
That's a memory I will never lose.
Winter (December 2021 — March 2022)
Following trips to Reser and Autzen to cover college football in late November, the winter season brought about its own memories starting in December.
The winter season was when I did the most traveling this past year. I saw basketball tournaments in the surprisingly spacious gym in Moro and also in a cramped middle school in Sisters. I went to tiny swim meets and massive wrestling tournaments in Redmond. I watched Crook County girls basketball win on Senior Night in Prineville, and I was there when Madras girls basketball took third place at state in Coos Bay.
That last entry in the travelogue, the one that took me to Marshfield High School for the 4A girls basketball state tournament, was the most difficult — and most rewarding — trip of them all.
As it happens, it wasn't a done deal that I would even make the trek; if the Buffs had not upset No. 2 Cascade in overtime in the quarterfinal round, I would have stayed home. Instead, when the squad pulled out the win at nearly 11 p.m., I turned off my online stream of the game and started packing my bags.
Not 24 hours later, I was in Coos Bay and watching a deflated Madras team fall to Corbett. The resulting mood was dour, but the girls bounced back with an incredible performance in the third-place game. That win was followed by another bench-clearer, a celebration that knocked players off their feet and transformed into a dogpile at center court.
Watching that two-day roller coaster of emotions firsthand made the long drive to the south coast well worth it.
That's not to say that there weren't amazing performances happening right here in Jefferson County, too.
Just two weeks prior to the girls basketball state tournament, the Culver wrestling team won a state championship on its home floor.
Culver didn't just host its own 2A/1A boys state tournament, either. The Bulldogs also put on the girls tournament two days earlier, an event which spanned all six classifications in the state of Oregon.
I can't lie — those two tournaments were some of those most stressful events I covered in my year at the Pioneer. Rushing from room to room, pivoting from mat to mat, I'm sure I looked every bit as frenzied as I felt. However, all of that stress melted away once the house lights were dimmed and the Culver ring light was illuminated for the championship round.
As Culver crowned four state champions and celebrated a team title on its home floor, I was thankful to be able to stop for a moment and admire the town's true spirit on full display.
The winter was a trying time, to be sure; still, the travel and chaos always paid off.
Spring (March 2022 — May 2022)
When the next sports season rolled around, the calendar may have said it was spring — but it certainly didn't feel like it. The cold, precipitation-filled weather all around the state meant a lot of rainouts (or snow-outs) for baseball, softball, tennis and golf.
Even though the schedule was peppered with postponements and cancelations, there were still a few standout moments from the spring. On April 7 in Culver, the Bulldog softball team came back to beat Sheridan in a wild 15-14 game that saw Shanti Rosales seal the win by stealing home.
Meanwhile, back at Madras High School, there were plenty of spring highlights: Marilyn Tom hitting three home runs in a game against North Marion on April 18; Madras hosting the first rounds of the girls tennis district tournament on May 9, bringing students out of their classrooms during the day to cheer on their fellow Buffs; the baseball team pulling off two comeback wins in as many nights on May 11-12, and clinching a spot in the playoffs in the process.
Perhaps the most fun of all came on a pair Wednesday afternoons, April 27 and May 4, when the MHS track team hosted back-to-back dual meets.
At the end of each meet, MHS track coach Mike Dove put on a throwers' relay, pitting athletes from the discus, shot put and javelin together in teams that then competed in a 4x100 relay — followed by an eating contest.
Against Crook County, the teams had to finish a medium pepperoni pizza. Against Corbett, each athlete had to down a banana and a half gallon of chocolate milk.
It wasn't always pretty, but it sure was fun to watch.
A few weeks later, that same Madras track team won a district title on the boys side, took second in the girls meet and qualified a ton of athletes for the state championships. Meanwhile, Culver also had two state qualifiers.
Those performances afforded me the opportunity to go to Hayward Field for the first time ever, for another stressful but enjoyable weekend of wall-to-wall coverage, an experience I won't soon forget.
Summer (June 2022 — August 2022)
Not long after state track, the spring season ended — but there were still stories to tell throughout the summer.
In June, the Madras Trap Club shot its way to nationals, the District 5 Little League All-Stars tournaments came to Juniper Hills Park and Erika Olivera returned to MHS to host a girls soccer camp.
July brought about the 26th Annual Todd Beamer Memorial Run, Make-A-Wish Night at Madras Speedway and the Jefferson County Fair and Rodeo.
I even snuck in my first and only trip to the Madras Dragstrip for August's King of the Track races on my final Sunday in town.
Now, just two weeks after my one-year anniversary at the Madras Pioneer, it's hard to put into words what my time in Central Oregon has meant to me.
So, instead of rambling on any longer, I'll just leave it at this: thanks for the memories, Jefferson County.