▶️ Our favorite stories of 2022: The Wheeler County Rattlers

Note from the Digital Content Manager: When I asked our staff to send me their suggestions of their favorite stories we did this past year, this — by far — was the one on most people’s lists. Several of us even went to the state title game at Caldera High School to watch them defend their title — Travis Pittman

“It showed the heart of rural Oregon and the passion three towns can bring to put a highly competitive team on the field… AND win the state championship! I felt it had a Norman Rockwell feel to it… giving us a look at some hard working young men who may not go to college, may not ever play football again but they put everything they have into the game and bring a huge sense of pride to what they do and how they play.” — Allen Martin, Central Oregon Daily News Anchor

“Sometimes you hear about a story that sounds great and when you go to do the story the reality doesn’t live up to the hype in your head. But sometimes a story sounds incredible, and the reality is even better! The latter was the case for the Wheeler County Rattlers. Three years ago, Dave Jones told me about a 6-man football team in Wheeler County that had to combine two tiny towns/high schools to form one 6-man football team – I wanted to do THAT story. The pandemic put my plans on hold, but I never forgot about Dave’s pitch. Fast forward to 2022 and I finally circled back to the “tiny town” football story. In reality there were three towns/schools joining to make one team and it just kept on getting better. From a football field in the middle of a rodeo arena, to blowing stuff up for fun (you have to watch the story), to an incredible state title run – this rural football story had it all. Ultimately though, it was the people that made the story for me. Great kids, great coaches and Tommy Bunch’s moustache (you have to watch the web extras too)!” — Eric Lindstrom, Central Oregon Daily News Storyteller

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In the tiniest of the tiny Oregon towns, high school football is still very much a part of the fabric of the community.

It may not be traditional 11-man football. It’s not 8-man — that’s reserved for the “big” little towns.

It’s 6-man football. And in three tiny towns in Eastern Oregon, they’re combining their schools and athletes to field one 6-man team. 

Head east from Central Oregon — way east — and eventually you’ll find yourself in Wheeler County. It’s the least populated county in the state.

RELATED: Behind the scenes: Wheeler County Rattlers 6-player football title repeat

Way more cows than people. The entire county only has a population of 1,300 people — give or take. But what they do have is a high school football team that happens to be the reigning 1-A Oregon state champions.

The Wheeler County Rattlers.

The Rattlers aren’t the only team playing 6-man football across the state, but they are the only team that has to combine three towns with three different high schools to field just one 6-man football team.

The towns of Mitchell, Spray and Fossil combine their schools, their resources and their athletes to make up the Wheeler County Rattlers.

There are all kinds of unique challenges. Practices rotate from school to school, forcing players to be bussed to and fro up to an hour each way.

Home games rotate fields. Friday night lights literally don’t exist — games start at 2 p.m. and are played under God’s light.

And teammates might never attend the same school.

RELATED: Sibling football rivalry: 3 Bend brothers play for different high schools

This is cowboy country. The football field in Spray is part of the rodeo grounds. Cattle shoots line the edge of the field. The rodeo arena flows right into the grass and there’s all kinds of home field advantages.

The Rattlers are chasing another state title after going undefeated in 2021 — quite the turnaround for a team that had gone a combined 2-14 the previous two seasons.

Deschutes, Multnomah, Clackamas — those counties might have the people. But in Wheeler County, they’ve got the cows and they’ve got the horses on the field — figuratively and literally.

Wheeler faces Powers Saturday. The winner heads to the state title game.

 

▶️ Nonprofit provides 13 tons of fresh, local produce to High Desert pantries

A Central Oregon nonprofit put more than 13 tons of fresh, local produce on the shelves of food pantries across the High Desert in 2022 and they plan to do it again in 2023. 

Increasing access to fresh, local food is what the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance aims to do.

“We collect food from farmers and farmers market patrons and then give it to NeighborImpact and then they distribute it to their 56 hunger relief agencies,” said Katrina Van Dis, Executive Director of the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance.

RELATED: Bend woman creates app connecting local farmers to customers

RELATED: Little Did I Know: Worthy Brewing has a farm

For Katrina and her team, the program titled “Grow and Give” has been a tremendous success.

“So, 15,000 pounds is our goal each year. So 26,000 is over 15, obviously,” said Katrina. “The pound of food matters but really what matters for us too is making sure that we’re getting the food that people want or don’t have access to.”

 

And what people want is fresh produce.

“We did food pantry surveys last year and found that people really want leafy greens. So kale, lettuce, things that are really perishable that grocery stores, typically by the time it gets to the person that’s eating it, it’s not very good,” said Katrina. “And so we’re getting fresh food that’s local and that’s getting to people within two days.”

Within two days, the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance has the produce moved from farm to storage to distribution all across Central Oregon. It’s all made possible through their partnerships with local farmers and NeighborImpact — truly offering fresh, fast, farm-to-table produce opportunities. 

“What we hear from the pantries is that the clients are eager for this type of food. It’s a little bit better, more nutritious. There’s more variety. What this does for me is it brings so much joy knowing that we’re providing food that everybody might want. I mean, our slogan is, ‘Everybody deserves good food,'” said Katrina.

If you’d like to help The High Desert Food and Farm Alliance put thousands of pounds of fresh produce on food pantry shelves next year, head to their website www.HDFFA.org. They are always looking for more volunteers. 

▶️ Christmas Tree Project goes from not enough trees to too many

A few weeks ago, Central Oregon Daily News told you about The Christmas Tree Project — a charity that gives trees to those in need around the region.

At the time, they were facing a tree shortage.

Well, word got out. People stepped up. And now, The Christmas Tree Project has so many trees, they’re having trouble unloading them.

They’re trying to get the word out to those who aren’t aware of what they do.

Eric Lindstrom has their story. And if you need to learn more, you can visit their website here.

RELATED: Bend charity needs Christmas Tree donations due to supply chain issues

▶️ Our favorite stories of 2022: The Maupin Track of Dreams

We at Central Oregon Daily News have been thrilled to bring you the stories of the High Desert and beyond these past 12 months. We wanted to look back and not only re-share with you some of our favorites, but tell you why we love them so much.

“I love this story from May because it shows the ‘I think I can’ attitude of small town America. The Maupin Track of Dreams looks beautiful and I have to make it a goal to go up there and run a few laps.” — Travis Pittman, Central Oregon Daily News Digital Content Manager.

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After three years, a pipe dream to build a world class track and field facility in the tiny town of Maupin has finally become a reality. The community about 80 miles north of Bend just held a triumphant grand opening for a project that captured the imagination of an 8th grade girl and her family — and eventually the entire town.
 
It’s called the “Track of Dreams.”
 
From a dream to drawings to dirt being moved. Now, finally, the sight of high school athletes competing. The Track of Dreams has become a fully-formed reality.
 
The surface and striping were laid down just in time for South Wasco County to host their district track meet. And just in time for that 8th grader — now high school senior — Holly Miles to compete, at home, on a real track for the first time.
 
“It’s just surreal” Holly said, a word repeated by many in the community. “To actually be able to walk on it physically and not just walk on it in your head.”
 
Holly Miles
Holly Miles
 
 
 
The name “Track of Dreams” is an ode to “Field of Dreams.” And it was fitting — a town so small with a dream so big, who would have ever thought it could happen? 

Thankfully, a passionate group of people were crazy enough to believe it would.

And it did.

“Having 18 teams show up here today for the district meet and all of these kids be here, warming up for the discus and the pole vault happening over here and the shot down at the other end. All of these people here today — not to make it a total cliche, but it is the Track of Dreams. We’ve built it and now they have come,” said Rob Miles, Holly’s dad.

“Some say things like this don’t happen in Maupin. But now I can officially say, yes, things like this do happen in Maupin,” said Jim Hull, South Wasco County School District Athletic Director.

Maupin Track of Dreams
Maupin Track of Dreams
 

Yes, more work is still to be done. Lights need to be installed. Grandstands need to be put in. But the money has already been raised and the track is operational.

One of the major donors was Holly’s grandfather, Dan Carver. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see the track competed. But his love for track and field and his legacy will live on. The 200-meter corner that has a breathtaking view of the Deschutes River has been named the “Carver Curve.”
 
If you build it, they will run.
 
Maupin did build it. And the kids are running. And they will be for generations to come.
 
Maupin Track of Dreams overlooking Deschutes River
Maupin Track of Dreams overlooking Deschutes River

▶️ Former mountain bike pro Lindsey Richter on new career as children’s author

A former pro mountain biker turned coach is adding another title to her resume: children’s author. 

Longtime Bend resident Lindsey Richter sat down with Central Oregon Daily’s Eric Lindstrom to discuss releasing her first book — a children’s book that aims to teach trail etiquette and life lessons. 

RELATED: Deschutes Public Library dumping 150-year-old Dewey Decimal System

▶️ Santa Claus: The Central Oregon Daily News Interview

It’s the interview any journalist would give their careers for. 

Central Oregon Daily’s Eric Lindstrom sat down with the big man himself — Santa Claus.

Among the probing questions:

  • Which of your many names do you like to go with?
  • How are the reindeer doing and which one is your favorite?
  • How does he manage working on a Christmas Sunday when there’s NFL football that day?
  • And where is Eric on the Naughty or Nice list this year?

RELATED: 

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▶️ Behind the scenes: Wheeler County Rattlers 6-player football title repeat

Two weeks ago, Eric Lindstrom introduced us to a rural high school football team from Eastern Oregon — the Wheeler County Rattlers. They’re a small-town team with big time talent and a unique story.
 
This past weekend, they made their way to Bend to defend their state football championship in 6-player football and Eric took us behind the scenes and into the locker room.
 
The boys from Wheeler County arrived in Bend Friday night — cowboy boots in tow — and were greeted by 14 degree temperatures and a frozen turf field at Caldera High School for their final practice of the season.
 
 
They were back on the same turf Saturday with the 1A title on the line. And they were facing the same team they were up against last year — the Triangle Lake Lakers.
 
Wheeler County Rattlers fans
 
But this year did bring something different. For the first time, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) was sanctioning the state title game for 6-player football.
 
For the Rattlers, the grandstands at Caldera may have been bigger and the field may have been a lot flatter than they are used to. But with a 1:00 p.m. kickoff, the game was still played under God’s light — just like at home.
 
The first play of the game set the tone — a bomb down the sideline that set up a score.
 
The Rattlers never looked back, dominating on both sides of the ball and controlling the game from start to finish.
 
As the final seconds ticked away, the celebration was on. Final score: Wheeler County 32, Triangle Lake 13. 
 
Wheeler County Rattlers locker room
 
It’s a season three towns from Wheeler County will never forget.
 
Below are some video extras Eric grabbed from his trip to Wheeler County a couple weeks ago
 
 
 
 
 
 

▶️ Wheeler County Rattlers: 3 tiny Oregon towns for one 6-man HS football team

In the tiniest of the tiny Oregon towns, high school football is still very much a part of the fabric of the community.

It may not be traditional 11-man football. It’s not 8-man — that’s reserved for the “big” little towns.

It’s 6-man football. And in three tiny towns in Eastern Oregon, they’re combining their schools and athletes to field one 6-man team. 

Head east from Central Oregon — way east — and eventually you’ll find yourself in Wheeler County. It’s the least populated county in the state.

RELATED: Central Oregon high school football participation up, bucking national trend

RELATED: History at Madras HS: Homecoming game played during soccer match

Way more cows than people. The entire county only has a population of 1,300 people — give or take. But what they do have is a high school football team that happens to be the reigning 1-A Oregon state champions.

The Wheeler County Rattlers.

The Rattlers aren’t the only team playing 6-man football across the state, but they are the only team that has to combine three towns with three different high schools to field just one 6-man football team.

The towns of Mitchell, Spray and Fossil combine their schools, their resources and their athletes to make up the Wheeler County Rattlers.

There are all kinds of unique challenges. Practices rotate from school to school, forcing players to be bussed to and fro up to an hour each way.

Home games rotate fields. Friday night lights literally don’t exist — games start at 2 p.m. and are played under God’s light.

And teammates might never attend the same school.

RELATED: Sibling football rivalry: 3 Bend brothers play for different high schools

This is cowboy country. The football field in Spray is part of the rodeo grounds. Cattle shoots line the edge of the field. The rodeo arena flows right into the grass and there’s all kinds of home field advantages.

The Rattlers are chasing another state title after going undefeated in 2021 — quite the turnaround for a team that had gone a combined 2-14 the previous two seasons.

Deschutes, Multnomah, Clackamas — those counties might have the people. But in Wheeler County, they’ve got the cows and they’ve got the horses on the field — figuratively and literally.

Wheeler faces Powers Saturday. The winner heads to the state title game.

 

▶️ Sibling football rivalry: 3 Bend brothers play for different high schools

It’s something you rarely see in high school sports, but it happened this season in Bend. Brothers at separate rival high schools faced off against one another on the football field.

Jack, Chase, and Ben Sorenson grew up playing football together.

“I think our family’s just super competitive,” said Ben.

“I like to bring intensity and just play as hard as I can no matter what,” said Chase.

RELATED: Central Oregon high school football participation up, bucking national trend

RELATED: Culver community seeks answers after J.V. football program yet to play

But when Caldera High School opened last year, younger brothers and twins Chase and Ben started high school there while older brother Jack stayed at Bend High School.

It set up an October 14 date on the football schedule where the brothers would be back on the gridiron together, but this time as opponents.

“It’s a pretty cool opportunity to play against my siblings,” said Jack.

“We’ve played the metaphorical game with Mountain View where it’s brother against brother, cross-town rival,” said Bend head coach Matt Craven. “But we’ve never had a situation where we’ve actually competed against a house divided.”

Chase and Ben are sophomores. Jack is a senior.

 

Sibling rivalry? As much as we tried to pull it out of them, the brothers had nothing but nice things to say about each other.

“I think we all have our unique attributes. I don’t think it’s fair to say any of us are really the best. I have the experience advantage but they’re both amazing athletes,” said Jack.

“Jack is more of the nice guy. Chase likes to win a lot,” said Ben.

“He’s pretty nice,” said Chase. “He doesn’t really have the aggression that I’m hoping to bring.”

Chase, Ben and the Caldera Wolfpack made the short trip down the road to face Jack and the 3rd-ranked team in the state — the Bend Lava Bears.

“Our expectations are realistic. They have 33 seniors, we have zero so that’s going to be a little bit of a problem in the game,” said Caldera head coach Mike Mitchell before the game.

 

It was all Lava Bears. Jack had multiple big runs and a touchdown.

Ben was sidelined due to a foot injury and could only watch from the sidelines in street clothes.

And Chase finally got to do what all little brothers dream of — stick big brother just one time and saved a touchdown.

In the end, Jack and the Lava Bears were victorious — 41 to 0.

Jack now has bragging rights for the rest of his life. Thankfully for Chase and Ben he won’t use them. He’s too nice to hold it over their heads.

Chase, Jack and Ben Sorenson

▶️’If there’s not horses, what’s the point?’ Meet Terrebonne barrel racing teen

She can shoe, train, jump, race and breed horses and she’s just 16 years old.

“I could literally ride before I could walk.”

For Josie Lauman, horses are just a way of life. Growing up in Terrebonne on her family’s horse ranch, Josie has lived and breathed horses since the day she was born. 

Ask this teen what she does for fun, and you’ll get some quick perspective.

“If there’s not horses, what’s the point?” Josie asks.

And she doesn’t just do one thing or ride one way. She does it all. 

“I do all my own shoeing. I have started a breeding program for my jumpers,” said Josie. “I love the speed.”

 

She even crosses over from the Western world to the English world, barrel racing one day and jumping thoroughbreds the next.

“The jumping is definitely more expensive, so finance-wise it would be smarter to go with barrel racing. But I love them both.”

RELATED: Fairever Friends: Meet the animals of the Deschutes County Fair and Rodeo

RELATED: ‘He was a Sisters bull’: The story of Red Rock, the Hall of Fame rodeo bull

Two worlds that rarely collide.

“The English and Western world really have never gotten along. They don’t like each other.”

And she’s not just a participant. She goes out and wins events, putting together quite the resume over the past few years.

“This year I was able to go to regionals in Washington for OSET and did really well. Was 0.05 seconds off the record for barrel racing and I won barrel racing. It was cool. It was a really neat experience. We got to go up there as a team as well.”

 

She got started competing in 4H before she’d even hit double digits.

“When I was nine years old, the quickest I could get into 4H. My brother had done it three years prior to me and as soon as I was old enough, I got into it.”

Take one look at her older brother and it’s pretty clear cowboying and horses are in the blood.

Josie Brother

 

Josie’s days are spent on the ranch where hard work, chores and fun go hand in hand.

“You don’t get a day off. There’s no such thing on a ranch. No matter how hard you try, there’s always something that has to be done.”

And where her horse Red gets trained, prepped and sprayed down after a good day’s work. 

“He’s my main competition horse.”

Josie’s already accomplished a ton. And this year, she’ll look to add a couple more challenges — competing in high school rodeo and also becoming a horse mama.

“We actually have three foals this year. This will be my first year having my own, so super excited for that.”

After high school, Josie says she wants to continue training and breeding horses and competing in barrel racing and jumping competitions.