The rebuild of a community coincides with the rebuild of McKenzie's football program. But like the efforts along Highway 126, the Eagles rebuild may take some time as well.
Vida, Ore. -- The place where the McKenzie High School football field's concessions and grand stand once stood is now a pit. Eagles head coach Fred Heins remembers what he felt coming back here for the first time.
"Shock. Terror. Amazed that the school is still standing," he says quickly.
The school did make it, but there were still losses. Heading into the fall of 2021 the enrollment dropped significantly. And the sports participation with it.
"Headcount for just high school football and volleyball? I've had six show up."
For the first three days of fall football camp, Salomon Acevedo was the only person at practice. But soon others like Trent Peek arrived fresh off their offseason jobs. With some still out of state and others unable to return due to their own circumstances, the current team number is four high schoolers. The Eagles have had to cancel their first two six-man football games of the season already.
"It's just everyone has different circumstances, we're just trying to figure it out," Acevedo says.
But despite the setbacks the kids are all smiles on the field. It's all about the little things while reminders of bigger ones exist all around them.
"They have a smile on their faces, there's good attitudes," says Heins. "No one's complaining about the situation and they understand the situation so it's all been positive with them."
In these times maturity far beyond the years of sophomores and juniors develops. And with that will come leadership, in time.
"It'd be nice if we could get it back to what it was which is probably not gonna happen for a long time," Peek explains. "It takes a long time to rebuild and we need people to move up here even."
But even tasked with a mantle of responsibility they didn't ask for, Salomon and Trent are recruiting friends and practicing. Waiting for the lights to turn back on at McKenzie High. And for the town to have something to cheer for again.
"I'm just mentally preparing myself to see all my friends and family pulling up with lawn charis on the side of the field casually spectating our game," Acevedo says with a smile.
And whether it's this year or next, the Eagles will be back. The scoreboard will flicker on. And the lights will shine in Blue River again.