A view of I-5 during Philomath High's wrestling trip to Portland last week. (Photo provided by Troy Woosley)

If you hop on I-5 and drive south for 7-1/2 hours without any stops or detours, you’d make it almost all the way to Sacramento. Last week, Philomath High’s wrestling team headed north up I-5 and 7-1/2 hours later reached its destination — a hotel in Portland.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” PHS wrestling coach Troy Woosley said about the drive, which under normal conditions would take about 90 minutes. “It was the longest traffic jam that I’ve personally ever been in.”

The wrestlers were headed to Portland to compete in the Class 4A state championships. The itinerary had them checking into a hotel in the late afternoon of Feb. 22, getting a good night’s rest and then hitting the mats the following morning for the early rounds of the two-day tournament.

Of course, a wicked snow storm blew through Oregon last week to throw everything out of whack. But let’s get back to that drive.

“The traffic was flowing great — we hit Wilsonville going like 45, 50 mph at about 4:30, which is rush hour but we’re thinking, ‘we’re fine, we’re fine,’” Woosley said. “And then, we just hit a wall of snow.”

Woosley said he had his daughter on speaker phone for several hours as she tried to direct them on which way to go.

“The problem was that the freeway was filled with semis,” he said. “You would be stopped solid and then when you start to go, the front of the trucks would be all jack-knifed and covering up a lane. And then there were people up there who would just turn their hazards on and freeze wherever they’re at — middle lane, left lane, right lane, the meridian — they just shut down.”

The travelers were well past I-205 and Highway 217.

“The problem with where we were at is there were no off-ramps for like 3 miles,” Woosley said. “It took us 4-1/2 hours in that 3 miles to get off. As soon as we got off, I looked and there was a way to go around the whole thing.”

Eventually, the group exited at Southwest Barbur Boulevard.

“It was unbelievable. I have never allowed my kids to get out five or six times for snowball fights on a freeway — and other people were joining,” Woosley said incredulously.

So how did the student athletes do with the experience?

“The kids went through all kinds of emotions,” Woosley said. “They were upset at first and then they got kinda antsy and they started doing the snowball fights and everything and then they got quiet and tired.”

They got to their destination at around 11 p.m.

The adventure wasn’t over, however, with the Oregon School Activities Association announcing that Thursday’s schedule had been canceled because Veterans Memorial Coliseum was not available with the closure of the Rose Quarter Campus. Because of the weather — which reportedly was the second-most snow inches on record that Portland had seen — the city implemented emergency measures. So the OSAA had no choice but to cancel the Day 1 schedule.

Woosley said that after word had come down about the cancellation, there was a lot of group texting with coaches, athletic directors and parents until the OSAA could figure out a way out of the mess.

Said Woosley, “They were going to do a Friday and Saturday for us and we said, ‘there’s no wrestle-backs and you can wrestle five, six matches in a day, so let’s just wrestle in one day.’ And so we did that.”

On top of the long drive, waiting to find out what was going to happen with the tournament was tough on everybody.

“It was very, very frustrating waiting for a decision when you’re responsible for a bunch of kids at a hotel,” Woosley said. “And a lot of my kids were trying to make weight and it was very tough because you’re not at home and you’re not eating normal food.”

The team had originally planned to stay just one night at the hotel and come home after wrestling on Thursday. The original Friday schedule showed that they were not needed until 3:30 p.m.

“Our school called in and got us another night and fortunately there was room,” Woosley said. “Then we had to go through all kinds of situations about how are my kids doing making weight, how are they doing with eating. It was a very unique situation — put it that way.”

Once the OSAA announced the one-day tournament schedule, the group could relax a bit. They pretty much hung out at the hotel on Thursday, although Woosley did take them to a nearby Fred Meyer’s so they could get some food and have something to do.

“The roads were very icy but you could get around if you were paying attention,” Woosley said. “There were abandoned cars everywhere.”

PHS basketball teams in playoffs

The Philomath High girls and boys basketball teams are both headed to the Class 4A state playoffs with first-round games coming up in a few days. The girls will play at 6 p.m. Friday in Eugene at Marist Catholic while the boys will host Hidden Valley at 6 p.m. Saturday in the home gym.

Ben Silva’s group, which has a large target on their backs as the defending state champs, advanced into the playoffs after defeating St. Helens on Monday night in a play-in game.

It just so happens that Philomath (16-7) had perhaps its worst outing of the season on Dec. 10 against Marist Catholic (17-6) in a 40-17 loss. The Warriors struggled mightily on offense with just six field goals in the game and was even shutout in the second quarter. The matchup occurred in Eugene during Marist’s tournament.

In another bizarre score from December, three games after beating Philomath by 23 points, Marist lost by 20 points to St. Helens, the team that the Warriors just defeated in the play-in game by 32 points.

On any given night.

Besides the head-to-head matchup, the two schools have five opponents in common — Junction City, North Marion, Stayton, Cascade and St. Helens. Marist went 5-1 against those teams while Philomath was 6-2.

The boys, meanwhile, have been holding down the No. 1 ranking for almost the entire season. The Warriors defeated several top teams while making their way through a tough schedule. The wins gave them a solid hold on the top seed heading into the playoffs.

Philomath (19-4) has played seven of the other teams in the 16-team playoff field and has a 9-2 record against them (both losses coming to No. 3 Cascade). Among the wins were two over No. 2 Junction City (59-33 and 56-49) along with a 30-point victory over No. 5 Henley. The Warriors also swept two conference games No. 7 North Marion and No. 9 Stayton. No. 10 Gladstone and No. 13 Madras couldn’t keep pace with the Warriors in lopsided losses.

Philomath and Hidden Valley played seven common opponents this season — Junction City, Henley, Cascade Christian, Estacada, North Marion, Sweet Home and Stayton. Against those teams, Philomath went 11-0 and Hidden Valley was 2-7.

Philomath had a game scheduled for Feb. 23 against North Eugene to get in some court time before embarking on its playoff journey. But last week’s bad weather led to a cancellation. Instead, the boys played an exhibition game against a group of former PHS players.

The Philomath Tropics eighth-grade girls basketball team made a halftime appearance during Monday’s high school play-in game. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath Tropics win state

The Philomath Tropics, an eighth-grade girls basketball team, was introduced at halftime of Monday night’s high school play-in game to be recognized for the stellar season they just completed. The Tropics won the Oregon Amateur Basketball Gold Division State Tournament last weekend in Salem.

Coached by PHS graduate Ryan Starwalt, the team included Reagan Nuno, Nora Stanley, Annaleise Brown, Libby Kramer, Zoe Seaders, Payton Starwalt, Jordyn Hood and Reagan Heiken.

The team ended up with a 40-3 record playing in a large-school division and won 10 tournaments. This past Sunday, Philomath defeated Silverton, 48-30, to win the eighth-grade state title.

The Philomath Unified basketball team will play at 6 p.m. Thursday at home against Amity. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Unified team to play Thursday

The Philomath Unified basketball team’s home tournament was unfortunately canceled last weekend but the team will have an opportunity to take the court on Thursday for a home appearance against Amity. The tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.

The Unified basketball program has really flourished over these past few years and just received a nice $5,000 check recently thanks to the Polar Plunge, which was organized by PHS students.

The Unified team features a group of players with intellectual disabilities along with an equal number of students without intellectual disabilities. The primary objective of the activity is to connect those two segments of the student body. In games, the five-player lineup on the floor includes three Unified athletes and two Unified student partners.

Kathy Bauer and Saff Evans are the two primary organizers of the program.

The kids would love it if a crowd came out to show their support Thursday evening.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.