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Theres no place like HOME

First-ever home football game at Lakeridge turns neighbors into Pacer fans
by: VERN UYETAKE, Lakeridge Senior Daniel Chesney and the rest of the Pacers were greeted by eager fans as they took the field for Friday’s historic game.

Everyone became a Pacer fan on Friday night. But before they were fans, they were neighbors.

Parents Andi and Chris Jordan made hot dogs for the high school tailgater. Levy Committee Chair Teri Olerich flagged cars. Beth Dutton made mum corsages in light blue and white. Christian City Church Youth Pastor LJ Abalos and his youth group provided space for the tailgate party and set up the music. CUP Committee Member Cindy Dungey sold commemorative T-shirts. Hundreds of other volunteered in many other capacities.

Even Renee Kennedy, who has been opposed to the CUP change for the last eight years, couldn't resist throwing a tailgater at her home at 17377 Marjorie Ave. After past disputes between neighbors and the school district over parking, traffic and noise, it seems like the neighborhood spirit may be rallying around the blue and white once again.

Previous limitations in the field's conditional use permit required the Pacers to play at the district stadium at Lake Oswego High School, but this summer the city's Development Review Commission approved use of the field as long as a review takes place next year.

'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em,' Kennedy said with a shrug. 'I thought it would be good to try to mend some bridges.'

Kennedy invited neighbors and football parents to come to her house before the game, wore her son's - senior Cameron Kennedy - number 75 freshman jersey and brought out the food.

'The district was really not working on controlling (the situation) for the first five years. There are valid concerns we all had,' said Kennedy. 'They turned things around when Mike Lehman was hired (as principal). They're making a big attempt.'

Kennedy still felt that the majority of the neighbors weren't thrilled with the idea of a loud, messy football game right next to their homes.

'But instead of just complaining about it why don't I just do something?' she said. 'I'm just trying to go with it and see how it goes.'

Pacer fans saw the homecoming game - the first home game in its 37-year history - on Friday night as nothing but monumental.

When Lakeridge scored its lone touchdown against McNary you would have thought the Pacers had won the Super Bowl.

'Our football team hasn't been that good,' said sophomore Heather Baldock. 'But I went to a Tigard game. They have a good team, but they don't have half the spirit we do.'

The Pacers were trailing 33-0 at the time and hadn't scored in four straight games. The touchdown was just Lakeridge's second of the year but the fact that it came on Homecoming was special to players, coaches and fans. After the game, coach Ian Lamont highlighted the terrific community support and made sure that his players knew that, no matter the outcome, they were part of something historic.

The game was well-organized with all those staple homecoming moments. Teens painted their faces blue and gold. The student section stood for most of the game. The marching band played recognizable pep songs like 'Louie, Louie.' There were glow bracelets, cowbells, silly string, hamburgers, pizza and waving flags.

'I got choked up when I saw the fans with pom-poms,' said Dungey, who was manning the booth selling commemorative T-shirts. 'We've worked long and hard.'

'We're going to be so together,' junior Caity Clarke said before the game. 'There will be a lot of bonding. I think the football players will feel supported.'

Clarke, for her part, walked to the game, along with most of her friends.

'Mr. Lehman went to every class and said we couldn't drive,' said senior Alan Khlevnor.

And students and parents for the most part seemed to have cooperated.

'It was a great example of what can be accomplished when all of the different participants rise to the occasion,' said Lehman. 'They did exactly what we hoped they would do - come to the game in big numbers but leave their cars at home.'

About 2,500 people attended the game. And yet of the estimated 900 spaces the school identified in parking and traffic plans prior to the game, about 200 of them remained empty, said Lehman.

Around 200 people used the First Student bus routes that went through the neighborhoods, and around 500 people rode over from Waluga Junior High School.

So far, Lehman hasn't heard any negative feedback from neighbors. The school has even been getting e-mails from McNary fans who were impressed by how welcoming the school was and appreciated the designated parking.

There will be a meeting for neighbors to provide feedback at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 22, in the Lakeridge library.

'This is our first experience, so we know there are probably things we could do better next time,' said Lehman.

'The whole idea of having a school and a neighborhood and a community is to work together,' added Karen Fiore, a teacher at Palisades Elementary. Fiore walked to the game along with her neighbors.

Palisades Neighborhood Association president Sally Moncrieff felt that everybody was coming together. 'There's not the divisiveness anymore,' she said.

Meanwhile, Kennedy still isn't thrilled despite her willingness to participate in the festivites.

'I felt like the numbers were more than what they had the ability to handle,' said Kennedy. 'Obviously it was a huge outcome. I hope the rest aren't quite as big. But overall it was successful for the school, and traffic efforts seemed fairly successful.'

It's been a long journey coming home. But it's here.

- Sports Editor Matthew Sherman contributed to this story.