Spring's arrival heralded something special for Packard "Pack" Phillips and his wife, Barby Smith.
The local couple was anticipating not only the start of baseball season, but also an opportunity to help the Gresham softball team that found itself in the national spotlight last year for raffling off an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to fund a trip to a California tournament.
Phillips and Smith are members of Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego. Last summer, the church's rector, the Rev. Jeremy Lucas, spent $3,000 to buy as many raffle tickets as possible in hopes of winning the gun and taking it out of circulation. One of his tickets was the winner, and the gun was melted down and transformed into garden tools in December.
Phillips and Smith say they were pleased with the outcome, and with the fact that proceeds from the raffle helped the softball team get to the tournament for which they had worked so hard. But they also recognized that the problem wasn't solved. The team would need more financial support to fund play this year and would likely set up a new raffle.
Could they help?
Phillips says the wheels started turning, and as the couple prepared to downsize from their Lake Oswego home to a smaller home in Charbonneau, the solution presented itself. Among the many possessions they would not have room for at their new home was Phillips' handcrafted McKenzie River drift boat.
"It was more fun to build than it was to use," he says. He completed the project in about a year and a half by himself, needing help only twice to finish the project.
And it's a beauty — handmade from Roger Fletcher plans, the boat features Okoume marine plywood from France, ribs and interior made of Alaskan yellow cedar, rails of Oregon quarter-sawn ash, custom vinyl cushions, a traditional rope oarsman's seat and multiple oarlocks. Its like-new Clackacraft trailer includes a spare tire, anchor and electric trolling motor.
The vessel was rarely used, always garaged and "it catches fish with class," Phillips says. He estimates the value at $4,000 and the trailer at another $1,000. Surely the team could get a good penny for the boat to help with expenses, he thought.
So Phillips connected with Jennifer Clark, president of the Centennial Little League in Gresham, and offered her the boat. She accepted without hesitation.
As the chief volunteer for the co-ed club, Clark says she knows the league's to-do list stretches from first base all the way to home. Near the top of the list: the league's black-box-style crow's nests, which are used to oversee play and keep score. Some of the jury-rigged wooden structures need to be completely rebuilt, while others require serious repairs to ensure safety and stability. Many of the sideline bleachers are being targeted for retrofits as well.
And while the league already has access to a third field, their home diamond needs more dirt, a new mound and bases to make it suitable for play. To that end, Clark says the league — which serves youngsters from age 4 to 14 — needs to sell 500 tickets at $20 apiece.
"I think it's important for kids to have after-school activities, and Little League does that for the community," Clark explains. "(We're) going to put all the money back into the league."
Organizers say auctioning off a drift boat will create far less controversy than last year's rifle raffle, which made headlines around the world and had serious repercussions in Gresham. Ron Brown, the coach of the all-girls team that auctioned the rifle, later resigned because of the controversy. He now helps out in a more informal manner.
"It was polarizing," Clark says. "But the takeaway is that it's all about the kids. That's the most important thing."
"Softball is a good activity," he says. "Busy kids don't get into trouble."