At a football game, there are a lot of familiar faces and positions that keep the game going. You have the players, the athletes that put their bodies on the line, the students playing for the love of the game. You have the coaching staff that direct the players and put them in a position to be successful. You have the crowd, cheerleaders, and band out there to support their teams, and you have the announcer who calls the game. But one of the most overlooked people is the person with the most subtle occupation on Friday night: the scoreboard operator.
For Wilsonville High, there has been only one scorekeeper since the school opened its doors in 1995. Justine Sutton, a sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Wood Middle School, has diligently been operating the clock for 22 years.
"Whenever they opened, whenever their first game was, (that's when I started)," Sutton said. "If that's '95 then yes, that's the answer."
To hear her say it, those first couple of years were an interesting time. The stadium was not what is now, and the press box was subject to all the elements.
"The first year we were in a little trailer, and that's what we did it in," Sutton said. "We would get rain, and wind, and all kinds of things. That was before the stadium was built, so that was kind of an experience."
"We've watched some gorgeous sunsets, and sometimes prayed for the sun to go down because it's right smack in your eyes and you can't see everything that you want to see. But I look back at it fondly," Sutton added.
Sutton first got offered the position from a mutual colleague, someone she had coached football with at the middle school. Part of the appeal was keeping up with some of her former students.
"I think Chuck Smith was acting as an assistant athletic director at the time, and he and I had worked together here, and coached football together here, and he asked me if I'd be willing to do it," Sutton said. "I said, 'I could try. It's not something I've done before.' That was the ask, and he was like, 'You can see some of the kids that have grown up and coached.'"
Over the last 22 years in the booth, Sutton has seen many a game. But one of the things she remembers most clearly happened just last season when a miniscule amount of time was needed on the clock.
"They wanted four tenths of a second put back on the clock," Sutton said. "I was like, 'Ummm.' I was pushing in a bunch of zeros, and trying to get to the four, and I would get it, but then push another button. Everybody is waiting, and from down below they're yelling, 'Zero zero zero four!' It was like, 'I'm trying!' I could have done one, but they wanted four tenths of a second. That was one of those stressful things, but now I can look back on it as kind of funny."
As a hidden member of the game production crew, Sutton tried to do as little to draw attention to herself as possible over the course of her tenure, for the games sake.
"I don't want to make a negative impact on what I do to affect an outcome of a game," Sutton said. "If I didn't start or stop it at the right time, if I made something that affected the outcome of the game for either team. I want to get it right. For me it's important that I didn't affect the outcome of a game by making a mistake."
With her Friday evenings now open, Sutton has a few ideas in mind for how to fill the space. One option? Actually sitting down and watching a football game for the fun of it. Another? Just taking the night off.
"I might be enjoying watching football rather than watching the white hat," Sutton said. "I think on some level I really truly will miss it and I'll be like, 'Why did I give that up?' On another level I get to a Friday where I'll be, 'Thank goodness I don't have a football game tonight.' I live in Portland, and I commute to here. This is my 30th year of teaching here at Wood, and I've been (scorekeeping) for 22 years. So, I can't go home on a Friday night. If I'm here at work at 7:30 in the morning, then I'm not getting home until 10 or after 10 some nights, depending on the game. It makes for very, very, very long day."
At the end of the day though, long hours and stressful times aside, Sutton is happy she got the chance to do her thing these last two decades. But even she recognizes when it is time to hang it up.
"I think that it was a lucky happenstance that he (Smith) called me, and that I agreed to do," Sutton said. "I really have enjoyed my time, but I think sometimes you have to know when to go. It's time to let that part of what I do go."