Penza: Saying farewell to an old friend

I’ve known that this day is coming for months now.

A friend of mine that has lived for 90-plus years will be saying its goodbye today.

You might know that friend. You might not. Either way, let me tell you about my friend.

For over 12 years of my life, I was directly associated with Humboldt County and Humboldt State University in one way or another. The first five were for school, the next 7 1/2 were for work, writing about a school I knew plenty about already.

Today is the last football game Humboldt State will ever play, with the school’s administration announcing back in July that it was going to end a program that means so much to the community and has been around since even before my grandparents were born.

The decision was not because of how HSU played on the field the last seven or eight years.

It was purely a financial one, with the school’s deficit getting bigger as overall enrollment continues to fall.

And that enrollment number will likely go down even more with players forced to continue their collegiate football careers elsewhere if they so please. (Which they will.)

Humboldt State football first made me aware of Southern Oregon University in 2007. (HSU won the game 31-13, by the way, in case you’re wondering.) And it’s where some of the best things that I’ve ever witten about in my first post-college job happened.

Yet, the final college football game at the picturesque Redwood Bowl has already been played. (It will still be used by high school and youth teams.) Humboldt State lost 20-17 in overtime last Saturday to Azusa Pacific, one of the Jacks’ main competitors for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title the last decade or so.

It was a classic day in Arcata, the weather in the low-60s, the crowd pushing 5,000 and the atmosphere at the Redwood Bowl reminding everybody one last time why it’s one of the best that any NCAA Division II school has to offer.

It hasn’t been a great year on the field for my alma mater. They’re 1-8 entering their season finale, the one win coming against the same Simon Fraser team they’re facing today. The roster is smaller than it has ever been — some of it because an ever-shrinking budget and newly-recruited players going elsewhere after the announcement was made (via press release, no less) over the summer.

But even as they’ve known for months now that the 2018 season will be their last, they’ve gone out there and battled, representing a community that absolutely adores them.

It’s what makes small-college football programs like Humboldt’s and the one here in Ashland so enjoyable to be around.

It’s not just about the football.

The community cares about more than just wins and losses. They care about the players as people rather than just numbers in a program.

I’ve been asked a lot about the situation down in Arcata in my first 10 months since moving to the Rogue Valley to write about sports for the Tidings.

I can safely say that it’s now more of a topic of conversation other than just being asked “Are you the new Joe Zavala?”

But the appreciation and satisfaction I got out of covering football at Humboldt State is what made the job here in Ashland so appealing. Going from covering one small-college athletics program to another has made the transition rather simple — and there’s plenty of similarities between the two.

You never know, a player who wore Humboldt colors this season might be wearing a Southern Oregon uniform come next fall

It’s not like Ashland is a bad landing spot, either.

(And no, SOU head coach Charlie Hall did not tell me to say that.)

The Jacks’ final drive has now reached its final step.

It’s just unfortunate that the end has arrived today rather than in another 90-something years.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

Share This Story