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State Title Thoughts And New Fast Food
Editor's Notebook 12-13-23

I should have been in Southern California on Saturday.

Let’s just start there.

Escalon, which was moved to Division 4 for the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs – up a division from last year’s D5 appearance due to their success and the competitive equity formula – won the Section title. It was blue banner number 12 for the school and that got the Cougars moved up another division – to 3-AA – for the state’s NorCal game, a precursor to the state championship contest.

But Escalon ran into a buzzsaw in Acalanes of Lafayette in the NorCal on Dec. 1.

That was my birthday; I truly was hoping for a NorCal win to celebrate the day.

Escalon had to travel and while that wasn’t much of a factor for this team, as they spent the first several weeks of the season on the road while their home Engel Field was undergoing renovation; the size, speed and physicality of Acalanes was an issue.

Throw in the crazy, nerve-wracking, come-from-behind go for the 2-point win they pulled off against Patterson for the D4 Section crown on Nov. 24 and you have a team that basically exhausted its reserves. The Cougars had precious little left in the tank and simply could not keep up with the Acalanes Dons.

And then Acalanes continued on, nailing down a state title with a 35-23 victory over Birmingham in the game on Dec. 8.

It was the first state title for the Dons. If Escalon had made it to the game, they would have been playing for back-to-back state titles and the third in five years.

Yeah, we’re spoiled. The Cougars won state championships in 2019 and 2022; they were hoping to make it a third this season.

Having no reason to get in touch with varsity football coach Andrew Beam on Sunday – the day we always went over the previous Friday night’s game during the season – I nonetheless reached out, asking him if it felt any better, knowing their season was ended by the team that won the state championship.

“You know, someone else said the same thing,” Beam told me. “I don’t think it does. Just shows you how close you can be to something that is so hard to achieve.”

Agreed, but for me, the memories of this year’s team will linger – they were a team that fought through a lot of adversity, as cliché as that sounds, and made the most of every situation. To finish with a 12-2 record, one loss in the preseason and one loss in their final game, it was an amazing year. Plus, they went 5-0 to win the Trans-Valley League title, and captured two new trophies, one for the Oakdale-Escalon game in preseason and one for the Hilmar-Escalon game in league play. Bringing home that Section title felt pretty good, too.

So that left me with the opportunity to sneak in a little holiday shopping over the weekend and the chance to see that, in fact, Escalon’s newest fast food restaurant is up and running. McDonald’s on McHenry Avenue is officially open for business and plan on long lines these first few weeks as everyone flocks there for some big burgers and salty fries.

There were also more holiday-themed activities, such as the American Legion Christmas dinner on Friday night I got to attend (since I didn’t have to leave in the wee hours of the morning Saturday for the trip down south) and the festive Valley Home annual Christmas parade. The chilly weather has also arrived just in time, the near freezing overnight temperatures making me realize it is winter and Christmas is right around the corner.

One more thing on the ‘to do’ list comes up this weekend, and while it is in Oakdale, residents from throughout the region are invited and encouraged to attend. The Oakdale Citizens Cemetery at 701 East J Street will host the annual Wreaths Across America program, getting underway at 9 a.m.

The effort aims to place holiday wreaths on the graves of all veterans buried at the Oakdale Citizens Cemetery, with local scout troops, community service organizations and area residents coming in to help place the hundreds of wreaths. There is an opening ceremony and the National Anthem, along with special presentations, followed by the crowd dispersing with wreaths in hand, to place them on the veterans’ graves throughout the cemetery.

As we enter into this season of holiday joy and giving, it’s a wonderful reminder for us to stop and give thanks to those who have fought – and died – to preserve the freedoms we enjoy, including the opportunity to share Christmas and the reason for the season with our families and friends, near and far.