By Randy Parks
Nona Popham has been driving Hilander teams to athletic events for 17 years and although she faced some of the most treacherous weather conditions this past winter, it was also one of the most rewarding.
“This group of kids and coaches have been super all year long,” Popham said. “The kids have been so well-behaved, helpful and encouraging, it makes me proud to be from Burns.”
Popham said one of the most memorable trips was in January when the basketball teams made the trip north for games with Riverside and Umatilla.
The teams spent the night in a motel after the Riverside game and then headed to Umatilla with the intent of heading back home after the game. “I went out to the bus for a break, and while I was there, freezing rain began falling,” Popham said. “I saw people coming out of the school and falling flat. Cars were sliding all over the lot, and I knew we were in trouble.”
Popham said that after conversations with school officials, the decision was made to spend another night rather than risk the danger of driving on icy roads.
“I had the chains on our bus and was driving back to the motel at about 10 miles an hour when we passed the Union school bus that had slid off the road,” she said. “Then when we got back to the motel, the bus just slid into the curb as I was trying to stop.”
To get the bags and luggage to the motel, Popham said they threw a blanket over the ice, walked to the edge and then threw it down again ahead of them. “It was a bad situation, it was so icy,” Popham said. “But the kids and coaches were great. The coaches would help me back the bus up, the kids carried my luggage in and even gave me an elbow to hang onto so I didn’t fall.”
The following morning, the teams headed home. “It took us eight hours to get back, but the kids were wonderful,” Popham said.
Popham said the students and coaches have been supportive of her and each other all year long and that has made it a special time. “When we’d get through a tough situation, the kids would cheer, ‘No-Na, No-Na!’” she said. “After the trip home from Nyssa in blowing and drifting snow, they gave me a plaque that says something like, ‘If you can believe it, you can do it.’ That plaque means a lot to me.”
Popham said the coaches have helped make this year enjoyable as well. “Eric (Nichols) and his assistants help out whenever they can, and I see them becoming better coaches by the minute. It’s refreshing,” she said. “Alice (Herauf) is always so helpful. She sits up by me and asks me if I’m OK, do I need water. She helps me watch the road, and makes sure I feel like I’m not all alone.”
Popham also had praise for her co-workers. “They are the greatest people to work with,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough to be one of those people who absolutely loves their job. I love driving, the games, and I’ve so enjoyed this bunch of kids and coaches.”