Timbers Army & Harper’s Playground: Radical Inclusion in Action
— by Cody Goldberg
I love this town. I love the beautiful game of soccer. I love our team. And I love being a part of the Timbers Army, where all of that comes together. It’s now my honor to put into words how all those things listed — and especially the Timbers Army — have embraced my life’s work: Harper’s Playground. This is a little long, but please bear with me. Here goes …
Soccer was, in many ways, my first love. My father was my first coach of my first team, the Bobcats. Our jerseys were simple red with a white triangle at the neck. Some of my best friends today, nearly 41 years later, were on that team. I went on to play in high school and college, and I was pretty good. I never had a solid left foot, but I played with all my heart. The arthritis in my right knee suggests my playing days are done, but that’s okay. I love rooting for my team.
In the summer of 1983, I moved to Portland. I started as a freshman at Lincoln High School and made the frosh/soph soccer team. My best friend on that team is still one of my closest pals. I recall watching his brother compete for the high school state championship in (then) Civic Stadium. Lincoln lost that night, but we knew it was cool to be there.
I returned to that stadium for my first Timbers match somewhere around 2002. I loved that I could grab a drink and sit at field level in that cool beer garden area. The play was pretty good. I certainly remember the madman with the chainsaw who hung from the rafters. He seemed like a really cool dude. I also marveled at the fans in the North End. They looked dangerous.
Why am I sharing all this? I’m racing to put this blog post together on a tight timeline, and this is the best way I know how to do it. It’s good, because this post is way past due, and the deadline is what I needed. Everything up until now is just an attempt to set the stage for what I really want to share about:
Harper’s Playground is a force for good.
The Timbers Army is a force for good.
I’m so proud to be part of both.
And this is some history of our partnership and mutual quest for radical inclusion…
Harper was born in June of 2005. The birth was super complicated, and we ended up in the hospital for a long time. Genetic doctors told us Harper would never walk or talk in her lifetime. We told them to go suck an egg.
Harper took her first steps at four. Walking for the very first time in our neighborhood park, she got stuck in those wood chips that surround typical playgrounds. My wife said, “We should do something about that!” So we started the Harper’s Playground project, and we set out to design and build a different kind of playground. It was a three-year journey that involved a lot of insane hard work and even more insane luck.
One of the luckiest strokes of luck was when that madman I’d seen hanging from the rafters with his chainsaw took note of our little playground plan. He suggested we receive some money recently raised through the sales of a very special scarf. $3,500! The Army were immediately all on board. I visited the 107IST board at a meeting — and then another special scarf design with “Harper’s Playground” was approved. Jim and I would often sell several box loads outside the stadium before a match. Then Jim would wrap 30 or 40 around his neck just before kickoff and sell them inside the stadium, right there in the North End. I made a lot of new friends while standing for those 90 minutes, and we wound up raising another $25,000 for Harper’s Playground.
When the 107IST board found out we still had a lot to raise with a little time to do it, they organized the very first Art Takeover to benefit our little playground project. Another $40,000! When we needed volunteers to help us tear down the old playground, who do you think supplied the muscle? Yup.
What is now our first of many playgrounds opened on November 3, 2012. Many of the Timbers faithful were there to celebrate with us that day. We thought the playground would be popular with everyone — inclusive spaces usually are. The love for the space we helped create was way beyond our wildest dreams. There is most certainly a special kind of magic in a place where everyone feels invited to be there. I think most of you reading this get that. This is why this bond is so meaningful to me: Harper’s Playground and the Timbers Army are completely aligned. It feels perfect to me.
In January of 2014, Harper’s Playground became my full-time gig. Our vision was to build more playgrounds — and it’s going well. We also give lots and lots of advice and support to others attempting to build something similar to what we did. We’re thinking BIG. We want to someday celebrate that all play areas around the world are built just like ours. When the world is filled with inclusive playgrounds, it will be a much better world. That’s the world I want to leave behind for both of my daughters.
The first project we took on as a partnership is “Owen’s Playground.” We worked with Owen’s parents, and they built a playground in honor of their dear Owen, who had recently passed. His spirit is alive in that beautiful playground. It’s won design awards and is, more importantly, the most popular playground for miles. We also settled in a plan to partner on four more playgrounds for Portland: one per quadrant. Our playground at Gateway Discovery Park opened in August of 2018. It’s amazing. Again the Army helped us. So honored and thankful!
Now, we’re gearing up to celebrate number three here in this wonderful city. This one is cool: It’s located less than one mile from that stadium I mentioned earlier. Many of you likely will be walking past it on your way to matches. You should build a little time in your regular game day schedule to walk by. It’s located at Couch Park, on NW 19 and Hoyt.
You should also definitely plan to come celebrate with us for the big ribbon-cutting ceremony! It’s this Saturday, May 4 at 1 p.m.
I could thank everyone in the Army who has been so supportive all these years. If I don't thank Scott, Nando, Patch, and Sheba, however, I’ll feel terrible. (I still kind of do cause there are many other people to thank, but you know who you are!)
We love the team, town, and Timbers Army. I know I do. The Timbers and their Army are a big part of what I love about this place. It’s very humbling to know that Harper’s Playground is starting to be seen the same way. They support one another. That’s what it’s all about.
G Cody QJ Goldberg
Harper’s Playground Executive Director / Harper & Lennon’s Dad
107IST Member / Chair of the Community Outreach Committee