ROYAL CITY - They call it The Slope. The Royal Slope to be precise.
It's a place were anybody within 50 miles is considered a neighbor. A place where the people are salt of the earth, where folks care about one another. It's a place where, if your truck breaks down on the side of the road, a guy stops to help out.
Long time ago, the town used to be called Royal Flats. Royal City was founded in 1956 and officially incorporated on Feb. 14, 1962. The 2010 census says the population is 2,140, but it could be a little higher with the way kids sprout up these days. But kids aren't the only thing they grow on the Royal Slope.
With close to 300 sunny days, the climate's ideal for growing stuff like apples, wine grapes, cherries, peaches, alfalfa hay, melons, potatoes, onions, pears, mint and a little corn, maybe. It's golden because of the quality of life and the quality of the people who live there.
Oh yeah, they play a little football in Royal City.
The Royal Knights have won Class 1A state football championships in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The three-time defending state champions made district history this season by not allowing a single point scored in all six SCAC East games. They're currently on a 50-game winning streak dating back to Sept. 4, 2015, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak in the country, according to MaxPreps. Only Damascus, Maryland (51) has more. Royal (50) and Caledonia, Minn. (50) are making their own noise.
But here on the Royal Slope, whether they're Mormons or Catholics, Anglo or Hispanic, live in the country or in town, work in the orchards or down at the John Deere shop, all roads lead to David Nielsen Stadium on a Friday night.
They're loud and proud. Once a Knight, always a Knight.
Out on Road A.5 Southwest, as you come around the corner and see the three grain silos and the red barn on the opposite side, there's a nice ranch-style red house tucked away next to the hay field where Willie Miller lives. The entryway is lined with 25 old collectible tractors that kind of remind a guy where he comes from. The old 1947 Case LA holds a special place in his heart because it was the last tractor he and his dad, Willis, rebuilt together before Willis passed.
Miller played on that 1996 state title team that started championship football on the Royal Slope. His boy, Houston Miller, played on the 2015 state championship team that started “The Streak” (50 and counting). “Bleeds black and gold” doesn't even begin to describe the guy that rents his big alfalfa circle on the farm out to Knights coach Wiley Allred.
“It's definitely a social gathering. When we're at home it's a big deal to come see the young men of the Slope, our pride and joy, play football,” said Miller, who has been to every, single game since 2015. “I see the community coming together to see good things happen. Around here, you consider anybody within 50 miles a neighbor. I mean some people are driving 100 miles to see a game.
“When you watch Royal football, you can forget about all the craziness that's going on in the world, the day-to-day negativity on regular basis and focus on something good.”
Something good, of course, would be winning.
Out on Road 12 Southwest, lifetime Royal guy and Knights booster club president Aaron Christensen is another one from the 1996 state championship team finding a way to give a little something back to a program that helped him on his way to becoming a successful horticulturist with Northwest Wholesale Inc. Guy bleeds black and gold like the rest of the Slope.
“We take a lot of pride being from a little town and football is one of the things we can all get behind. We feel like we're a stronger community because of that,” said Christensen, who played in the Kingdome back in 1994, then on the 1996 team that set a state scoring record (70 points). “The current coaching staff all played Royal football. They're back because of what stuck in their blood when they were young. When you're a part of something great, it's infectious.”
The Knights play in one of the best facilities in Central Washington. In fact Nielsen Stadium hosted the Kansas tiebreaker to decide the No. 1 seed in the 2A Central Washington Athletic Conference North No. 1 seed. They can credit the Royal Slope farming community for some of the best facilities around. The farmers make their land available for people to come in and bird hunt, and money goes to various projects like the turf at the stadium, as well as the Good Kids Program and Little League projects in the summer.
It's just one more way the agriculture community supports the Royal Slope and its young people.
“There's extreme generosity throughout the whole community,” Christensen said.
They might have 50 consecutive victories, but they remain true to their roots with a sense of humility and the spirit of the underdog.
“To tell ya the truth, we might think about things after the season is over, but right now we're just focused on winning the next one,” said Allred (226-26 career record) a man of few words. In fact, they say previous coach Bob Nielsen is the only man of fewer words on the Slope. “It is pretty cool to see the efforts of so many great kids to get us to this point.”
Black and gold pride is not just a guy thing. Knights Booster Club secretary Debbie Gilbert is all-in when it comes to Royal football. She's an Idaho transplant, but she earned her Royal Slope stripes along the way. Her kids have come through the school system, but her 21 grandkids are on the way.
“The one unique thing about this community is that we respect diversity,” she said, standing at midfield at Nielsen Stadium, looking at the state championship banners in an empty stadium that will be filled top to bottom when the Knights host Naches Valley Friday, 7 p.m., in the SCAC District game.
“It's not one part or the other that makes this community. It doesn't matter what cultural background, what church you go to or whatever. We're close-knit. If you see somebody stopped on the side of the road, you'd stop without even thinking about it. This community is loyal to each other.
“We are Royal.”
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer with Columbia Basin Media Group and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.