Aaron Gipson gets his first taste of leadership on a sideline
August 28, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
It's Thursday afternoon, just eight days before the start of the high school football season, and the Jefferson Democrats are going through a series of scrimmages.
Offense vs. Defense, with pride on the line for progress or lack of it.
The Demos suit up a full line-up on offense and defense, but there's only three extra players on the sideline.
The roster for one of the storied programs in Portland is thin. And, coach Aaron Gipson, the school's first-year coach, is nowhere to be found; lost in the paperwork that involves coaches at the high school level.
When he emerges from the school's locker room, he sits far away from the practice, observing. Almost hiding.
Only a few moments go by, though, before the Police Activities League team of seventh and eighth graders arrive wearing uniforms with JEFFERSON on the front arrive. Gipson moves to show them around and then walks with them to the practice field located behind the school to secure gear.
Gipson, a decorated cornerback at the University of Oregon from 2002-05, has thrown himself into the project of not only leading the school's varsity team, but building a program to support it.
"It feels like home for me," he says. "The energy here is infectious. I can tell how much the kids are yearning for a leader; to be pushed, to be guided. "I want to be a part of that."
At 28, Gipson is among the youngest high school head coaches in the state. He is taking over a program in transition at a school in an equal amount of transition. And, he's developing a unique style that seems focused on mentoring as much as coaching as a school that could easily play at the Class 4A level. With his first season as a coach at any level looming, Gipson says he'll judge the season on the results he sees within his players, not by numbers on a scoreboard.
"I don't look at any pressure," he says. "When you put pressure on yourself, then it's all about winning, then that's what you're about. "I'm focused on the kids and the journey with the community."
Gipson became Jefferson's coach in late spring, after the school's athletic director, Mitch Whitehurst, opted not to renew coach Anthony Stoudamire's contract after six years as head coach. A short time later, the school district removed Whitehurst as athletic director. Stoudamire flirted with legal action against the district, but was then hired to coach at Benson, which has won just three games combined the past two seasons. The Benson job went unfilled for six months.
Stoudamire had plenty of reason to be offended when he was removed as Jefferson's coach. Not only had he built a successful program, which won four Portland Interscholastic League titles in six seasons, but he had supported the Police Activities League program that extended to the third/fourth-grade level. He had donated many thousands of dollars from his pocket, too.
Under Stoudamire, the Democrats won at least one playoff game in five seasons, and reached the Class 5A state final in 2009. Only Wilson, with a first-round win in 2003, has a playoff victory from among the current Class 5A schools in the past decade.
Most of Stoudamire's staff moved with him to Benson.
The football opening came at a unique time for Jefferson, which was on the verge of being closed due to low numbers and simple lack of direction just a couple years ago. With a direction needed, the district retooled the school to fit into the program at neighboring Portland Community College. Students can earn an Associates Degree while attending Jefferson. The district quietly appointed vice principal Margaret Calvert, who had been the girls basketball coach at Grant, as Jefferson's principal last year, and Grant's athletic director Jacque Sage moved to Jefferson to replace Whitehurst. With the football coaching vacancy offering a chance to promote the school's new vibrant outlook through one simple hire, it chose Gipson.
"He has a lot of connections to the football community," Sage says. "He has a lot of experience at the college level helping students achieve their athletic and educational pursuits."
Gipson says he wasn't interested in being a head coach until players he had been mentoring for much of the past year, recruited him to apply. He got involved with some students following a shooting following a sporting event, and several turned out to be athletes. After a short while, he applied.
"I believe the best jobs are the ones that come to you," he says, adding he had gotten to know school administrator Donald Dixon at the same time. "I wasn't looking to be a head coach, but the kids lost their coach and then the calls started coming."
Gipson has a solid background in the game. He grew up in Southern California and was skilled enough to earn a scholarship to Oregon in the post-Joey Harrington era. Not only did he arrive on campus, he earned a starting job as a freshman at cornerback in 2002. In 2005, he led the nation in interceptions, which helped the Ducks advance to the Holiday Bowl - the team's third bowl game in his four years there.
Since graduating with a degree in sociology in 2006, he has bounced around with various jobs, including work in insurance, modeling and as a color commentator for high school football radio broadcasts the past two years. Today he works as a model through a talent agency as well as speed and agility coach through the Metro Baseball Academy. He lives in North Portland, is single with a daughter who will soon turn two, and continues to mentor young men in the community. And, he has a unique taste in music.
"I may be the only black man in America who likes country music," he says. "Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, I love 'em."
Beyond his lack of coaching experience, Gipson's hire seemed questionable because of his lack of connection within the community, which he has noted.
"As I've gone around the community, I have heard things like 'if you didn't grow up here, you can't coach here'," he says. "But, it's football. It's Xs and Os. The people I have on board, the organizations they've been part of, you see how they can put things together at the highest level. I just try and make it the best atmosphere possible."
Gipson's hire is the kind of dramatic move school officials, even the district, might have felt it needed to promote its new direction to the students it wants to reach.
"He's built a lot of relationships in the athletic community - people know him," Sage says. "There's still some pieces to iron out organizationally, but he has a great coaching staff. "Everyone has to start somewhere."
A COACHING STYLE
When Gipson got hired, he immediately looked at his network of friends and got assistants with connections to Oregon within days. Former Ducks Rashad Bauman and Rasuli Webster jumped on board as did Alundis Brice, a National Football League veteran who Gipson had met at a golf tournament. John Neal, a longtime defensive guru who coached the secondary at Oregon, has been helpful as well.
A staff with name assistants has impressed the school and football players equally.
"His assistants, they've got rings," says senior Isaac Bell, who's father Aaron, is one of Benson's High's storied alums in basketball. "They've got rings as big and my knuckle."
What he lacks in coaching background, he makes up for with the infectious attitude of a mentor, someone who can turn a failure into a challenge and opportunity for success. When he brought his team together for the first time in summer, he had the players walk around the school and pick up garbage.
On Friday, Gipson had his team watch the movie "Rudy."
Gipson says he's committed to being coach at the school for at least three years.
Whatever failures might happen on the field this fall - they'll only be the first chapter in a three-year building process, which gives him plenty of time to create success.
Shortly after being hired, Gipson was a guest via phone on the daily radio program hosted by The Oregonian's John Canzano, who lauded him for his ability to respond to challenges such as his role in the Oregon defense. After starting as a freshman, Gipson's role diminished to that of a rover on passing downs before he rallied back to a starting position as a senior.
Gipson's coaching style seems highly connected to his background as a mentor. He rarely barks out comments and has delegated most of the actual position coaching to assistants. His specific role is focused on speed, agility and cardiovascular training.
The lack of flash on the field will extend to the game plan, he says, with the team's offense consisting of a small number of basic plays meant to highlight the opportunity for success.
On the field, he does not stand out as the head coach.
The Jefferson players admire his low-key style.
"On the field, he'll get in your face," says Deven Jackson, a senior quarterback. "But, off the field, he's a cool guy. He loves to joke around."
"It's nice that he's younger," says senior Jamartae Brown. "He can demonstrate things he wants to show you, so you know how it's supposed to go."
Gipson seems prepared to take the season's challenges with the long-term understanding that the success of the program won't be based on numbers on a scoreboard, but numbers on the field in terms of players. Jefferson's academic retooling has it primed to essentially function as a private school within a primarily low-income area. Jefferson's football program is one of the top marketing tools the school has to attract students, who will then be guided into the college prep program.
Gipson will have the entire school year to work his way farther into the community to reach and recruit students to the school and build the football program. With a continued presence in the PAL program, some high-profile, Oregon-connected football camps and a bit of marketing support from the school administration within surrounding elementary schools, it's easy to see Gipson as the person to build a program and prove himself a savvy hire.
Of course, the future savviness involves followthrough on a number of fronts, and Gipson already has a lot of fronts without the football team.
"He's very busy," Sage says. "He has a lot of things going on."
In addition to his role as a model often for catalog work, athletic trainer and mentor, he is a frequent guest on radio programs, a schedule that gets worked into the Demos system. On Friday, Jefferson's practice ended at 2 p.m., at which point Gipson called in to be a guest on a radio talk show hosted by former Duck Josh Wilcox. Gipson's assistants are frequently absent due to their commitments, and he missed the mandatory league coaches meeting.
Gipson is tackling these challenges and others involved with being a first-year head coach by focusing on the optimism and adventure that lies ahead. All coaches have jobs and commitments that have to be worked into their schedules, and having a full schedule is a good way to promote personal success to the student athletes in your charge.
He says he comfortable starting his coaching career as a head coach, too.
"I'm ready to be a head coach," he says. "I'm learning the finer things of administration, which is different, and challenging. But we've got a great AD here I can feel it's the start of a phenomenal relationship."
THE YEAR BEGINS
The challenges that go along with building a program, from finding assistant coaches, recruiting players and community members, scouting opponents, promoting the program throughout practices with a catchy slogan emblazoned onto shirts, even videotaping practices; Gipson is going through it all as the leader for the first time, which puts the Democrats at a competitive disadvantage before the season begins.
But, that's not true for every program with a first-year coach. It's not true at Woodburn.
When Jefferson plays host to Woodburn on Friday, it'll be a match-up of first-year head coaches. As it turns out, they're former teammates, too.
Nick Federico, who played at Oregon alongside Gipson, took over the Woodburn program in spring after seven seasons as an assistant at Cascade, a position he delved into directly after leaving Oregon. Federico is taking over a program at a school where his mother, Geri, is principal, which boosts his community connections. And, Woodburn begins the season with a solid chance of reaching the state playoffs because it plays in the Mid-Willamette Conference, which had six of the top 15 teams in the final regular season Class 5A state rankings last year.
Woodburn finished at No. 15 before losing a play-in round game at No. 5 Bend, 33-23. Jefferson, the PIL champion, finished at No. 21, and beat No. 27 Parkrose in its play-in round game. The Demos then lost 54-0 at Mountain View, which later won the state title.
Because the other five PIL teams won just one non-conference game, the entire league suffered and those five schools: Benson, Cleveland, Franklin, Madison and Wilson, finished in the bottom five spots among the 37 Class 5A schools. The top teams in the state now don't even want to schedule teams from the PIL, which is disastrous for the league because the state's rankings system puts such a high value on games between quality opponents, whether they're league or non-league games or even wins or losses. Losing to a highly-ranked team has more value than beating a team buried deep in the rankings, and the play-in round of the state playoff system got refined this year to include only the top 24 teams, not the top 32.
It's very likely that only the PIL champion will finish in the top 24 and participate in the play-in round.
Woodburn, which won the boys soccer state title last year, has a community that is hungry to win and be competitive for a playoff victory, which would be the school's first in its history.
Jefferson's community has expected wins in the past, but it's community impact is negligible. The neighborhood is far more attached to the boys basketball program, which this summer saw graduates Terrence Jones and Terrence Ross selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Even with a flashy new head coach, Jefferson's football team is likely to have a smaller crowd supporting it than Woodburn on Friday.
The game, though, will open the window of opportunity Gipson and his assistants have available to attract attention and build a community. But it might only be open for a short while - perhaps one game, especially if the on-field results are significantly lopsided, which is not uncommon in the PIL.
Last season, Benson fielded an inexperienced line-up and gave up 60 points or more in all five of its non-league games. Jefferson has a line-up that appears equally inexperienced, with sophomores as candidates to start at several positions.
With one or two blowout losses, Gipson could very easily be viewed as a coach hired because of his name and connections rather than proven ability - perhaps even by his own players. It's all part of the drama that makes him perhaps the most interesting story within high school football this season.
Gipson says he's ready for the challenges of the season and will tackle them in a manner that will promote the school's best qualities.
"If we end up 0-9, but the kids are showing up on time, they're getting 3.0 grades instead of 1.9 and they're being good citizens in the community, then I will have no qualms about the season," he says. "It's all about these men being better people, better young men. "Wins and losses don't tell you anything about someone's character. Winning is just a part of the process."
Sheldon tames Central Catholic, PIL gets hammered again
Sept. 7, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
A week after pummeling Astoria 52-0 on the road, Gladstone took advantage of a series of turnovers and hammered Roosevelt on the road to improve to 2-0 as the second week of the prep football season played itself out Friday night.
Gladstone, which last won a state title 40 years ago, got a pair of short scoring runs from junior quarterback Austin Galvin and a defensive effort that included a pair of turnovers that ended drives by the Roughriders inside the Gladiator 20. On the night, five different players scored for Gladstone, which is two weeks away from a Tri-Valley League showdown with defending state champion LaSalle.
"We haven't forgotten them," said senior linebacker Oscar Sanchez, who had 12 tackles in the game. "We want to get back for losing to them last year. We've got a good defense, and want to show them that."
Of the numerous key games, Sherwood had the biggest win, upending Marist on the roa, 38-20.
Sheldon, the state runner-up last year, beat Central Catholic 33-26 in a road game played at Oregon City High.
In Portland, Grant powered past neighborhood rival Jefferson 58-12 in one of the Portland Interscholastic League's few wins of the 2012 season. Of the nine teams from the Portland Public Schools, only four have won at least one game. Overall, the district is 4-14, which includes the Grant win over league rival,
Two schools with perhaps the state's longest-running rivalry, will meet Friday in the annual home game Grant High plays on the city field just outside its doors.
Grant and Jefferson, located just 40 blocks apart, suit up for a 4 p.m. game as the state moves into the second week of action.
The rivalry between the Northeast Portland schools extends to 1924 when Grant opened its doors. Combined, the two schools have won or tied for nine state titles.
Both teams lost their openers Friday: Class 6A Grant at Centennial, 49-42, and Class 5A Jefferson at home to Woodburn, 21-14, in coach Aaron Gipson's first game as head coach.
In other highlight games, Central Catholic travels to Eugene to play Sheldon in a rematch of a Class 6A semifinal from December. Sheldon won 19-8 at Jeld-Wen Field, but lost the title game the following week to Lake Oswego.
In other Class 6A highlight games, Roseburg is at Sprague, Westview travels to South Medford, Lake Oswego visits Centennial and Tualatin plays at Southridge.
In Class 5A, Sherwood is at Marist in a Class 5A game among teams that reached the semifinals last fall. Marist fell to Mountain View in the semifinals, a week before Sherwood lost 14-13 to the Cougars in the title game.
Also Friday, Mountain View takes on visiting Century of the Class 6A Pacific Conference. Sept. 14, Mountain View plays host to Class 6A Sprague.
North Portland's Roosevelt High will show off its refurbished track Friday when it plays host to Gladstone of Class 4A.
At Class 4A, defending champion LaSalle of Milwaukie is at Douglas, while Klamath Union travels to Ridgeview of Redmond, which will be playing its first game against an Oregon team after dispatching Medicine Hat, Alberta, 53-6 Friday. Also, LaGrande, which lost its opener 58-14 to Class 3A Nyssa, is set to play in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday against the Hiram Johnson Warriors.
In Class 3A, Cascade Christian of Medford, which beat defending state champion Santiam Christian handily in its opener, plays at Class 4A Henley, which lost its opener in overtime to Class 5A Crook County. Also, Rainier is host to Horizon Christian of Tualatin.
At Class 2A, defending champion Gold Beach plays host to Regis in a rematch of a quarterfinal from last year. Also, Weston-McEwen, a semifinalist from last year, is one of three schools at the class set to play teams from Washington.
And, at Class 1A, defending champion Perrydale, which lost to Camas Valley last week in a rematch of the 2011 final, plays host Friday to Siletz Valley, which won its opener 80-20. Camas Valley plays host to Butte Falls on Saturday.
Federico wins first game against former teammate now at Jefferson
Aug. 31, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
PORTLAND - The coaching debut for both Nico Federico and Aaron Gipson went down as a memorable one Friday night at Jefferson High.
Federico's Woodburn Bulldogs jumped to a 15-0 lead in the third quater and seemed to have the game in hand having moved within the Jefferson 10-yard line toward another score. But, Gipson's Democrats then responded with a fourth-down stand and 97-yard drive capped by a two-point conversion to breathe excitement into the game early in the fourth quarter, especially when they responded again with another defensive stand that forced a punt.
With glory only 90 yards and another two-pooint conversion away, the Demos gave up a short interception return for a score and Woodburn held on for a 21-14 victory in the opening weekend of high school athletics.
Woodburn got a 27-yard scoring run from Martin Ray, a 38-yard scoring pass from Sergi Yakis to Nate Ellingson and the interception and score from Camilo Guizar to go along with a safety caused by a bad snap on one of just two Jefferson punt attempts.
Jefferson got a pair of scoring passes from quarterback Deven Jackson, one to Jamartae Brown to cap the 97-yard drive, and the other to Haszell West to cap a 78-yard drive with 1:08 left in the game.
Woodburn, after the Demos booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, ran out the clock for the win.
"I've always wanted the be a head coach, and I have great kids on the team," Federico said. "We worked hard and battled, and got the win. It feels good."
Woodburn plays again Sept. 7 at home against Cleveland. Jefferson plays against Grant at Grant Park.
Federico and Gipson both played on defense at the University of Oregon in 2002-03, although Federico as a walk-on. Gipson led the nation in interceptions as a senior in 2005. The two entered Friday's game with significantly different coaching backgrounds, though, as Federico took over the program at Woodburn, where he works, after seven years as an assistant at Cascade High. Gipson had not coached a game at any level prior to Friday's game.
Jefferson struggled as a team under a first-game coach might early on, losing yards on its first two plays, drawing a penalty and firing off a 29-yard punt. Woodburn, with a larger roster that featured many more linemen, drove for a score in six plays with Ray racking up the final yardage on a third down. The Demos responded with Jackson lofting a perfect pass to be intercepted by Ray at safety.
But, the Jefferson defense, inspired by defensive guru John Neal, who has years of experience at Oregon, held firm and forced a punt, a move that showcased the strength of the team and the core of its hopes to win the Portland Interscholastic League title for the fifth time in seven years. The Demos drove to the Woodburn 23, but stalled due to poor snaps and fumbles, which plagued the team throughout the game.
Woodburn drove 65 yards on just four plays with Yakis completing two passes for 64 yards to highlight the action.
After another Jefferson drive stalled, the Bulldogs drove inside the Jefferson 20, but an interception ended that drive.
In the third quarter, Woodburn moved ahead 15-0 when Jefferson's initial drive, which started at its 14, turned into a safety. The Bulldogs punted on their following drive, but recovered a fumble and then moved toward a knockout blow when the Democrats again stiffened and got the ball back.
Jackson, with four completions to the 6-foot-4 Brown, drove Jefferson to its first touchdown under Gipson in 11 plays, two of them fourth-down conversions that led to the deficit being sliced to 15-8 with 7:45 left in the game. Another quick stand got the ball back, but a pair of penalties placed it at the 5.
On first down, Jackson got flushed from the pocket and tossed a soft pass on the run that Guizar easily caught and scored with.
Woodburn took over the ball on the Jefferson 21 after the Demos failed to convert on a fourth down - Gipson eschewing the punt at virtually every opportunity, but the Jefferson defense again held and Jackson drove the team to its second score. But clock management doused any comeback drama.
Throughout the game, the stadium clock regularly failed to stop following dead ball plays, which shortened play by as much an estimated three minutes.
Benson football is among list of teams with fresh hopes of success
Aug. 6, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
The opening day of practice for high school athletic teams brought about an unusual situation at Benson High Monday afternoon. Anthony Stoudamire, the school's new football coach, caught some of his players sneaking a water break, and he set about letting the team know that wouldn't be tolerated.
First, they did extra running. Then, he hit them with the lowdown on sneaking water.
"When one of us drinks, we all drink," Stoudamire told his team firmly. "The coaches know how important water is to keep you hydrated, and we give you plenty of water breaks, so you don't need to be sneaking water. That's part of becoming a better player, playing through being thirsty.
"What are you going to do when we're driving, when we're at the three-yard-line and you get thirsty? Are you going to come out and let someone else play, or keep playing?"
Stoudamire closed practice with a sweat-soaked group of two dozen players thirsting for success - the kind he experienced at Jefferson while the Techmen struggled to win sometimes one game during a season.
"I'm hoping for more than two wins," said junior Taylor Anderson. "We had one win two years ago and two last year. It would be great to get three wins, but we're shooting (to win) the PIL."
Stoudamire led Jefferson to the Portland Interscholastic League title at the Class 5A level four times in the past six years and won at least one playoff game in five of those seasons. In 2009, he guided the Democrats to the state title game before a loss to Hillsboro. In spring, Stoudamire was fired by Jefferson, but returned to coaching at a rival school and took most of his assistant coaches with him.
Jefferson then hired former University of Oregon standout Aaron Gipson, who will be a head coach for the first time.
"I'm having a good time here," Stoudamire said. "There's good support, we've got a nice field to practice on and the kids have been great.
"There's a lot of things we can do with the orange and blue that I couldn't do with blue and gold."
Benson's program has stalled since the departure of coach Bill Dressel in 1997. Stoudamire is the program's fifth coach since Dressel retired. Even under Dressel, the program was on the way to struggling to keep up with larger, better-funded programs. Benson hasn't won a playoff game since 1990, two years after it won the state title - the last time a PIL school won such an honor in football.
Of the league's seven Class 5A schools, only Jefferson has won a playoff game in the past decade.
Playoff success isn't the only place the PIL is struggling. Last season, the league's six 5A teams won just two non-league games - both against Parkrose. In the OSAA rankings that lead to playoff seeding, PIL teams took up the bottom five spots within the 37 Class 5A schools. Only Jefferson, which lost its three non-league games, was in the top 21 because its losses were to quality opponents: No. 5 Bend, No. 7 Corvallis and No. 13 Crescent Valley.
This season, of the seven PIL schools, only Franklin has a non-league game scheduled against a team ranked higher than No. 15 from last season - Sept. 21, at Bend.
Benson begins its season Aug. 31 at Dallas (No. 26 from 2011), then plays at The Dalles-Wahtonka (No. 31), and plays host to Banks, a Class 4A school, in its home opener, Sept. 14.
"We know it takes time to build a winner," Stoudamire said. "But, the kids don't want to hear that. They want to hear about how we can win this year, that's why we push them like we do."
It's been 15 years since it's won a district game, but that may change
Sept. 31, 2007 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
PORTLAND - Excitement filled the air when the Glencoe football team visited Parkrose for the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference opener for both teams, Sept. 21.
And when junior Nick Magrone caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from senior Theron Segar with 3:02 left in the first half, the home crowd of around 400 sprang to life.
The scoreboard flashed, the marching band played, the Broncos laid some skin on each other. A passing train sounded its horn in synch with the celebration and School Board Chair James Woods hammered out 20 push-ups as he had promised to do after every Parkrose score.
Everyone easily overlooked the score, 41-6, and focused on the positive of the play - the Broncos scored, so there wouldn't be a shutout on this day. In fact, Parkrose scored again later in the game to make the final 69-14.
But, the game had been decided long before Parkrose scored either of its touchdowns. In fact, it's not difficult to think every game the Broncos play in their eight-team league will have already been decided before the season begins - and for a long time.
The loss to Glencoe and Friday's 60-8 thrashing at Wilsonville ran the Parkrose losing streak in district game to 82 straight. The Broncos haven't won a league or conference game - the games that count toward making the state playoffs - since 1992.
That's 73 straight in the Mount Hood Conference and the last nine games in the NOC.
This year, the Broncos (0-4) have been outscored 228-40 and they still have five games left against schools from the West side of the Willamette River. By season's end, the streak will likely be 87 with no end in sight.
"This is a tough place to coach," says Parkrose head coach Mitch Neilson, who's in his third year. "I think about quitting, about moving on all the time, but then I think about the kids and how they don't quit and I keep going.
"But, it's very tough here."
It's not such a tough challenge that it can't be tackled, and Woods and new superintendent Karen Gray are hoping to create a plan that boosts the entire athletic program. Woods, an economics professor at Portland State, is intent on finding a way to get the football program, specifically, to be more competitive and for a simple reason: money.
"Football is what gets press," Woods said after the Glencoe loss. "We've got a great dance team, great drama, a great girls water polo team, but they never show up in the paper.
"Football is where the action is and we have to do a better job on the field to get people's attention because we've got things we need here. Our schools are bursting at the seams and if we're going to get a bond measure passed in the near future, we've got to be able to show that we can make things work, like the football team."
The market for athletic achievement Gray, who moved from Coos Bay's Marshfield High in summer, says her first mission in the district is simple: raise academic achievement.
Being on the job for only three months, she's yet to fully delve into how Parkrose and athletic achievement fit together although coming from Marshfield she's fully aware of the value of a strong athletic program.
"I know it's very important to the community," Gray says. "It's a source of pride, a source of confidence for student athletes and a sign of community support."
Gray says she's focused on the positive aspects of Parkrose athletics and likes what she sees. The girls water polo program won the state title at Class 5A last fall, the boys soccer program has enough players to field varsity, JV and JVII teams and even the football team gives her hope.
"There's very passionate players on that team," Gray says. "You can see it throughout the game, they love football. There just aren't enough of them."
To address the athletic program's issues, Gray is taking a group from the district - high school principal Roy Reynolds, athletic director Sanjay Bedi, Woods and another board member, to Coos Bay, Oct. 19, to meet with staff from Marshfield, including football coach Kent Wigle, who recently became only the second coach in Oregon to win 300 games.
Gray says Marshfield is a good program to examine because its challenges are greater than those of Parkrose.
"Marshfield is a smaller school than Parkrose, has less money for athletics than we do, they're further away from their league games," Gray says, "but they manage to be very successful year after year. That's something we're going to look into and study."
Woods, who's been school board chairman for just two months, says he's all for the trip to Marshfield because it'll give leaders in the district a chance to put their heads together and generate a uniform plan.
"We all need to get on the same page and address what's going on here," Woods says. "That's going to be a key element in moving forward."
At Parkrose, the first sport to address is football.
Like throwing gas on a fire By the time Magrone caught his pass in the end zone, Glencoe had pulled many of its starters on defense as the score might have truly gotten out of hand without that move.
Parkrose absolutely self-destructed to open the game. Its first three possessions all lasted two plays and ended with turnovers. Glencoe returned the third turnover, a fumble, 10 yards for a 21-0 lead. At that point, Glencoe's offense had run just eight plays.
And, it got worse.
After a punt, Glencoe scored on one play. Parkrose fumbled away its next possession on third down and Glencoe again scored on one play to make the score 34-0 with 5:23 still left in the first quarter.
And, it got worse.
On the ensuing kickoff, a muffed return left the Broncos with first-and-10 from their own 2. They punted again, although that ended up being something of a victory in that they didn't allow a safety or touchdown or turn the ball over.
When the first quarter finally ended, Parkrose had minus-8 yards of total offense and four turnovers. Glencoe had run just 15 plays, but rolled up 171 total yards.
Glencoe closed the game by inserting a 5-7 receiver at fullback and handing him the ball play after play so as to not run up the score even more.
Wilsonville, which is consistently ranked in the Class 5A top 10, scored on its first eight possessions and won 60-8. The Wildcats ran between the tackles, the plays most likely to be stopped, for the final three quarters so as not to run the score up more.
The 'W' in Parkrose football is silent Parkrose has not been a football power for some time - its last playoff appearance came in 1982. The program stumbled along in the MHC against larger high schools for years, always winning a conference game against a program, Sandy, Barlow, even Central Catholic, in the rebuilding phase. Then, the wins stopped.
After beating Central Catholic 24-7 in the fourth game of the 1992 season, the Broncos lost several close games to finish at 2-7. In '93, they went 0-9, the closest score being 21-6 against Reynolds. In '94, they not only went 0-9, but were outscored 410-63.
Years of getting drilled on the scoreboard just screams "beware" to student-athletes. Why go out for football when you're only going to get slaughtered by better teams? Against Glencoe, the Broncos suited up just 27 players, and two of those players were recruited from other sports that week.
"We get teased all the time in the hallways," senior Darius Strickland said after the Glencoe loss. "It's hard to take, especially when the guys saying it can play. They'd be helping us on the field if they just came out and suited up.
"I tell people all the time, 'why don't you stop whining and start playing?'"
"The verbal abuse these kids take in the hallways is incredible," Neilson says. "I really feel for them."
Having a small roster hurts the team in both games and practices, Strickland said, because practice is such an important part of team building.
"Practice is where you push each other to get better," said Strickland, who played at Jefferson as a junior. "Because we have so few players, and you don't want to get hurt, I know I don't try as hard as I should in practice. That shows up in games, but what else can you do?"
The challenge of recruiting players to a losing program takes a toll on coaches. Parkrose has had nine head coaches in the last 15 years, including two in one year.
Neilson says a key to his struggle as a coach is finding assistants who work at the school. He's the only coach, he says, who actually works at Parkrose, so he's the only recruiter in the hallways during the day, something better teams do not face.
"The district just hired 14 new teachers for the school and none of them are coaches, for any sport," Neilson says. "That's very tough to work the halls and develop your team when you only have one person doing it."
At a recent practice, the varsity team had just one coach - Neilson, present for 23 players. The freshman team, practicing nearby, had just one coach for 23 players.
To build up confidence and numbers, Parkrose has played an independent schedule - no district games - four times in the past 10 years. It almost worked in 2002.
Coming off a 5-4 season that included two victories by shutout during an independent schedule, the Broncos won their opening two non-league games and lost just 15-13 to Sandy in the sixth week of the season. The next week, Parkrose lost 28-20 to Barlow. Then reality set in.
A personnel issue caused coach Jon Taylor to resign during the 2003 season and athletic director Mike Bontemps finished the schedule as coach. The Broncos were outscored 366-40.
In 2004, with another new coach, they were outscored 457-41.
Reclassification last fall put Parkrose into a district with schools more its size, but those schools still field more established programs. It its first season at Class 5A, Parkrose got outscored 323-61 in seven NOC games.
In its home game with Glencoe, Woods - who openly promoted not knowing much about Parkrose football - promised to do 20 pushups every time the Crimson Tide scored until someone pulled him aside and suggested that might not be such a good idea. Woods would have done 200 that night.
The 'L' in Broncos is silent, too Football isn't the only sport at Parkrose that struggles to win. Last year, none of the teams that compete in sports sanctioned by the Oregon School Activities Association reached the state playoffs (water polo is administered outside of the OSAA because so few schools have teams).
Most Parkrose teams struggled to simply win a conference game or match, although the school does have success at times. Parkrose fielded a successful baseball team in the spring of 2004, a team that included Eddie Kunz, who played for the two national championship teams at Oregon State and recently became a first-round draft pick of the New York Mets.
Tyrell Fortune won the title at 215 pounds as a junior during the state wrestling meet last year. He played football, too.
The school dance program is strong as are activities such as band, cheerleading, dance - activities that do not involve contact with an opponent.
But, the success stories are few and far between and luck hasn't been on the school's side. The 2004 baseball team lost by one run in the second round of the state playoffs and Fortune moved to Lake Oswego in summer and plays for Lakeridge.
This fall, only one team, volleyball, has won a league match or game. According to rosters submitted to the league web site, www.nwoc5a.org, there are just 28 seniors, a key element to success in most programs, even playing an OSAA sport at the school, although overall participation, both Gray and Bedi say, is rising.
Bedi says being competitive and winning are key issues the school knows it needs to address.
"As much as you want to say that winning isn't important, it's what people see first," he says. "We're going to have to rebuild the character of the kids in terms of learning how to win."
Gray says she's working the community through e-mails of school success stories, including those in the athletic program whether they involve victories or not.
"I've gotten great responses from those e-mails," Gray says. "People love hearing little success stories."
With a new superintendent and school board chair, the timing seems ripe for Parkrose to address its athletic woes. But, that brings the Parkrose story to a very key issue - is the school and its community actually up to the task of winning?
Success is in the details With the game in hand early, Glencoe subbed in a bunch of reserves, who enjoyed some extended playing time, although one player stood out, especially on defense - No. 7, Luke Minnick.
Minnick, a 5-foot-10 junior and an emergency starter on offense at receiver, surrounded the ball on defense. He made numerous solo tackles and even forced a fumble. Asked why he tried so hard in a game that had long been decided, Minnick had a simple response: he wanted to get noticed.
"I want more playing time," Minnick said afterward, "and you have to make plays, do things to get noticed by the coaches to earn that."
"In the second half, I turned to an assistant and told him 'No. 7 is everywhere,'" Glencoe coach Tim Duvall said. "We're going to have to re-examine how much time Luke is getting on the field."
At Glencoe, administrators might easily point to Minnick's play as a program success because that kind of drive can be transferred to the classroom and work place.
Parkrose can point to its fourth quarter scores - it's beating opponents 34-19 in the fourth quarter, but the Broncos have only scored one touchdown in the first half of their four games. The Broncos don't give up, but they aren't competitive.
Many small details don't work in Parkrose's favor, either. For starters, the Parkrose roster contains names, jersey numbers, positions and grades for its players. The rosters for all the other teams in the conference also contain a player's height and weight.
Last year at the district cross country meet, all of the runners were identified by their name, school and grade, except Parkrose. It happened at the district swim meet, too, although Century of Hillsboro also didn't submit its athletes grades. Century finished last in both the boys and girls meets. Parkrose placed fifth in boys and sixth in girls.
It would be easy to point a finger toward Bedi, in his fourth year as athletic director, in regards to the details, but this is his first year just focusing on the AD position. In his first three years, he also taught classes, something done by few ADs at larger schools.
"I lobbied for quite a while to get to this point," Bedi said recently. "If we want to be more successful than we've been, we need a fulltime athletic director. So, that's a good sign that we have that."
Bedi said he started meeting with team captains to help develop the athletic community within the student population as well as create more dialogue with athletes. The first meeting, he said, brought up some interesting conversations.
"The students said they would like it if more faculty showed up for games," Bedi said. "That's something we can work on."
Gray said she's had a meeting with captains from freshmen teams to get into their heads.
"The freshmen feel really good about what they're doing and they want to be successful all the way through high school," Gray said. "And, they've got great ideas. The football players want a system where the middle school teams use the same offense as the high school team, something we're definitely going to look into."
The freshmen also want an artificial turf field, something virtually every suburban school is installing.
The increased dialogue with student-athletes also shows how significant the challenge of becoming competitive is going to be for Parkrose. The seniors, for example, got into something akin to a union negotiation when they asked for more faculty attendance. Bedi told the seniors the faculty would ask for the same thing from their end.
"There's probably two or three players on any given team who skipped a class the day of a game, so that needs to be addressed," he said. "I'm not going to ask teachers to show up for games when students don't show up for class."
And, when the freshmen football players talked up developing the program into the middle schools, they showcased that 15-year-olds can figure out how to build a winning program. So, why isn't that on the drawing board already?
Although she wants to avoid going back in time by criticizing what's happened in the past, Gray says parents are asking the same question.
"I can see where people are coming from when they ask questions like this," she says. "It's a tough situation here and we're all just going to have to come together and figure out how to turn things around.
"I don't have a magic wand to erase what's happened or make Parkrose successful overnight. It's going to take a lot of hard work by a lot of people."
The vein to complain happens mainly elsewhere At Wilsonville Friday, there were perhaps 30 parents and students supporting the Broncos, and half of them were associated with the cheerleading team. So, the football team, which suited up 23 players, brought along 15 fans.
Magrone's parents, Paul and D.J., have been with the program for several years as they had a son ahead of Nick play football as well. They're used to losing.
"It's really become kind of a culture at Parkrose," said Paul Magrone, the director of personnel for a contractor. "It's a culture of losing.
"I feel really sorry for the kids."
D.J. Magrone said that hurt feeling goes past the game, too.
"It's not just that they lose, but they've gotten used to losing," she said at halftime with the Broncos trailing 53-0. "They accept it. That breaks my heart when I think about that."
The Magrones have experience with other teams - JV basketball and varsity baseball. Neither team they followed with Nick on the roster won a district game last season. During the baseball season, the Broncos were outscored 63-2 in their first four conference games.
With Neilson having recently built a house in Scappoose and changes likely headed for athletics anyway, it's possible the football team with get its 10th head coach in 16 years by the fall. The Magrones have thoughts on that.
"If that happens, who are we going to get as coach?" Paul Magrone asked. "Who's going to want to come here?"
As he asked about the prospects of a new coach, Magrone's attention turned to a player getting ready to leave the facility. Curtis Lincoln, the senior running back, quit at halftime, called his sister and waited for her to arrive.
"That's not the first time we've seen a player do that," Paul Magrone said. "They've had enough and they leave."
"You can't fault them," D.J. Magrone said. "But, it's not any worse for the other kids than it is for them, so ... that's just how things work here."
The Magrones have thoughts on how to develop a winner, but those thoughts haven't been shoved into the district's mindset.
"No one likes losing, but what can we do about it?" Paul Magrone says. "I'd fuss and complain, but what's that going to do?"
"We still feel great about our son," D.J. Magrone says. "He gets up for each game, and tries to get the rest of the team up, too. And, he's a good student, so he's still succeeding. We're happy with him as a person."
Time for a cultural exchange Both the girls basketball and softball teams had competitive seasons and even the boys basketball team, which only won one of 14 conference games, lost nine of those by eight points or less.
Overcoming the 'Culture of Losing' might even be a key to academic success, something schools with poor test scores are learning. There were at least 19 students, by one account, who signed up to play football, but were academically ineligible and have yet to become eligible. If the program had a winning or more competitive background, those students might have tried harder to regain their eligibility. Gray said eligibility issues are going to be an integral part of her rebuilding plan.
"We have to find a way to get those kids eligible," she said. "That's a benefit to them and to the athletic program."
Woods thinks a stronger athletic program will help develop more of a connection with area businesses, which is helpful to raise support for teams when they need things such as supplies or uniforms.
Despite the losing, there's some hope for the future. Administrators are meeting with students for input, the school has a full-time athletic director, overall participation is improving and the district has a new superintendent and school board chairman who both want to delve into the athletic program and its operations. They have a trip to a successful program scheduled for the near future so they're already actively addressing this issue.
And, there's the thought the school should be in a different district - the neighboring Portland Interscholastic League, which would reduce travel time to away games and likely increase the school's competitiveness immediately.
Will this be enough to boost the Parkrose varsity football team into the 'W' column of a district game?
Paul Magrone says there's support awaiting the high school from the surrounding community. But, with the track record the football program has developed, it would be easy to fall back into the black hole created by years of losing.
"We all want to win, but the school is going to have to come up with a plan, take the first step in telling us how it's going to happen," he says. "We all want to do a lot better, be a lot more competitive because we all know what it's like to lose, and we don't want to lose anymore."
Steven Long's 4 touchdowns carries LO to a 47-14 win in Class 6A final
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
The long awaited state championship Lake Oswego athletes, coaches, parents, alumni and residents have sought in football finally arrived Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field.
Behind a dominating offensive line, slick-footed Steven Long ran for 322 yards and four touchdowns and the Lakers held Sheldon scoreless in the second half on the way to a 47-14 win in the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires Class 6A state championship game before a raucous crowd of more than 6,000 fans.
Lake Oswego broke a 14-all tie with a 35-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in the first half and overwhelmed the Irish in the second half, 30-0, for the school's first title in its 61-year history.
No other school across the state had won as many playoff games - 40 - without winning a title. Saturday, the Lakers passed that statistic off to Canby and its 36 wins.
"I'm so proud of these kids and what we've been able to do this year," said coach Steve Coury, who's guided the program for 20 years. "I'm so happy that we're finally able to bring a title home to Lake Oswego and our great fans."
"This is an amazing feeling because of all the people who support us and we get to share this with them," Long said. "There's been so many great people who've been part of this program and now we all finally have a championship."
The Lakers, who finished 14-0, ground out 349 yards on the ground on 63 carries - 42 by Long - and amassed 490 total yards.
Sheldon, which finished 13-1, got a pair of scoring runs from Conor Strahm, but couldn't match the Lakers' energy on offense or defense. The Irish suffered only their second defeat in three seasons, both to Lake Oswego.
Saturday's game was the eighth time the teams have met in the playoffs in the past 10 seasons. Lake Oswego had won four of the previous seven but hadn't won a title, while Sheldon won the state championship three times.
The teams traded scores in the first half and were tied at 14 after Strahm scored on a 1-yard plunge with 2:26 left in the second quarter. A short kick-off gave the Lakers the ball at their 37 and they marched to the Sheldon 10 in just four plays, aided by a pair of personal foul penalties at the end of the first play, a 9-yard run by Long in which he was tackle by his face mask and then hit out of bounds. Sheldon's defense held, but the 35-yard field goal by Harrison Greenberg gave the team the lead and they received the opening kick of the second half.
Long scored on the third play of the second half with a dazzling 51-yard run and the Lakers followed that up with an interception by Jordan Horak and a 48-yard scoring drive capped by a 2-yard run from quarterback Alex Matthews to take a 31-14 lead.
"At haltime we knew were going to get the ball and that first possession was huge for us," Matthews said. "When we scored, we knew we just had to keep playing like we were and finish and we'd win."
The schools prepare for their eighth playoff meeting Saturday
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
It's not hard to view Sheldon and Lake Oswego as the top rivals in high school football today.
They don't play in the same league and almost never meet during the regular season, but the games they play carry the most weight because they're in the playoffs.
When the Irish and Lakers meet for the Class 6A state title Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field, it'll be the eighth time the teams have met in the playoffs in the past 10 years.
Starting with the 2002 title game, the teams have met in the playoffs every year but 2005 and '06, with one of the teams having their season end each time. The streak includes the past four seasons.
Lake Oswego owns a 4-3 edge in the series, but the Irish have had better luck in the decade by winning the state title each time it beat the Lakers in the playoffs.
If Sheldon wins Saturday, it'll be the fourth time it's beaten Lake Oswego and won the state title each year. It'll also be the second time in three years they've gone unbeaten.
Lake Oswego has yet to win a title.
Sheldon is 38-1 since losing to Lake Oswego in the quarterfinals of the 2008 playoffs. The one loss? Lake Oswego, 45-14, in the quarterfinals last year.
This season, the Irish scored 35 points or more in their first 12 games, a streak broken only by their 18-9 semifinal win over Central Catholic in the semifinals. The streak included a 52-37 win over state power Jesuit in the second week of the season.
The Lakers are also 13-0 and have two wins over Jesuit, including 21-13 in the semifinals.
Amazingly, both schools are in the playoffs for the 13th straight year, a streak that began for both teams in 1999. Both teams have won 33 playoff games heading into Saturday's game. Lake Oswego just has three more losses - 12. Only Jesuit has more playoff wins - 35 - in that time among Class 6A schools.
Eagles beat Dayton 31-28 on 47-yard field goal as time expires
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
The legs of Jeff Hendrix carried Santiam Christian to the Class 3A football state title Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
Hendrix, a 6-foot senior, ran for a pair of touchdowns and kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to give the Eagles a 31-28 victory over Dayton.
Hendrix, who also had a team-high six tackles and recovered a fumble, capped a six-play, 28-yard drive that took the final 1:02 of the game after the Pirates had rallied from a 28-14 deficit to tie the game.
"That's my first game-winning field goal and my career long," Hendrix said. "I knew it had a chance when I kicked it, but I didn't know it was good until they signaled it because it was right at the right goalpost.
"This is such a great feeling to win and then win like that."
Santiam Christian, which lost the title game to Rainier last season, finished at 14-1 and with its first football championship. Junior quarterback Grant Schroeder passed for 211 yards and ran for 43 yards and a touchdown to lead the Eagles.
Dayton finished 12-2. The Pirates got 178 yards and a score from senior AJ Hedgecock, who also returned an interception for a touchdown.
The game featured 31 points scored in the fourth quarter, which began with the teams tied at 14.
Pirates beat Rainier, Scio moves toward another title
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com
Dayton returned to an OSAA football championship game after a nine-year absence with a 52-20 win over Rainier Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Pirates got three touchdowns and a field goal from senior AJ Hedgecock and three touchdown passes from junior Nate Bernards in a semifinal rematch with the Columbians, who won last year's battle 34-20 and went on to win the Class 3A state title over Santiam Christian.
Hedgecock also threw for a score as the Pirates gave themselves another shot at a state title.
Dayton (12-0) last played in the state final in 2002, when it beat Amity 45-20 for its sixth title under coach Dewey Sullivan.
Sullivan passed away during the 2006 football season after coaching the Pirates for 42 seasons. Sullivan holds the state record for wins at 352 and guided the Pirates to five state titles.
Dayton is in its first title game under second-year coach Gary Thorson.
Many of the core Dayton players also play for the school's basketball team, which lost in the state final the past two seasons.
SCIO, GOLD BEACH GET A REMATCH
Scio's ground game an opportunistic defense rolled past Weston-McEwen 46-8 and set up a rematch of last season's title game with Gold Beach, which beat Oakland 50-6.
The Loggers, who lost only to Dayton 28-6 in the first week of the season, gave up their first touchdown of the playoffs in the win.
Siuslaw's run of nine straight playoff appearances reached the state final with a 38-21 win over Central Saturday at Cottage Grove High School.
The Vikings, who won the 4A title in 2006 - the first year the state featured six classifications, got four touchdown runs from Sony Tupua in the win.