I’m sure someone who grew up with me in El Encanto Heights will correct me if I’m wrong, but the earliest recollection I have as a coach came in high school and involved 5- and 6-year-olds in a basketball league under the direction of Sal Rodriguez at the Goleta Boys’ Club.
I had played some high school basketball and had grand plans for my team of eager beavers. Then reality struck, and I realized a good team goal would be to have five players on the court at one time.
From there, my coaching career took off. I was always the coach of our city league softball and basketball teams at the Santa Barbara News-Press, I coached youth softball when my daughter was still interested in the sport and later helped with her basketball teams, and I helped coach friends’ children in hoops.
Through it all, I yearned for more. I wanted to coach at a higher level, but job requirements didn’t give me the time flexibility to pursue those opportunities.
Which brings me to why I’m writing this column sitting at the table in my motor home, plugged into a closed middle school in Oakridge, Ore. On June 8, 38 years into a journalism career that began at Dos Pueblos High School, moved to the News-Press for 25 years (with a short stint at The Associated Press in Los Angeles) and later continued for 13 years at The (Eugene) Register-Guard, I was summoned to my boss’ office and told I was being laid off — the victim of brutal budget cuts.
Suddenly, I was an out-of-work 54-year-old with two mortgages, a hefty monthly car payment and a daughter preparing for her sophomore year in college. I was at a crossroads, to be sure.
There were things — coaching among them — that I had always wanted to do (or done on a small scale) but never had the aforementioned job flexibility to do in bigger doses. Included in that was announcing (public address and play-by-play) and officiating high school football (I have done baseball for seven seasons) and coaching.
So, I polished off the dusty resume and started going after some of those dreams.
I spent the summer as the stadium public address announcer for Eugene’s American Legion baseball team, and the club has said it wants me to handle radio (or podcast) play-by-play duties next summer.
I officiated 35 football games this fall, from high school to middle school to Pop Warner — rain or shine — and had a blast doing it. Wish I could have started 30 years ago.
On Sept. 2, I interviewed for the head boys’ basketball coaching position at Oakridge High School. I was hired before I had completed the 45-minute drive back home to Eugene.
It’s a 2A school in Oregon (which has six classifications) located 45 miles east of Eugene along Highway 58. We have about 185 students, with more than 10 percent of the student body involved with the boys’ basketball program. Half of my projected team was involved in the state football playoffs until Saturday, so when we began our official practices last week, there were seven to 10 players to greet me on any given day. With our football season now over, players from that program will begin trickling into the gym this week as we amp things up, preparing for our season-opener Dec. 1.
The district’s superintendent saw on my resume play-by-play experience as the basketball Voice of the Gauchos and asked if I would be interested in broadcasting road football games on the district-owned radio station. So I have spent the fall following the Warriors football team around the state.
Oakridge is a timber town, along a fork of the Willamette River, and has suffered through the recession as most small timber towns in the Northwest have in recent years. If you can find the single stoplight in town, you can find the high school.
I haven’t done a scientific study, but I’m pretty sure there are more boarded-up businesses along the main drag (and off the main drag) than businesses open for business. If a tour bus rumbles through town past 9 p.m., there is one option, and it has golden arches.
But the town does have a love for its high school sports programs and a group of student athletes any coach would be proud to claim. I’ll match the community support for our teams with any of the larger towns in the state.
Which brings us to my home away from home. The job pays a relatively small stipend of less than $5,000. To make that money stretch as far as possible, the school district has given me permission to park my motor home at a middle school in the area, closed within the past five years, so that I don’t have to make the 90-mile round-trip to my home in Eugene on a daily basis.
The district and others in town know that I need a full-time job with full-time benefits at some point in the not-too-distant future (a full-time job with the city of Oakridge is now a strong possibility), but for now I am living the dream.
To this point, the players have done everything I have asked of them, and they seem to really like one another and me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s half the battle. Now we can concentrate on teaching basketball.
Our first game is on the road Dec. 1 in Lowell, less than 30 minutes west of Oakridge. Former Dos Pueblos basketball and University of Oregon standout Bruce Coldren was the athletic director at Lowell High School for most of his teaching/coaching career before retiring last year.
Buckle up. It’s gonna be one heckuva ride. If you kind Noozhawk readers will allow me, I’ll share periodic updates on our season, even if the new coaching requirements don’t allow the weekly column contact with you that I have enjoyed since the beginning of June.
— Noozhawk columnist Paul Yarbrough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.