By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

One final walk down memory lane with HOF

Where do you begin when you try to sum up digging through the lives of five people for the last four months?

You could start with how nice the four subjects (one passed away in 1950) were just as human beings. You could start with how gracious everyone was with recounting events long passed and delving into subjects they have long since moved on from.

By the time I talked to four of the five inductees of the 2013 McMinnville High School Sports Hall of Fame, their athletic accomplishments were but anecdotes in rich lives that were filled with children, grandchildren and successful careers. While each remembered their times in McMinnville fondly, the thing that struck me was that each person wasn’t living in the past. They learned many lessons from athletics, but the records they set never defined them.

Perhaps this is why I enjoyed talking with Mike Smithey in a crowed coffee shop in Southeast Portland on a rainy Sunday in late March or sitting in the metal bleachers at Duniway Middle School with Katie Brewster on a perfectly sunny April evening while we watched a Little League baseball team practice, the ping of a metal bat ringing in the air. Every inductee shared stories about their life and how competing for the McMinnville Grizzlies helped shaped who they are today

Writing the five McMinnville Sports Hall of Fame stories was a labor that at times I was fed up with and at times loved. I talked to friends about wanting to be done with the long weekends I spent reading through decades-old musty smelling copies of The News-Register. In the next breath, I would express my enjoyment at being able to research the athletic lives of Orile Robbins, Katie Brewster, Larry Phillips, Amy Roberts (now Wark) and Mike Smithey. I got into this business to tell stories, and the Mac Hall of Fame gave me the perfect opportunity to stretch my long-form muscles.

I give my thanks to everyone who talked to me for these stories and all the people who reached out to me after they ran with words of appreciation and thanks. I do not write with the expectation that hundreds or thousands of people will write back to me, but it was humbling to hear from those who had great words of thanks and remembrance for those I profiled.

A few things will stick with me until it’s time to begin researching the Mac HOF Class of 2014. Besides the obvious of planning even more than I did this year is the hilariously old-school nicknames sports writers gave teams back in the 1950s and ’60s. The McMinnville Grizzlies football team (which was rarely referred to as “the Grizzlies,” instead being labeled as “the Bears”) was consistently referred to as the “Girders” in headlines. The McMinnville basketball team of 1968 — coached by Benjamin Schaad — was once referred to in a News-Register column as the “Schaadmen.”

The track and field team was labeled the “Cindermen” because tracks back in the first part of the 1900s were surfaced with cinder. Though, I graduated from Vernonia High School in 2006, and we still had a cinder track, so I guess they’re still around.

My all-time favorite, though, is one headline I read in a News-Register section from the mid-1960s. It read, “McMinnville tankers take second at meet.” Can you guess the sport? If you had swimming, you would be right. The connection, beyond the swimming pool being compared to a huge fish tank, is lost on me.

Another favorite memory of the interviews was discussing what it was like to grow up during a certain era. Phillips and Smithey grew up during the Vietnam War. A person I interviewed for the story on Orile Robbins — Ralph Sturdevant — talked of playing football games in the middle of the day because of blackouts enforced during World War II and how one time, Robbins drove the team bus to Astoria from Vernonia for a basketball game and because it was after sunset, he couldn’t use his headlights. Here was Robbins, the coach of the Vernonia basketball team at the time, charging through the dark roads of Clatsop County with a busload of terrified teenagers when a police officer pulled the bus over, Sturdevant said. After Robbins explained they were running late for a game vs. the Fishermen, the officer let the teacher and coach off with a stern warning.

“He drove 45 miles per hour the entire way home,” Sturdevant, 86, said.

There were countless more stories like this I wish I could have shared. It’s a hard and fast rule of reporting that 80 percent of your research won’t end up making your final story. That’s definitely the case here, and since the stories have run, I’ve heard from a few people who wanted to share additional stories.

All I can say is keep them coming.

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