'She was a natural leader'
Wark graduated from McMinnville in 1991 and left her mark in just about every club, activity and sport the school offered. She was a National Honors Society member and had a 4.0 GPA. She ran the Action Corner, a student store in the McMinnville commons, selling things like cookies, bagels, pizza or school supplies. Then there was the M Club and the National Business Honors Society and even a stint as senator in ASB.
Oh, and she was also pretty good at athletics. A three-sport star for the Grizzlies, Wark lettered two years in volleyball, played three years of varsity basketball and lettered every year of high school in tennis.
“She was involved in everything,” Wark’s former basketball coach, Mike Gower said. “She played all the sports. She devoted all of her time to the sport she was in and excelled in all of them.”
Wark was a familiar face around the school and community, her shock of blond hair popping up all over the place. After leading the Grizzlies in scoring her senior year of basketball and qualifying for state in tennis, Wark set off for Spokane, Wash. and Whitworth University. Then it was OHSU for dental school, a time spent in the Air Force practicing before settling down back in McMinnville with her husband.
Through it all, a love of athletics — mainly basketball and golf — has remained. For her accomplishments and jam-packed high school and collegiate resume, Amy Wark is a 2013 inductee into the McMinnville High School Sports Hall of Fame.
In a day and age of sports specialization, athletes who play two or three sports at a big high school are dwindling. Gower said Wark and her friends all played multiple sports together, and when she was in a sport, she was supremely focused.
The McMinnville Grizzlies weren’t ever that great in volleyball during Wark’s time in high school, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying the competition. Her first year of varsity volleyball — the 1989 season — was mediocre. McMinnville finished 7-11 under first-year head coach Dan Keliihelua. The Grizzlies were 2-16 the previous year in Phil Miller’s final season.
Wark played setter and was the type of dependable passer and scorer that made the Grizzlies at least competitive in 1990. Playing alongside her friend Sarah Christenson, McMinnville kept scores close in the Metro League. In McMinnville’s first match of the season, the Grizzlies lost in three sets to North Salem. Wark was 12-for-12 serving, accounted for 14 points, had two aces and was 8-for-8 on her attacks with four kills.
“I like volleyball,” Wark said. “I think it’s a really fun sport, but we were never very super successful. But we had fun together.”
Fun is a word Wark uses often, and there’s little wonder why. She follows many sentences with a nice laugh.
“She was well respected in the school,” Melissa Heuberger said. Heuberger, who graduated from McMinnville in 1993 as Melissa Bogh, played basketball with Wark. “She had a lot of friends. Always had a big smile on her face, which I think drew people to her.”
While Wark had fun playing volleyball, it was basketball that she was most recognized for. A three-year letterman, Wark played during the most successful run of girls basketball at McMinnville in school history. McMinnville has qualified for the state playoffs 14 times from 1983 to 2013. Three of those seasons happened from 1989 to 1991.
In her sophomore season, Wark played in 24 games and averaged 2.6 points. The Grizzlies, playing the ultra-competitive Metro League, finished 17-7 and 12-6 in league. McMinnville defeated La Grande 62-53 in the first round but was eliminated in the second round by Oregon City 62-51.
That disappointment set up what is still the most successful season in the history of the girls basketball program. Led by Julie Lempea, who averaged 16.8 points and is McMinnville’s only all-tournament selection, the Grizzlies rolled through the Metro League with a 16-1 record. They won the league championship and qualified for the double-elimination 16-team tournament held Feb. 27 through March 3 1990 at the Earle A. Chiles Center in Portland.
The Grizzlies lost in the third round 51-40 to Springfield, ending their hopes of a state championship. Instead, Mac had to scratch and claw through the consolation bracket. In the consolation quarterfinals, Mac defeated Molalla 68-51 and followed that up with a 66-62 win vs. North Eugene to earn a spot in the fifth-place game. In the consolation finals, the Grizzlies beat Corvallis 47-37 to earn the only state trophy in program history and finish 23-3.
“Going to state was quite the experience,” Wark said.
Wark averaged 9.6 points per game her junior year and was an honorable mention selection in the Metro League. Entering her senior season, Wark transitioned easily into the role of captain along with Christenson and Mindy Legard.
“To have those types of kids as your captains and set great examples,” Gower said, “it makes it easy as a coach.”
Gower was just starting his tenure as head coach for the girls basketball team. He was an assistant for Kirk Burgess the previous few seasons. While Gower was replacing a successful coach, Wark was replacing Mac’s leading scorer from the past two seasons in Lempea. It didn’t take Wark long to get comfy in her new position.
On Nov. 27, 1990, the Grizzlies lost a triple-overtime game 71-68 at North Salem. Wark scored a school-record 34 points and had 11 rebounds and 11 steals (according to the Nov. 28, 1991 print-edition of the News-Register). She continued to score in bushels, adding 28 vs. Central Catholic, 24 vs. Newberg, 22 vs. Beaverton and 28 vs. Aloha. McMinnville ended 1990 at 6-2 and 4-1 in the Metro League behind 21 points per game from Wark.
Heuberger recalls Wark being a fearless shooter and player. You had to be to be successful in the Metro League.
“I just remember her being really quick and athletic,” Heuberger said. “She was focused. She didn’t seem to be intimidated when we played against really great players and teams. She wouldn’t back down. … I always thought that was admirable.”
Gower said Wark was a great shooter who could get to the rim when she needed, but what stood out to him her senior year were the intangibles coaches are always trying to assess.
“The first thing that I always think about is her great character,” Gower said. “She led by example. She worked extremely hard.”
Because of the girls basketball team’s success, the Grizzlies played before packed crowds.
“When I was in high school, the girls were always better than the guys,” Wark said, a prideful smile and laugh following the statement.
It’s true, the McMinnville boys basketball team was 0-17 during the 1990-91 school year. The main attraction was on Monday and Thursday nights in the Metro League when the girls played.
“It was really exciting,” Heuberger said. “It brought a lot of excitement to our games and intensity. I feel like our games drew, dare I say, more than the boys did.”
Gower said coaching the Metro League before packed crowds was exhilarating. Lisa Macy, who went on to set the school record in points scored in a season and a career, was a freshman Wark’s senior year. She started at point guard, and Gower said Macy’s senior season was so competitive that on the last night of the season, the Grizzlies could have finished in second or sixth place.
“Every night you had to be on top of your game to be successful,” he said.
McMinnville competed well Wark’s senior year. The Grizzlies set a trend of falling down early and having to scramble back to win in the closing seconds. More than once Wark or Christenson were put on the free throw line, needing to make critical free throws.
“I just remember a lot of really exciting games where we won at the end,” Wark said.
McMinnville fell to third place behind Glencoe and Tigard. Wark scored 12 points and had eight rebounds and three steals on Senior Night, a 54-51 win vs. Hillsboro that clinched the playoff spot. Unfortunately, McMinnville was upset at home in the first round vs. Marshall, 50-39.
Wark, who days earlier had been named to the Metro League First-Team, scored nine points in her final basketball game at McMinnville.
Basketball leaked over into the spring for Wark, who coach Marianne Hendricks moved up to play No. 1 singles. Wark missed a few matches early on because she traveled with an Oregon all-star girls basketball team to Texas.
Still, Wark won most of her matches in singles, including a 6-0, 6-1 match to start the year vs. West Albany.
Just like in basketball, Wark played alongside Macy. The freshman was Mac’s No. 2 singles player, and the two led McMinnville to a 10-5 record and 4-5 finish in the Metro League.
Like many tennis coaches do for the district tournament, Hendricks decided to pair Wark and Macy and have them play doubles. The move paid off, and on May 11, 1991, Wark and Macy beat No. 1-seeded Joni Abel and Laurel Knox of Tigard 6-4, 6-3 to win McMinnville’s first ever Metro League tennis championship. The two had entered the tournament unseeded.
“Amy’s leadership, and because she has played as much doubles in the pas as she has, were significant factors,” Hendricks told the News-Register that day. “Both of them have so much athletic savvy. When they see openings they take advantage of them.”
At the 4A state tennis championships in Portland on May 17-18, Macy and Wark made a good run. In the second round they defeated a team from Wilson 6-2, 6-3. In the third round, they beat a Dallas doubles team 6-3, 6-3 before falling 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals to a team from Lake Oswego.
College and the Air Force
Like most college decisions, Wark’s choice to go to Whitworth stemmed from academics, wanting to get a bit away from her hometown and also her passion for basketball.
“I just had fun when I played,” Wark said. “Basketball is competitive but it was still a team.”
Wark played three season for the Pirates, taking her junior year off to study abroad. She averaged 3.1 points her freshman year in 25 games, but as a starter her sophomore year she scored 11.8 points a game. After her return in the 1994-95 season, she scored 9.3 points per game and helped Whitworth make the NAIA DII Tournament, where the Pirates advanced to the second round.
It was also at Whitworth where Wark met her husband, Billy, who played baseball. To this day the Warks are still avid supporters of their alma mater, hosting the Whitworth women’s basketball team when it travels to play Linfield or flying to watch the men’s team in the NCAA tournament.
“We love Whitworth. It was great. Good friends. Good teammates. Good husband,” Wark said, another laugh escaping from her.
After graduating from Whitworth summa cum laude with a degree in biology, Wark spent four years at OHSU in Portland in the dental school. She wanted to follow her dad, Tim, who owned a dental practice in McMinnville. She enlisted in the Air Force to help pay for her schooling, and after graduating in the top 5 percent of her class in 1999, Wark and her husband moved to Dayton, Ohio and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. A year later, the couple relocated again, this time to England and a base outside of Cambridge where she was the base’s dentist.
The entire time, Wark continued to play basketball. While in Ohio, her commander let her spend time in Arizona competing in an Air Force basketball tournament, which her team won with a 7-0 record. Wark, just like in high school, was a scorer, averaging 15 points a game.
In 2001, Wark played on the Active Duty Air Force team in the Armed Forces Basketball Championship in Washington D.C. vs. the other branches of the military.
Finally, in 2003, Wark and her husband returned to McMinnville to start a family. She joined her father’s dental practice and bought it.
The practice is now at the Yamhill Valley Wellness Plaza on Hill Road. Amy and Billy are members at Michelbook Country Club and are avid golfers. She picked up the game because he played, and because she is athletic, picked it up no sweat. While in England, Wark won the local club championship every year and has a personal-best round of 75 to her credit.
Now, the Warks are transitioning from participants to active viewers. Their three kids, Declan, 9, Owen, 7, and Kinsey, 3, have already been indoctrinated into a variety of sports.
“It’s fun watching my kids play,” she said. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking. At least when I was playing I had some control.”
Wark has no doubt her kids will play sports at Mac High, just like she did.
“Sports are good for more than just one thing,” she said. “You learn how to listen to people. You stay out of trouble. There are a lot of reasons to play sports. They won’t have to play every sport, but they’ll play something.”
She doesn’t mean it in a controlling or forcing way. From her own experiences, she knows the incredible benefits of competition and life lessons learned from staying busy and working hard.
“She was the kid you wanted on every team,” Gower said. “Kids, I think, were drawn to her. “She’s just outgoing and friendly, and because she’s just a great person, people were attracted to her.”