By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Still on his Feet: The All-Star coach from Yamhill County


If he had it his way, Scott Coburn would have sat down somewhere in the Moda Center on April 2 and watched basketball.

The Portland Trail Blazers were playing the Miami Heat on that day, a Saturday, an eventual 110-93 victory for the host Blazers. Coburn was, as he put it “running around and doing stuff” during the first half.

At halftime, Coburn, Leon McKenzie, Jr., and Jonquil Vann-Tessmer appeared on the court for a special presentation, courtesy of Comcast SportsNet Northwest, the Trail Blazers’ broadcaster.

“I was thinking, (they’re) high school guys, Portland area … They would have more people, more coaches (voting),” Coburn said.

All three coaches were nominated for CSNNW’s All-Star Coach award, decided by a popular vote conducted March 2-27. Coburn is a physical education teacher at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer who also coaches the Wolverines’ volleyball and track and field teams; he was, indeed, the only middle-school coach of the three. McKenzie coaches track and field at Portland’s Benson High School; Vann-Tessmer coaches cross country and track and field at Roosevelt High School in north Portland.

On the day, middle school ruled. Coburn was named the All-Star Coach award winner for Oregon and was presented with an oversized check, signifying a donation of $5,000 to Whiteaker’s athletic programs. (McKenzie and Vann-Tessmer each received $1,000 from Comcast SportsNet.)

“People tell me in the video I look like I’m totally shocked,” Coburn said. “I was honored to be there and I know I’m going to get (at least) a thousand. The shock of winning, I kind of blinked and shook my head. It was surprising. Humbling, surprising.”

A very pleasant surprise. Organized sports participation tends to fall off as children enter middle school – they have not found their desired competitive outlet, or sports no longer remain enjoyable, or any number of reasons. Money is tight enough at the high school level, as anyone receiving a fundraising request has understood; it is even tighter down the line. The $5,000 means a lot to Whiteaker, and it may benefit another generation of Wolverines.

Coburn has spent 24 years teaching at Whiteaker – among his accomplishments: shepherding this columnist (Whiteaker class of 2002) and his brothers through three years of physical education – but the roots of his coaching lay in Yamhill County. Coburn graduated from Dayton High School in 1975, playing football under Dewey Sullivan and basketball for Earl McKinney, who led the Pirates to their first boys basketball state championship game in 1965. “I modeled a lot of my coaching around his calm demeanor,” Coburn said. (He also ran cross country in the fall and participated in track and field in the strong.) Coburn’s wife, Laurie, is a Dayton High graduate (class of 1976), as was his sister, Connie Firestone (class of 1972). His parents, Bob and Mary Lou, live in Dayton to this day.

Coburn also holds the rare distinction of being a Dayton High graduate in the McMinnville High School Sports Hall of Fame. He was a student-teacher at Mac High in 1979 and also assisted Nick Robertson with coaching the boys basketball team. The Grizzlies won their first and only Class AAA state championship behind the tutelage of Robertson and the play of a gifted 6-foot-8 forward named Charlie Sitton, among others. The 1978-79 boys basketball team was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Coburn’s coaching career took him across Oregon, to places such as Waldport and Mt. Angel. “I have some of my Mt. Angel students who, I have their kids here now,” Coburn said. “That’s what makes it fun, to just see kids of kids and people you have now who are adults.”

Track and field season is underway at the middle-school level, and Coburn issued Wolverines uniforms that “are falling apart; they’re 15 years old or so.” So the $5,000 will help toward that. The volleyball standards are broken. Any way Coburn can stretch his budget, he will. Until then, the giant check has provided something of a morale boost to the Whiteaker students who pass through the main gymnasium for classes.

“I have had a ton of people write me and say thanks,” Coburn said. “It’s all about the community. I’m just doing my job.”