Column: Sports place Clatskanie on Oregon map | Opinion
Small towns throughout the state make it difficult for people to locate each other with many cities on the outer region of the state.
Clatskanie, being in the Northwest corner makes it difficult for people to locate this small city.
Basketball and softball have made it possible with games from throughout the state to know Clatskanie’s location. The 1945 boys basketball team won the small school state championship just a few months before the ending of World War II. Milt Philbrook, Don Erickson and Allen Van were stalwarts on the team. In the fall of 1952 Westport High School consolidated with Clatskanie. With good players from each school, there were some amazing things to happen. During the 1952-53 year, the team went 14-0 even with St. Helens and Seaside in the league.
During that period of time, there were only two divisions of schools. One hundred fifty students and under were in B Division-150 above and up were in A Division. With 225 students, Clatskanie had to play in the big school state tournament at the U of O. The bracket showed Clatskanie would play the winner of Marshfield or Reedsport. Number one ranked Marshfield was to be our first game opponent.
Coach Sempert took three of us to watch Marshfield win. After the game, Coach Sempert was talking to some people, we three players were standing by the gym entry. A young man was standing near and asked who they were going to play at state. His comment was some Indian school. At state, we were leading Marshfield and the second half we lost our shooting eye and lost. Next was Roosevelt. Portland City Camps-we won. Next game Medford. We won. And last Hillsboro for fifth place and lost and finished eighth in state. Pretty good for an Indian School.
The 1953-54 team generated a tremendous following after losing one league and a two-year record of 27-1. Nearly all of the league schools had small gyms, if you did not arrive by 5:30, you did not get to see the game. Our games at state were broadcast over the radio and Canham Appliancce put speakers on the downtown street for people to hear the state games.
Game one at state we beat Grants Pass by 15 points. Game two played Roosevelt Portland City Champs and won by two. In two years, Clatskanie beat Portland Schools four times. The third game was now the semi-finals with the number one ranked Milwaukie. With five minutes to go we were tied, but the tall boys wore us down and we lost by nine. The next day we played Madras for third and won. Third in the big school tournament was great.
This small school against the big boys received enormous publicity in two Portland papers. Lew Harrison and Larry Hermo were the mainstay on the team. Old timers around Clatskanie said this was the best boys team in the history of the school. The best Clatskanie sports fan, Evie Arder, can verify as he saw the two Westport-Clatskanie teams play.
In most recent times, the Clatskanie girls accomplished something that was unbelievable for any school in Oregon by winning three consecutive state championships in basketball and two in softball. It is difficult to win one state championship, but five is a landmark that may never be broken by any school in Oregon.
John Blodgett and Kevin Sprague are two local guys that were not trained in college for coaching but achieved the ultimate. Coaching at any level takes special people to achieve what they did. I did not see Kevin coaching softball, but I was around John and his girls some and in some cases offered my two bits worth. Having coached 30 years on the high school level, I was impressed the first time I attended John’s practice with how he conducted things with efficiency.
Both guys did a great job that should get big, big thanks. Both teams played girls from various locations in the state and those people found out where Clatskanie is located. The memories of what these girls did will always be life-lasting and that never can be taken away from them. Shelby Blodgett and Olivia Sprague were two super stars on both teams.
As established by the boys to bring notoriety some years ago, they did honors well-earned for our small school in Clatskanie. Along came the girls who left state to say, Clatskanie did a job to be proud of in the history of Oregon High School Sports. Be proud Clatskanie residents and don’t forget during your life what these sports did.
As a comment about coaches of the Westport-Clatskanie teams Year 53-54 Dean Sempert was the coach. He left to coach in California and later to coach at Lewis and Clark College for many years. 1953-54 Bob McCullough was the coach and later in his career became the basketball coach at Western Oregon College for many years. Clatskanie was lucky to have such quality coaches.
Larry Hermo is a 1954 graduate of Clatskanie and a 1959 graduate of Linfield College. He was also inducted into the Clatskanie Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Oregon High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1998.