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Eugene Weekly : Culture : 03.04.04


Hometown History

Local sports champions


Wine on Wheels

Crutch time and non-sappy chardonnays.

Hometown History

Local sports champions


THE BELLFOUNTAIN GIANT KILLERS: The Story of a Small Oregon High School and its Miraculous Championship Season by Joe R. Blakely. Bear Creek Press, 2003. Paperback, $9.95.

THE TALL FIRS: OREGON NATIONAL CHAMPS: The Story of the University of Oregon and the First NCAA Basketball Championship by Joe R. Blakely. Bear Creek Press, 2004. Paperback, $9.95.

Eugene writer Joe Blakely has discovered two Oregon sports stories about outstanding coaches who made champions of gifted athletes. These coaches and players left their mark on sports history. The economic Depression that gripped the country in the 1930s didn't dispel Oregon's can-do spirit as local sports grabbed the public's imagination.

"It was the entertainment of the day," Blakely said in a recent interview. Basketball was only invented in the late 19th century. Rules of the game were still in flux in the '30s, specifically, the center-jump or "tip-off," which favored height rather than speed in the players. The ball was taken back to center court by the referee after each basket.

The Bellfountain Giant Killers tells the upbeat story of the 1937 high-school basketball team from a tiny, Willamette Valley mill town that competed with and beat the best players from the largest schools in the state. In 1937, Bellfountain basketball coach Bill Lemmon took his team of eight outstanding athletes to the state championship. Blakely said curiosity drew him to the Bellfountain story, and his research became a passion.

In The Tall Firs, UO basketball coaches Hobby Hobson and John Warren recruited and shaped players from small Northwestern high-school teams into the nation's best collegiate team in 1939.

Former Ashland high-school coach Hobson became UO varsity coach in1935. Astoria's high-school coach, Warren became the UO's freshman team coach the same year. Both understood the value of recruiting the state's best players for the UO.

Warren brought two players from his Astoria team, Bobby Anet and Wally Johansen. Hobson and Warren recruited Urgel Wintermute, at 6'8" the tallest basketball player on the team, and Laddie Gale, a 6'4" player from Oakridge. These four men played on the freshman team in 1935-36 and were joined by John Dick on the national championship team in 1938-39. Other important athletes on the team included Robert Hardy, Ted Sarpola, Earl Sandness, Evert McNeeley, Matt Pavalunas, Ford Muller and Donald Mabee.

Coach Hobson developed a "fast break" style that gave his team an edge over the center-jump rule, but in the 1937-38 season, the official basketball association eliminated the center-jump rule. Hobson now had two experienced fast breakers: Anet, "an excellent passer, aggressive dribbler, and effective playmaker who helped control the tempo of the game," and Johansen, "an excellent ball handler and outside shooter," Blakely writes.

For the 1938-39 season, the basketball association, the NCAA, divided the U.S. into eight geographic districts, four east of the Mississippi and four west. Playoff tournaments determined the winners in Philadelphia (East) and in San Francisco (West). NCAA winners would be determined from the match between the two winning teams.

Hobson took his team on a pre-season road trip, the best move he could have made. The trip took the UO teams into the fray with East Coast players who took accepted liberties with the game. As Hobson later noted, "They stepped on your feet, grabbed your pants, and the officials allowed more contact on the screens." After playing tough games up and down the coast, the players endured a 600-mile train ride back to Eugene the day after New Year's 1939.

The rest is history.

Blakely's upcoming presentations and signings include the following: From 10 am to 1 pm on March 6, he will be at the UO Bookstore. From 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on March 8, he will be in the Hilton Lobby for the Oregon Club. From 9 am to 5 pm on March 9, he will be in the EMU Lobby on UO campus. Blakely will make a presentation at 1 pm on March 13 at the Creswell Book Festival, Dewey Days at the Emerald Valley


Book Notes: March 4 - March 31: Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association chose six 2003 titles by Northwest authors for its 2004 Book Awards. Congratulations to Gary Ferguson for Hawk's Rest: A Season in the Remote heart of Yellowstone (National Geographic Adventure Press); Pete Fromm for As Cool As I Am (Picador); Linda Lawrence Hunt for Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America (University of Idaho Press); Erik Larson for The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (Crown, Random House); Matt Ruff for Set This House in Order (HarperCollins); and Anthony Swofford for Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. …Floyd Skloot (In the Shadow of Memory, University of Nebraska Press) is a finalist for Barnes & Noble's 2003 Discover Award for Nonfiction. …Grace Etling Castle, "What Do PIs Really Do?", at 6:30 pm on March 4 at the Baker Downtown Center. $5 non-members Mid-Willamette Valley Writers. …Poetry therapist John Fox reads at 7 pm on March 4 at Barnes & Noble. Lecture and workshop information (685-9009). …Taprock Press Poets Carter McKenzie (Naming Departure) and Virginia Corrie-Cozart (A Mutable Place) read at 5 pm on March 6 at Tsunami Books. …Poet Rosanna Warren speaks at 7:30 pm on March 8 in the Nicholson Library at Linfield College in McMinnville. …Kay Porter (The Mental Athlete) reads at 7 pm on March 11 at the UO Bookstore. …Creswell's Dewey Days Book Festival (805-2736) from 11 am - 3 pm on March 13 at the Emerald Valley Resort includes more than 30 local authors. …Carol Stangler (The Craft and Art of Bamboo) will
speak at 1:30 pm on March 14 at Tsunami Books. …Poets Dorianne Laux and Mark Turpin will read at 5 pm on March 20 at Tsunami Books. ….Nye Beach Writers present novelist Molly Gloss and poet Charles Goodrich at 7 pm on March 20 at The Dogwood in Newport, OR. …Poets Joe Millar and Mark Turpin read at 7 pm on March 21 in Portland's Mountain Writers Center (503.236.4854).



Wine on Wheels

Crutch time and non-sappy chardonnays.


Awright, it's been a bonanza month for decent vino, but first the backstory. Let's take a lesson from presidential spin-docs. Let's see:

It was a HALO (High Altitude Low-Opening) night drop — yeah, that's the ticket — parachuting in on a nest of Republican vipers writhing in the black glass-and-steel thickets of downtown Houston and ....

Nah, too Schwarzeneggerian. Try again.

'K, we were strolling surf's edge at Yachats as heavy storm-driven waves thundered steady drum-beats on the rocks beneath our feet. Suddenly, a huge wall of gray-green water loomed, wind whipping veils of white froth from the crest. No time to run, I reached for Kat's hand. Too late, my beloved was swept away. I swam furiously through icy foam toward her, crying her name, when I felt a tug on my leg ....

Nah, sweet, romantically heroic, but anybody who really knows the Pacific at Yachats is gonna know for sure that nobody comes back from that story to tell the tale.

Truth? If we must, though it's bitterly mundane, 'bout as heroic as the Bush war record.

Anyway, I took a wrong step backwards, felt a little balloon pop in my calf, yelped, tried rubbing it out, toughing it out, no dice. Kat swept me up in the big Dodge Ram, wheeled us to the ER, waited four hours for a nice-guy doc to guess at torn Achilles' tendon. Tech mounts a cast, and real torture begins.

First, couple days hobbling on crutches. No pratfalls, but deep bruises under arms, aching muscles in shoulders, arms, hands, back, et nauseating cetera. Concede to wimpiness, get a chair. Spend a week rolling self-propelled through walks and halls of LCC, discovering every rough patch, every slight slope of concrete, every impossible-to-open bathroom/classroom door, learning deep lessons in humility, humanity, and invincibility of gravity. On humanity, note that most folks — students, staff, faculty — were flat-out terrific, wonderfully helpful, always considerate, especially Pam, Julie and Maria, cafeteria cashiers who aided me as I wrestled with wheels and tried to find a flat place near my crotch to stand cups of hot coffee. (Note: wheelchair pros have cup holders, smart.)

In that week, I learned lots of other lessons, too — that even the simplest actions required massive effort, took three times as long, took huge tolls of energy — but the most important lesson came cumulatively: People who spend their lives doing, without whining, the everyday tasks — working, studying, shopping, the daily minutiae of life — that we all take for granted, all while bearing the burdens of extra weight and limiting strictures, well, they're really tough.

This experience reminded me of Gyro Gearloose, name (from Donald Duck lore) we called our physics teacher at U of Nevada; looked just like the cartoon character, tall, gawky, rimless glasses with jam-jar-thick lenses. He was fresh out of Stanford, electrically enthusiastic, his Ph.D. still damp. Can see him now, scarecrow gestures, hear his reedy voice: "Now, my dears, consider our terms for time. We all know that a nanosecond is a billionth of a second, so how much time would have passed before the new Federal Building had a wheelchair ramp if Judge Hogan were in a wheelchair? Anyone? No? Trick question, sillies! It never would have been designed without one!" Breathy Mole-like laughs: "Heunh-heunh-heunh!"

Funny, right? Let's hobble on to wine, glorious wine. Lotsa cheapo vino in the markets at the moment, but also some top quality for a few bux more:

Bargain of the month gotta be Arbanta Rioja ($9); made from the lovely tempranillo grape, this is a medium-bodied red with character, some of the delicacy of pinot noir, some of the spice of syrah, peppery, bright with cherry fruit flavors, hints of sandalwood, well-balanced and food-friendly, slides just fine over the palate when matched with light meats, cheeses.

Tired yet of sappy chardonnays? Looking for some zip in a dry white? Find Amity 2001 Dry Gewurztraminer ($10). Year after year, Myron Redford produces this pretty, Alsatian-style dry gewurz, proving that Oregon can hit the heights with this varietal. It's flowery and fruity in the nose; in the mouth, it yields up snappy citrus (grapefruit), pear and green apple flavors, some zingy spice notes, delicious with grilled veggies, any Asian dishes with some fire. But do not serve this beauty too cold; chill it till nicely cool, like an hour out of the frig, so the flavors and aromas can come through.

Still stuck on chardonnay? If you must, try Joseph Drouhin 2002 Laforet Bourgogne ($9). This is what the French, who know this grape better than anyone, can do for an affordable version of a great white: The flavors are round and satisfying, notes of baked apples, hints of toast and vanilla from light use of oak, not nearly as complex as its big sisters, but very nice drinking right now.

For a few dollars more, reach real excellence from a surprising source: Warwick 2003 Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc ($15) originates in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa and is one of the richest, creamiest wines of this varietal we've tasted. Complex flavors of herbs, citrus (lime), minerals leap in the mouth. This is exciting wine, beautiful with fresh crab or mussels. Again, serve cool, not cold.

Quick, one more, yummy big red: Kaesler 2002 Stonehorse ($15), Aussie (Barossa Valley) blend of grenache, shiraz (syrah), mourvedre; flavors of black fruits, spice, deep, wide and long on the finish, intense yet smooth, perfect with Soho Sandy's pot au feu (beef stew).

Last words: Thanks to all the folks who lent a hand, held a door, took a step aside as I tried awkwardly to wheel around. Special salute to brothers and sisters who wheel through every day: You are my heroes.

Lance Sparks teaches writing and literature courses at LCC.