A familiar face at Rogue Valley sports events passed away Thursday morning.

Randy Hammericksen, a sports columnist and former sports editor of the Mail Tribune, died at Providence Medford Medical Center. He was 53.

A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the North Medford High gym.

Everyone at the newspaper is devastated by the news, said Mail Tribune editor Bob Hunter. Randy was a good friend and a good guy. He covered so much ground as sports editor and sports writer and through his stories touched the lives of so many people in the valley in a positive way.

Hammericksen arrived at the Mail Tribune in August 1987, serving as sports editor until the fall of 1996 when he became the primary sports columnist.

For Randy, his work in covering sports was part of who he was -- he loved it, Hunter said. It was second only to his family, who he clearly treasured. Our hearts go out to them.

During his three decades covering sports for the Oceanside, Calif., Blade-Tribune, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Eureka Times-Standard, Hammericksen covered two NBA Finals, five Rose Bowls and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

But it was his presence at football and basketball games, Pear Blossom Runs and golf tournaments that made him a familiar figure in Southern Oregon.

Sports writers don't want to write themselves into articles, but he was a big part of the sports scene for more than 10 years here, said Campus Life Director Brad Bills, a former North Medford golf coach. I'll miss seeing him at basketball games and golf tournaments, that's for sure.

Hammericksen collapsed late Tuesday morning at home and passed away less than 48 hours later.

It's always hard when someone goes suddenly, Bills said. You wish you had some time to spend with them before they go, and that hurts.

Hammericksen developed his journalistic bent while attending Albany Union High School, where he ran cross country and played basketball and golf.

Anything that had to do with a ball, he was interested in, said Beth Hammericksen, his wife of 30 years. In high school and college, he was sports editor of the student newspapers.

During his tenure, the Mail Tribune sports section won several awards.

Hammericksen developed a rapport with many of his sources and matched wits with some of the people he wrote about while coaching his kids' Y-ball or AAU teams.

You could always be honest with him, and I knew he would give me a fair story, former Ashland boys basketball coach Jerry Hauck said. There was a comfort zone established. I knew I could say, `This is off the record,' and he would respect it. We ran a lot of things by each other off the record. We could do that because we trusted each other.

Hammericksen carved out a niche as a golf columnist and a series detailing the region's many courses proved especially popular.

When he was covering me in golf tournaments, I always appreciated his attitude, Bills said. He was fun to talk with. I think he did a nice job of giving a good, honest, accurate reflection of what I said.

In his early days at Oceanside, Hammericksen covered the San Diego Chargers and Padres.

Along the way, he interviewed the likes of Willie Mays, Jim Brown, Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan, Johnny Unitas, Jack Nicklaus, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Once he got a chance to play with Jack Nicklaus in a pro-arm event at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open at Torrey Pines. He recorded a 1-under-par round that day, while Nicklaus shot even par.

A friend had a trophy made with the inscription: No. — Randy Hammericksen, No. 2 Jack Nicklaus, Jan. 8, 1973.

Despite the awkward schedule sports writers endure, he found time to spend with his family. Bills got to know the Hammericksen family well while coaching Jamie and Melissa Hammericksen.

I think the world of his kids, Bills said. They have a lot of good, strong characteristics which reflect on Randy and Beth.''

He was born Mark Randall Hammericksen, Dec. 22, 1946, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Mark Edward and Helen June Hammericksen.

The family moved to Albany when he was in the second grade. He attended Albany public schools and was graduated from Albany Union High School in 1965.

He attended Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., for one year then transferred to Oregon State University in Corvallis.

On April 3, 1970, he married Beth Mary Vandehey in Corvallis. They had eight children: Denice Roe, 27, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Jamie Hammericksen, 25, of Klamath Falls; Rani, 22; Melanie, 20; Melissa, 20; Corey, 17; Keri, 15; and Aaron, 9, all of Medford.

He was preceded in death by his father, mother and sister Cheryl Iverson.

Arrangements are being handled by Rogue Valley Funeral Alternatives.