Finally, Bruce Howell has another claim to fame.
Finally, Bruce Howell has another claim to fame.
Quite literally, too, as the former Medford School District athletic director is part of the latest class of inductees into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame.
It sure beats that other distinction.
"My claim to fame was I got turned inside out by Nate Archibald," laughs Howell.
Howell, who will be 64 next month and lives in Grants Pass — where he attended high school — played junior college basketball at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario in the mid-1960s. The team made it to regionals, where it faced "Tiny" Archibald's Arizona Western outfit.
"They told me to guard No. 14," says Howell. "The second time down the floor, I called time out and said, 'We've got to go to a zone.' This guy was way out of my league."
Archibald played one year at that level, averaging 30 points a game, three years at Texas-El Paso, then went on to a Hall of Fame NBA career.
Howell's path from that point was different but also rewarding, allowing him to teach, coach and administer Medford children and the sports they played for more than three decades, the final 13 as district AD. When he retired from the post in June 2003, North and South Medford high schools had captured 109 Southern Oregon Conference championships and eight state titles under his stewardship.
It was fitting, perhaps, that what he calls "one of the neatest nights" of his lifetime in athletics occurred his final year as the district chief. In the fall of 2002, the football teams of North and South played on the last night of the regular season. Both were unbeaten in the conference.
"That's what the community of Medford wants," says Howell, "not anything less. I was able to help Medford athletics achieve its own goal — I always assumed and still believe — they wanted to have two schools that were very good. I don't think they wanted one that's good and one that's not so good. That was the epitome of reaching that."
That night, South's Boomer Marshall passed 9 yards to Andres Reed for the winning touchdown with just over a minute to play. The contest wasn't decided until a fourth-and-2 pass from North's Beau Hovland to Ryan Weisz fell incomplete with 39 seconds left in a 45-41 Panthers victory.
"It was unbelievable," says Howell. "The stadium was packed and rockin' and rollin'."
Howell's journey to the AD job took a number of turns from the time he starred at Grants Pass High. In basketball, he helped the Cavemen to the state tournament as a senior. Shortly after, and with a scholarship offer to play tight end at Portland State, he suffered a back injury in a car accident that ended his football days.
He admitted he "was lost" until a former Grants Pass line coach, Larry Stevens, invited him to Treasure Valley. Howell couldn't play football, but Stevens vowed to get him involved, putting him in a work study program as a junior high coach.
"That was the beginning of my coaching," says Howell.
His first year there, he went to what he thought was an open gym to play basketball. It turned out to be a Treasure Valley tryout, and the school's coach, Carlisle Dean of the renowned Medford family, liked what he saw. Howell wound up starting at guard for two years, a switch from the post position he was accustomed to.
He transferred to Southern Oregon University to play for Bill Holmes. But after a season of riding the bench, which he now says made him a better coach, he was offered an assistant's position alongside Holmes.
Howell left SOU with a master's in education and the desire to teach and coach. He hooked on with the Medford district with a plan of staying about five years, then advancing as a coach to the junior college ranks and beyond. But life intervened and his roots grew deep.
He started out at Medford Mid High in 1971, teaching P.E., health and driver's education and coaching football, basketball and track. When a second high school opened, creating North and South, he was athletic director at the latter in addition to teaching and coaching.
When Kerm Bennett stepped down as district AD, Howell at first took the job on an interim basis, then applied for and got the position a year later.
He remembers well the interview with the selection panel, including Superintendent Steve Wisely.
"I told them, 'This job is so important,'" says Howell, "'and you've had a chance to watch me do it for a year. If there's someone else out there who's better for it, you owe it to the kids to hire him.' Dr. Wisely stood up, shook my hand and said, 'You're the guy.'"
Howell realized after only a couple weeks he would have to abandon his other duties. It dawned on him while he was coaching football in his white shirt and tie, he says. Among the hardest things to give up was teaching a cutting-edge health and P.E. curriculum.
Howell spearheaded a detailed nutrition and exercise course tailored to individual needs. It was well ahead of its time, he says, combining plyometrics, speed and agility work with weight lifting and attention to diet. For instance, he says, the cafeteria was open at 8:30 a.m. for students to get the proper amount of carbohydrates to sustain them throughout the school day through afternoon practices.
One of the first things students did was write out goals, and Howell used those goals to motivate the kids. Wrestler Les Gutches, another of this year's Hall inductees who finished seventh in the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996, wrote that he wanted to be an Olympic champion, recalls Howell.
Howell taught six of the classes of 40 students each, another teacher taught two and there was a list of applicants waiting to get in, he says.
The fitness course brought all of Howell's educational training and experience together, he says.
"When I did leave, I felt like I had accomplished something," says Howell, "and it was hard to let it go. But there was another challenge there."
Overseeing personnel, scheduling and an array of other responsibilities for Medford's high schools and middle schools kept him plenty busy.
And when he stepped down, it was the first time since the fifth grade that Howell wasn't involved in athletics. When school started in the fall of 2003, he and his wife, Nikki, went to their property in Wyoming to get away for a month.
"It was emotional and I had to separate myself from it," he says.
Induction into the Hall gave him a chance to relive that lifetime.
"I was very pleased," he says of being selected. "Just that recognition is really nice. I was supposed to write a little resume of what I was involved with. That caused me to go down memory lane and it kind of put a smile on my face."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org