The beginning was innocent in 1961 and the goal hasn't wavered in the years since as the Medford Linebackers continue to give back to the community.
From needed updates at Spiegelberg Stadium and other local sports venues to providing an outlet that helps foster a sense of camaraderie, the organization has left quite a mark in the Medford area and is as strong as ever. The group also created the Medford Sports Hall of Fame in the 1970s and has since helped induct 146 members into the Hall of Fame, which currently resides at Jackson Creek Pizza, 317 E. Main St.
WHO: Community organization established in 1961 to support the Medford School District's athletic facilities needs. Also provides weekly opportunities during the football season to get to know the coaches and players at North Medford, South Medford, Cascade Christian and St. Mary's High Schools.
MEDFORD LINEBACKERS PAST PROJECTS
1961 — West grandstands at Spiegelberg Stadium
1966 — Original seating in basketball gymnasium at North Medford High
1970s — Created the Medford Sports Hall of Fame
1972 — Bowerman Field and installation of track at North Medford High
1979 — New lighting system at Spiegelberg Stadium
1980s — Lighting at Bowerman Field and district soccer field
1985 — Helped induct 100 into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame
1989 — Installation of all-weather track at Spiegelberg Stadium
1990s — Helped with baseball and softball fields at North Medford High
1990 — Helped induct 20 into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame
1999 — Installation of all-weather tracks at Hedrick and McLoughlin Middle Schools
2004 — Installation of artificial surface and resurface of track at Spiegelberg Stadium
2007 — Helped induct 10 into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame
2012 — Helped induct 16 into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame
2013 — Helped implement an ADA-compliant handicap ramp and landing on east grandstands at Spiegelberg Stadium
"It's really an organization with a rich history," said Mike Fischer, current president of the Medford Linebackers.
The purpose of the Medford Linebackers was established in 1961 during its first meeting and holds true today, and that's to support the Medford School District's programs, policies and athletic facilities.
In the time since, the Linebackers organization has stepped up at every turn.
The first project involved fundraising and construction for what is now known as the west grandstands at Spiegelberg Stadium in 1961, and the most recent involves the implementation of a handicap ramp and landing on the east grandstands at the same venue. The latter project just completed the bidding stage and will be built by Batzer Construction prior to the 2013 football season to replace a temporary ramp and landing that was built in 2012 on the west side.
Fischer said the platform will span 36 feet long and be 91/2 feet wide to help make Spiegelberg Stadium ADA compliant. It should accommodate 10 wheelchairs or 15 portable handicap seats, and be built on the southeast corner of the visitor's grandstand near the 35-yard line.
It's projects like these, and the many others in between, that was on the minds of then-Superintendent Dr. Leonard B. Mayfield and Medford High principal Les Harris when they were joined by representatives of St. Mary's High and about 20 business people at the inaugural meeting for the Medford Linebackers.
A committee of Bud Parsons, Bud Mitchell, John North, Jim Metz and Paul Haviland steered the first committee, with Parsons elected as temporary chairperson, and the result was the selling of five-year seats to the Medford High stadium for $100 per seat. That fundraiser netted $100,000 toward the construction of the west grandstands, with donors such as Bessonette, James and Graf Contractors agreeing to supply labor and materials as inexpensively as possible.
Cooperative efforts like that have been a staple of how the Medford Linebackers have handled their business over the years, and shouldered a load the school district likely would be unable to handle given their own budgetary needs.
"Every nonprofit organization in any area is important," said Ed Singler, past president of the Linebackers, "and the Medford Linebackers, I think, has a very important role in the Medford community. There are things that come up and items that are not necessarily in the budget for the school district and I think that's where Linebackers really comes into play. It's an organization that can go out into the community and solicit for contributions that typically is for a cause that the whole community benefits from."
The biggest project tackled to date by the Linebackers was in 2004 and involved the installation of a multi-sport artificial turf for the playing field at Spiegelberg Stadium and a resurfacing of the track the group was responsible for installing 15 years earlier.
"That was a huge, huge project with a lot of people involved," said Fischer. "Originally when we first started getting it together $1.3 million was what we were going to have to come up with to get the field turf done and we got it done in just under $900,000."
Not all projects are done on such a large scale — the Linebackers donated $5,000 to St. Mary's High last year for its weight room facilities — but all are done in hopes that the Medford area schools have the best support and facilities possible.
"Raising money is never easy," said Singler, "but I think the community does rally around that ideal and understands the challenges the school district faces and understands the need to get these projects done. By and large, this community is very supportive of athletics at the high school level and wants our children to have facilities that are current and safe for all involved."
Singler said he first got involved with the organization around 1994 when he moved his family back to the area from Salem and wanted to find a way to give back to the community that gave him so much when he was growing up in Medford.
That same sense of volunteering for a good cause also helped lure Carolyn Ghena, who was a member for five years before being named program chair in 2009. She became the organization's first female president in 2010.
"It was a very big honor to be asked and to be brought into the fold to be president," said Ghena, who spearheaded the appearance of NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott at a few local events along with some giveaway items for donors. "It's all about the kids and that's what I appreciate. It's an organization that brings young men up to be men by supporting proper sportsmanship, good grades and good community involvement."
"It's a great support system for those boys," added Ghena. "I wish we had 100 more people involved and 100 more organizations like this because if everyone gave a little back, could you imagine how awesome our school district would be even from where it's at today?"
Medford Linebackers membership costs only $20 and ranges from 80-100 strong with each passing year. The group meets for a luncheon at noon every Thursday during the football season — these days in the Central High boardroom — and brings in the head coaches from North Medford, South Medford, St. Mary's and Cascade Christian high schools and some key athletes from each program to discuss their weekly state of affairs.
"The main thing they talk about is the upcoming opponent and who is doing what on the squads and maybe throw in some personal team humor and what they're expecting going forward," said Fischer. "There's just a lot of color added for their programs and provides for a great atmosphere of camaraderie and community spirit."
A couple common misconceptions are that the group is exclusive, and that it's only lean is toward football.
"Our organization is open for anybody that wants to be a part of it," said Singler. "This isn't a select group of individuals in our community, it exists because we want to support the athletic needs in our community. I think Linebackers is a great way for people to stay involved in athletics."
"The bigger picture is we need to get more people involved, not only locally but those who have moved outside of the area," he added. "And it's just not football anymore. It used to be mainly focused on football but it's changed over the time. The projects we get involved in now impact more than just football, for sure."
For more information on the Medford Linebackers, to join or make donations for their projects, write the group at P.O. Box 552, Medford, OR, 97501 or contact Fischer at 541-772-0626 or Singler at (541-772-5360). More on the Hall of Fame can be found at mailtribune.com/hall.