Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Citing "family reasons" when there is a coaching resignation can be code for, "We want you to resign and here's how you can save face" or, "I can't work in this atmosphere any longer but won't throw you under the bus when I go."
This is not one of those times.
North Medford High wrestling coach Nolan Harris recently submitted his resignation, with family reasons as the No. 1 factor in the departure of the sixth-year head coach.
As someone who graduated from Sprague High in Salem, eventually married one of his classmates and now has a 7-month-old son, Jacob, Harris simply came to the realization that the time has come to return home to the Willamette Valley.
"It was a very difficult decision," he said Monday. "It's something my wife and I have been talking about for a while now, knowing that someday we'd want to be closer to family."
"We just determined if not now, when? We've been describing it as bittersweet. If I could uproot the Medford community and the North Medford program and move it up to Salem closer to our families, I would do it, but you just can't."
Harris and his wife, Mary, who is a nurse, are taking a huge leap of faith as neither has a job opportunity lined up. But they realized there may never be a better time to make the transition.
"It wasn't about leaving for a better place professionally," said Harris. "It's just better for us personally in the long run. We're going to miss this place, that's for sure."
Harris' parents reside in the Salem area, along with his father-in-law, and it's also close to the couple's siblings, who live in Corvallis, Beaverton and the Portland area.
The loss will be great for the Black Tornado and its wrestling program. Under Harris, North Medford finished second at the district tournament in four of his six years and placed third in 2010 at the state tournament to secure the first state trophy for the Medford School District since it split into two high schools in 1986.
"He brought not only conference but statewide respect for our wrestling program," said North Medford Athletic Director Tim Sam. "We're sad to see Nolan go, obviously, but we're glad for the time he gave us and the shape he's leaving the program in."
Sam said he's already been approached by people interested in the Tornado's open position. His hope is to have the wrestling job filled by mid-May in order to have offseason plans in place for the summer.
"Last time around, it wasn't in this good of shape and you were just kind of hoping to find somebody solid who could come along and make it better," said Sam. "Now you feel like your position has been anted up because of the position the program has been in and the level of competition it's shown."
Harris was a 26-year-old first-time head coach with only three years experience as a Sprague assistant when he took over at North Medford in 2007. Only 20 wrestlers finished the season prior to his arrival and, thanks in part to his work as the freshman football head coach, Harris' numbers hovered around 40 in each of his seasons.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said of getting the North job. "I had a lot of enthusiasm and was thankful that they took a chance on me being young even though it was my first varsity job. I was told that Medford wasn't a wrestling community and North Medford wasn't a wrestling high school, and I love that challenge and loved hearing that. I'm always motivated by people saying you can't do this or that."
North Medford finished 13th at this season's Class 6A state tournament and went 9-2 in dual meets.
Harris said he enjoyed the competitive aspect of the Southwest Conference and that having to put his kids against the likes of those from Crater under Greg Haga and Roseburg under Steve Lander, along with the Grants Pass, South Medford and Eagle Point programs, only served as fodder for growth of his wrestlers and him as a coach.
"If you're serious about coaching wrestling, North Medford is the place to do it," he said. "The administration is supportive, there's a great group of parents — both current and upcoming — and a strong youth program. Looking at it professionally, I'm crazy to leave because we've got a pretty good young group of wrestlers here."
"There's some goals that I wanted to accomplish in the six years I was here that I didn't, but I think that those goals are gonna be met in the next couple years," added Harris. "The first individual state champion here at North Medford is on the horizon and that district title as a team is as well."
The pride of what he accomplished in the Rogue Valley has been overflowing for Harris, and that stems even beyond the mat.
"One of the great things about him is he's not trying to make the best wrestlers he can, he's trying to make the best young men he can," said North Medford senior Reid Shipley, who placed fourth in the past two state tourneys. "I think his main focus is trying to help us grow into respectful young men, and I think he does a great job of that."
"I'm certainly glad that I got to start and finish with him," added Shipley, who will attend Cal-Poly in the fall to study aeronautical engineering, "but at the same time I almost feel bad because of the kids that have had him only a couple years because he definitely made an impression on all of them. It's going to be tough to fill his shoes."
TOUGH DECISIONS aren't only for coaches, mind you, Cascade Christian standout Brandon Williams came to his own tough decision Monday when he announced he would attend Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., and play football for the Division III school.
In an interview with Jim McCoy and uploaded to YouTube, Williams said the high academic standing of the school and the financial package he was provided — Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships — helped sway his decision.
"Everybody thinks (Division I or Division II) is where you've got to go to be seen, but I feel like (Division III) is a lot better, especially with people who have good academics through high school," said Williams, who is an honor roll student at CCHS. "They don't have athletic scholarships but they can give really good academic scholarships, which is what I got."
Williams also weighed offers from Lewis and Clark, Puget Sound, the University of La Verne in California and Trinity University in Texas.
Williams was the Class 3A co-offensive player of the year after leading the Challengers to a runner-up showing in the state playoffs. The Southern Cascade Hybrid player of the year broke every major offensive career and individual season record at the school. He wrapped up his time as a Challenger with 4,381 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns on 332 carries and 792 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 28 receptions.
Williams added 12 special teams TDs and four defensive scores to finish with 80 career touchdowns, averaging one TD for every 5.6 times he touched the ball on offense.
Last fall, he finished with 2,337 rushing yards on 151 carries with 31 rushing touchdowns, averaging 195 yards per game. Receiving, Williams had 18 catches for 445 yards and four TDs, and he also had five returns for scores.
"I'm going in with the mentality that I'm going to be the kick returner," he said of his freshman plans at Rhodes. "That's hopefully what I can get and through time learn the offense and understand it and work my way up for a starting position on offense."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry