If you are a North Medford or South Medford basketball fan, for decades you’ve had to choose whether to attend the boys game or the girls...
Jeff Thomas had plenty of reasons not to become the North Medford girls soccer head coach for the coming season.
He has two daughters in the program, and he hadn't reconciled whether it was a good idea to oversee their team.
As the high school coach, he wouldn't be allowed to work with club players that age in the winter and spring offseasons. Thomas is a coach in and the president of the Rogue Valley Timbers Soccer Club.
Then there's the matter of him being chairman of the Medford School Board, something that could foster the perception of a conflict of interest. Would his ties to the Black Tornado be reflected in his role on the board? Would his position be reason for contentious behavior when North Medford and rival South Medford met on the pitch?
"I care deeply about kids," said Thomas, who this week was announced as a volunteer interim replacement following the resignation of Emily Miller in January. "When I'm on the school board, I care about all kids."
He considers himself "a soccer junky, a soccer guy." In 13 years as a youth coach, he's worked at high levels with kids from schools all over the area.
So it wasn't surprising, perhaps, when, with a week of school left and North Medford still searching for a girls coach, the seniors-to-be asked Thomas to take the job.
"I felt humbled that the district allowed me to work with the girls," he said. "I felt somewhat obligated to step in and help out."
If push came to shove and there was overriding concern about a conflict, he said, "I would do what was right and just stick with the kids."
Thomas, who owns Connecting Point Computer Center, doesn't know how long he'll be the interim coach. No timetable has been established. As long as he can provide value to the team, he said, he'll be involved.
Thomas has outfitted his staff with top-notch former players and has longtime North Medford coach Rich Garcia in the fold. Their goal is to help a successful program take the next step.
The Black Tornado has won or shared four straight conference championships and has made the state playoffs every year since 1996. However, it hasn't gotten past the second round since 1998, when it lost in the quarterfinals, matching the school's best-ever showing. It also made the quarters in '96 and '92.
Thomas has been working with the team since June, alternating soccer-specific workouts and conditioning.
The team returns five starters, including Southern Oregon Hybrid first-team all-league choice Halley Folsom and second-teamers Tori Foy and Ashley Parker.
However, it lost six starters, including player of the year Amanda Hisey, off a team that went 6-1-1 in league and 9-5-2 overall.
"What they want," Thomas said of the Black Tornado players, "is to get out of the second round and get to the quarterfinals and semifinals. A lot of the girls have devoted most of their lives to soccer, and we want to see those things happen for them."
South Medford, he noted, will have something to say about how the league season plays out. The Panthers tied North Medford for the crown last year and returns five first-team players and two second-team players.
Thomas will lean on assistant coaches who were stars in college.
KeriAnn Rumrey, a Corban College hall-of-famer, and Stephanie Carr, a standout at Southern Oregon University, provided "instant credibility with the girls," said Thomas.
When they ask the girls to do something that will help them improve, he added, "It's not a fat old guy like me."
Rumrey, whose husband, K.C., was the state baseball player of the year for North Medford in 1998, holds all the Warriors' scoring records — by huge margins — and is that program's only NAIA All-American.
Likewise, Carr was an All-American at SOU and is the school's career scoring leader.
Garcia is a former head coach of the Black Tornado who will continue to work with the junior varsity and is "the foundation of what we need to do," said Thomas.
Thomas doesn't have a playing background in soccer. He got involved when he was asked to coach a youth team about 15 years ago and fell in love with it. He took a state youth licensing course and has been immersed in the sport since.
Coaching the games is fun, he allowed, but he revels in organizing practices. The Black Tornado schedule is mapped out through the entire season.
The team had a "horrible" start to a recent workout, he said, but by the end it was evident the players "got it."
"That's when the light goes on for me," he said.
The light also goes on regarding academics. One of the team's goals is to win the top honor in the Dairy Farmers of Oregon Academic All-State competition.
Of the six returning seniors, he said, five have perfect grade-point averages of 4.0. The other's is 3.98. A returning junior also has a 4.0.
"For me," said Thomas, "if we can win that and also be extremely competitive in the conference and in the playoffs, that would be a powerful message to the community about how important academics are in what we're trying to build with the kids."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org