A soccer pioneer, a Major League Baseball pitcher and a high school golf champion were honored for their achievements at the Southern Oregon Sports Commission awards banquet for 2016 Thursday.
Their recognition came in the aftermath of a presentation by former Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury, a Medford product who invented the Fosbury Flop technique, then used it to set American and Olympic records at the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Aksel Andersen, who was the driving force behind the youth soccer movement in Medford in the mid-1970s, was recognized with the commission’s top award as advocate of the year. He follows in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Gary Miller, of the Medford Youth Baseball Society, and the inaugural recipients, Jerry and Zellah Swartsley, founders of the Pear Blossom Run.
Braden Shipley, a former North Medford standout, was named the SOSC’s male athlete of the year, having made his major league debut last July for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kiana Oshiro, who as a junior for Crater High last spring won the Class 5A girls state championship in record fashion, was chosen female athlete of the year.
Andersen, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, and Oshiro were present. Shipley begins spring training on Monday in Scottsdale, Arizona, and couldn’t attend, but he shared his appreciation through a video message.
The ceremony included a video presentation of the Mail Tribune’s Top 10 Sports Stories of 2016.
Former South Medford High boys soccer coach Dave Kaufman presented the award to Andersen, and spoke of the honoree’s start in Medford and his own experience playing for the man who, along with several other “well-intentioned fathers, kick-started the sport in the Rogue Valley.”
Andersen was born in New York and was raised there and in Denmark. He moved to Roseburg at age 18, and not long after made his way to Medford.
“He had this grand idea,” said Kaufman, “to introduce soccer into (former Medford High coach) Fred Spiegelberg’s football-crazy town. Good idea, right? Regardless, he made it happen.”
If Andersen ruffled feathers, said Kaufman, things were smoothed over when his youngest son, Kirk, became South Medford’s kicker in football.
Former players, coaches and admirers praised Aksel Andersen in a video tribute.
Dave Reitz recalled that equipment — goals, nets, balls — often was in short supply.
But, said Kirk Andersen, his father always managed to scrounge up extras, be it cleats for kids who didn’t have them or couldn’t afford them, or something else.
Like shin guards.
“Even if he didn’t have shin guards,” said Kirk, “he’d get a piece of cardboard, cut it up and call it shin guards.”
Kaufman noted that a former player of his has a chance to study abroad. It wouldn’t have happened, he said, without soccer and the groundwork by Andersen.
“It was apparent we needed a champion in this community,” said Kevin Primerano, director of coaching for the Rogue Valley Timbers Soccer Club, which the outfit Andersen started in 1974 has morphed into. “Someone with a strong personality and love for the game. Everything I’ve heard of Aksel and the beginnings of the club were exactly that. He made sure this wonderful sport took root in this community.”
There are 1,500 kids in the Timbers program, said Primerano, and 500 of them are at the competitive level, representing the area in regional and state tournaments and moving on to play in college.
St. Mary’s High girls coach Dave Potter learned quickly when he got his start in the Rogue Valley Soccer Club that if he listened to Andersen, he’d likely learn something.
“Nobody was better out there,” said Potter. “He was our founder, he was our voice, he was the man in soccer in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
That impact continues.
“Just go out to (U.S.) Cellular (Community) Park any night of the week and any weekend,” said Potter. “Just take a look at what’s happening out there, and you have to know that it is incredible, and it is real, and it is continuing to grow and flourish.”
Former player Allen Purdy said he knows of no one who is more deserving of the SOSC award, “in any sport,” than Andersen, “for what he’s done for all those kids.”
While others were playing soccer in their youth, Shipley took to his backyard with his father and brother to play catch and whiffle ball.
“Because of the love of the game,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it turning into me being a Major League Baseball player. But with the support of my family, friends and the community, it became a reality.”
Shipley’s first start for the Diamondbacks came on July 25. He was roughed up by the Milwaukee Brewers, losing 7-2, but he doubled off the wall and scored in his first big league at-bat.
He didn’t have to wait long for his first victory. That came in his next start, when he pitched six scoreless innings to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2. He allowed five hits, struck out four and walked one.
The D'backs' first-round pick in the 2013 draft, 15th overall, made 11 starts, going 4-5 with a 5.27 ERA.
“I just want thank all of you for this tremendous accolade and let you know it’s something I’ll never forget,” said Shipley.
Other finalists for the male athlete award were Southern Oregon University football player Matt Retzlaff, Southern Oregon Spartans hockey player Chris Seto, North Medford sprinter Tyren Wolfe and UC Irvine basketball player Alex Young.
Oshiro had flirted with state championships her first two years of high school, placing second in Class 6A as a freshman for North Medford, then getting off to a blazing start as a sophomore for Crater before being disqualified for mistakenly signing an incorrect scorecard.
In the latter instance, when she realized her error — signing for a 67 instead of a 68 — she reported it to officials. She was DQ’d because she’d already left the scoring area.
Oshiro didn’t let that deter her last season, shooting a 67 in the first round at Quail Valley Golf Club in Banks. The 5-under round was the best in 5A girls history and led her to the title, finishing 2 under for two days. No other player broke par.
Accepting her SOSC award, Oshiro thanked a number of people in the local golfing community “for supporting me for all the years I’ve been playing.”
The other finalists for the female athlete award were Southern Oregon University basketball player Ashley Claussen, St. Mary’s runner Marissa Dobry, SOU runner Jessa Perkinson and South Medford basketball player Julissa Tago.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org