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Eagle Point's Knapp survives tragic past, will soon graduate

Prep Notebook

It has been more than three years since Juan Knapp's parents and older sister were killed in a car wreck.

Knapp is 18 now, officially an adult and within three weeks of graduating from Eagle Point High School.

He has overcome a series of life-threatening injuries in the April 7, 2000 accident that saw his family's small sedan swerve into the path of a pickup truck on a rural California highway on the way to Reno for a wrestling tournament.

There was a lengthy stay in the hospital, followed by months of physical therapy to heal a broken leg, pelvis, tailbone and jaw, not to mention a detached liver and collapsed lungs.

The community of Eagle Point took Knapp under its wing back then, and his grandmother, Anita Molinar, moved from New Mexico to be by his side.

You wonder how anyone could endure such a tragedy, but Knapp is a happy-go-lucky individual who has made the most of a situation that is unfathomable to most of us.

Yes, he still thinks about his parents and sister.

How could I not? he says. It's nothing real consistent, but some of the time they're on my mind.

No, he isn't bitter.

It's just something that happened, he says. No one can explain these things, but stuff happens.

And for me, life goes on.

Yes, his leg and hip still bother him some, but he's thankful he's not in a wheelchair.

Knapp's grandmother moved back to New Mexico a couple of months ago. He is living on his own now, although he often visits his uncle, Chuck Knapp.

And if you know Juan Knapp, you know he isn't without friends. The last time I saw him was at the Southern Oregon Conference district wrestling tournament in February.

A hernia operation kept him from competing that day, but as he helped complete tasks for tournament officials he laughed and joked with fellow students.

It's the only way to go, he says.

When graduation ceremonies unfold at Eagle Point High next month, and Knapp steps forward to grasp his diploma, he may set a state record for the longest and loudest applause.

And if there are any dry eyes in the stadium, they will probably be his.

THE LURE OF Autzen Stadium was almost enough to sway Eric Fischer to the University of Oregon, but the South Medford High football standout opted for Linfield College instead.

The all-conference tight end made his decision early this month.

If I went to Oregon, I'd be a walk-on with no guarantees of ever playing, said Fischer, who caught 53 passes for 809 yards and three touchdowns in helping South Medford to a 10-2 record and a berth in the state quarterfinals last season. At Linfield, there's a possibility I could start as a freshman.

I've been to a lot of games at Autzen Stadium and that's an awesome atmosphere, but I had to be realistic about this whole thing.

Fischer, who will major in pre-law, also considered Willamette University in Salem and Whittier College in Southern California before deciding on Linfield.

The people (at Linfield) were the deciding factor, Fischer says. Everyone was really nice, and it just seemed like a real friendly place.

A FOOTBALL GAME between North Medford and defending Portland Interscholastic League champion Wilson won't occur after all.

North Medford officials had hoped to line up Wilson as part of a Sept. 5 doubleheader at Spiegelberg Stadium, but Wilson wanted a bigger percentage of the gate than Medford school district officials were willing to part with.

South Medford will still play host to Canby on that night, but the Black Tornado will now meet Mountain View on the road instead of playing Wilson.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail