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Medford Hall inductees remember their roots

They told funny stories. They got emotional. They showed humility. They expressed profound gratitude.

When the 16 newest members of the Medford Sports Hall of Fame were inducted during a ceremony Saturday night at Rogue Valley Country Club, it was a trip down memory lane and chance for them to thank those who helped along the way.

Les Gutches, an Olympic wrestler after starring at South Medford and Oregon State, set the tone as the first to receive his award and address an audience of 300-plus.

He remembered his high school and college coaches and said, "They invested a lot of time in me at great personal sacrifice, and it really paid off for me. They share in all of my accomplishments."

Tom Perdue, a special contributor after a distinguished career as a basketball official, was touched by his selection and battled his emotions.

"Whoever said grown men don't cry didn't have a heart," he said, pausing to take off his glasses and wipe his eyes. "I'm honored and humbled to be part of this group."

Moments later, talking of his career as a referee, he acknowledged the many rabid fans he encountered.

"They told me there was someplace they wanted me to go," he said, "and it wasn't the Medford Sports Hall of Fame."

He glanced at a table occupied by South Medford boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy, himself a Hall member.

"We haven't been on the same floor in a long time, but I've never seen you sit for this long," joked Perdue.

Gutches was one of eight athletes in the fourth induction since the Hall was formed in 1985 as part of Medford's centennial celebration. The others were Scott Lewis (baseball), Eric Fiegi (basketball), Shelley Preston Freeman (swimming), Trina Rasmussen Jones (multisport), Angie Leroy Miller (multisport), Tim Sutton (track and field) and Mike Vanderhoff (basketball).

Four entered in the coaching category. They were Rod Rumrey, Sandee Kensinger, Dave Potter and Duke Anderson.

Three others joined Perdue in the class as special contributors. They were former Medford district athletic director Bruce Howell, official Jerry Eklund and statistician and general manager Don Schneider.

Potter made it to the ceremony only after coaching his St. Mary's girls soccer team to an 8-0 victory earlier in the day. He informed the assemblage it was the Crusaders' homecoming weekend.

"Do you know what it's like to coach high school girls on homecoming Saturday," he asked, "and to have a road to trip to Illinois Valley (in Cave Junction), and the bus loads at 7:30 in the morning. You go back to see that everyone's on the bus and you realize you don't even try to humor them. You'll get your eyes scratched out."

Potter choked up, however, when he spoke of his faith in heroes and introduced a former standout player of his, Pat Lower, whose college career ended when he contracted a life-threatening disease, leukodystrophy.

"They told him he probably won't live a long time," said Potter, "and Pat Lower's still with us. Pat, you are an inspiration in my life every day."

Many of the inductees thanked their families.

Miller noted that her group, including mostly family members, took up two tables.

"They're still supporting me," said Miller, who was introduced as perhaps the only Medford athlete to have started in three sports — volleyball, basketball and softball — for four years.

Freeman, a champion swimmer, nodded to her family, too.

"Mom," she said, "I can't believe you got me to swim practice two, sometimes three times a day all year round and still were able to take care of the rest of the family."

Vanderhoff left South Medford High as its all-time leading scorer and had similar success at Western Oregon University.

"Even though I went on to play against some really good players and really good teams," said Vanderhoff, now an attorney in Medford, "my fondest memories are of playing in Medford."

Eklund, a decorated football and baseball official, surveyed the room and asked how many had been to a North or South Medford high school football game. Many raised their hands.

"Then you've all probably yelled at me," he said.

He and Rumrey chatted before the ceremony, he said, and the successful North Medford football coach complained that Eklund called more penalties on him than anyone else.

"I said it could have been double that," said Eklund.

Among the inductees, the late Sutton was in the limelight less than most. He suffered kidney failure at age 11, and only after his father, Ed, donated a kidney did he get stronger. He competed in track at South Medford and was a champion in the U.S. and world transplant games before dying in 2000 at age 20.

Ed Sutton accepted the award for his son, who, as a child, was visited in the hospital by track star Carl Lewis.

"I'm very proud to have Tim remembered for his achievements," said the father, "but I'm proudest of him for all the times he came in last and the way he handled that. Very few of the other kids knew he had a transplant, and that was fine with him. He just wanted to be one of the kids on the team."

No matter his placing, Tim made it a point to be there and greet teammates who came in last in their events.

"Not just to console them," said Ed, "but to encourage them to try harder and not give up and strive for their personal achievements."

Those are qualities the honorees on this night shared.

Gutches, who is in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for distinguished service, told how proud he is to call Medford home.

"I had a lot of confidence because there were so many great athletes that went before me," he said. "It was almost like they were out in front of me breaking trail and making my accomplishments that much easier.

"I can only hope that somewhere, sometime, my career does the same things for some young Medford athletes growing up and it inspires them to be the best they can be."

The ceremony was presented by the Ann Brewer family in honor of the late Fitz Brewer, a Hall member.

Jonathan Stark served as the keynote speaker. He was inducted into the Hall in 1990.

The class of 16 brings to 146 the number of enshrined members.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Les Gutches speaks during the Medford Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday at Rogue Valley Country Club. - Julia Moore