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Crater grad following in late father's footsteps

CENTRAL POINT — Soon-to-be Crater High School graduate Eric Mott was only 9 years old when his father, police officer Willie Mott, died in a car accident just after the Christmas holidays in 2007.

Though killed off-duty, Mott was well known in the community and fellow officers from around the state rallied to memorialize him with an extensive motorcade procession and ceremony involving countless community members.

The younger Mott, who turns 18 in August, remembers riding in the procession beneath a giant flag draped from fire trucks, community members lining the town's sidewalks, and thinking that he might one day be a police officer just like his dad.

Mott is this year's recipient of the Central Point Police Athletic Association's Willie Mott Police Scholarship and plans to pursue a career in law enforcement. He hopes to one day patrol the streets of the Rogue Valley where both he and his dad grew up.

Mott joined the department's Explorer Program in 2012 and said being around officers and community members who knew his dad had provided a needed connection.

He was "surprised but grateful" for the scholarship bearing his father's name.

"I remember going to the department when all the lieutenants and captains and even the chief were just officers and I remember knowing all their names and thinking I might get to work there one day," Mott said.

"I always dressed up as a cop for Halloween. I think I kind of just knew, even before I lost him, that it's what I might do."

Central Point Police Chief Kris Allison said awarding the scholarship to Mott was a no-brainer for the department. Allison said including Mott in the Explorer program and having watched him grow up was special to the department, where many of the elder Mott's former friends still serve.

"I think we all feel we have a connection to Willie through Eric in a way that has made the loss a little bit easier," Allison said. "Willie was an amazing officer and just a wonderful human being. I trained him, so losing him was a hard time for a lot of us in this department.

"I think of Eric coming in at 14 and being so ready for the Explorer program in a place where he already felt at home and where so many people had the best interest for him."

While, as a Crater High student, Mott is eligible to receive a scholarship from the Crater Foundation — Mott's scholarship is one of 156 this year — Allison points out that Mott, whose "humble nature" mirrors his dad's, didn't apply for the scholarship. He simply applied for a general scholarship and scholarship coordinators made the connection.

Jill Layton, program director for the nonprofit Crater Foundation, said the foundation's scholarships aren't large, but can be extended for up to five years and are intended to provide a starting-off point.

Mott's scholarship is for $500 and can be renewed up to four additional times.

"Everyone who applies for a scholarship receives one. Our average amount for this year's 156 awardees was $1,500 per student and we awarded over $245,000 total," Layton said.

"They're not large scholarships, but they're about community support. I think one of the reasons the Crater Foundation is so sentimental to so many people is because we have so many memorial scholarships named for people that were loved by this very community."

Just days from graduation, Mott plans to enroll in Rogue Community College's criminal justice program, then transfer to Southern Oregon University while waiting to turn 21 and apply to serve as an officer in a local department.

"I know my dad would be proud of me because it's a good path and I'll be surrounded by good people," Mott said. "He grew up here and went to the Army and then came back here as a CSO (community service officer) for Medford and transferred to Central Point.

"He really loved the small-town, local feel of the community. I think he would be happy to know that I might be back here, doing the same thing one day, too."

On the web, http://craterfoundation.district6.org/

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Lt. Greg Bruce, an instructor with the Explorer program, works with Eric Mott on his handcuffing skills at the Central Point station. Mott hopes to follow in his dad's footsteps and become an officer with the department. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch