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Influential Medford coach passes away

Frank Roelandt, an iconic figure in the landscape of Medford sports, passed away on Wednesday morning at the age of 84.

Roelandt coached Medford High School basketball for 29 years, leading the Black Tornado to the 1960 state title and to 19 state tournaments.

He also spent 35 seasons at the school as an assistant baseball and football coach as well as a physical education teacher.

"Frank was just one of those guys who loved life and loved what he did," said Scott Spiegelberg, son of legendary Medford football coach Fred Spiegelberg. Roelandt coached Scott and was also his godfather. "He was certainly a guy who touched a lot of people's lives. He's what I would call a Medford legend, no doubt."

Roelandt was inducted into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 for his coaching efforts.

That was after a decorated athletic career.

He was a three-sport standout at Franklin High School in Portland, earning All-City honors in football, basketball and baseball.

He lettered in baseball at Oregon State in 1943 and 1947-49, leaving for a stint to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and in basketball from 1947-48.

The native of Belgium led Oregon State and the Pacific Coast Conference's Northern Division in batting average (.508) and hits in 1949. He received team MVP honors the following season and was named the league's top catcher.

He declined the opportunity to play Major League Baseball to begin his coaching career in Medford in 1949 after graduating from OSU's College of Education in 1949.

Roelandt was a member of Oregon State's 1947 "Thrill Kids" basketball team under legendary coach Amory "Slats" Gill. The team won the PCC title and twice defeated UCLA before advancing to the NCAA West Regional Tournament.

He was inducted into OSU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Portland Interscholastic League Hall of Fame in 1995.

Roelandt relocated to Canby more than a decade ago to live with his son Tim. He suffered a broken hip nearly three weeks ago and underwent surgery last week. But he was unable to make a full recovery.

A memorial service is planned for next Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in Portland at Zeller's Chapel of the Roses, 2107 NE Broadway St.

A reception will follow.

"Frank was a top-notch guy," said Jim McAbee, the former Medford baseball coach who assisted Roelandt's basketball team and had Roelandt on his baseball staff until 1985. "He was in it for all the right reasons — the kids."

Roelandt served as the first-base coach for McAbee and was often the one responsible for working the umpires.

McAbee remembers Roelandt's style as that typical of a catcher.

"When it was time to snap on the stuff, he would get after it," McAbee said. "He was a great guy to work for, and we worked well together. He had lots of good baseball knowledge."

Roelandt accumulated 492 victories as head basketball coach. In addition to his state title in 1960, he guided the Black Tornado to second-place finishes three times.

"He was a great coach," said Jerry Anderson, a 1960 Medford graduate who later coached against Roelandt while at Crater. "What allowed him to be successful was he let athletes be athletes. That was the strength of his coaching."

Anderson was one of a handful of athletes in the 1959-60 school year who won state titles in football, basketball and baseball at Medford High.

Former players credited Roelandt for his willingness to keep in contact and an uncanny ability to remember names.

Doug Olson, a 1965 Medford graduate, admired Roelandt for winning with honor, even in a pressure-filled environment.

"Medford was a real sports power," Olson said. "If you didn't win, you wouldn't be coaching very long. He was always such a positive force. He was somebody who would always guide you to what is right. Sometimes you hear odd things about coaches, but he was totally upright."

Roelandt's coaching style was described by Scott Spiegelberg as "very intense, very competitive." Many of Roelandt's teams were noted for their discipline.

Dane Smith is living proof of that. Smith played guard for Roelandt until 1966 and held the state record for consecutive free-throws made (44) for the better part of two decades.

"I remember Frank preaching in practice to make those free throws — that's all he would ever tell me," Smith said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He was a good coach, a good man."

Smith added: "In that era as kids, you grew up wanting to be a Black Tornado and wanting to play for (Fred) Spiegelberg in football, Roelandt in basketball and (John) Kovenz in baseball. They all left a legacy here."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com