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Linebackers to offer new setup this year

Hoping to stimulate more interest and provide a more complete experience for local football fans, the Medford Linebackers have made some changes to this year’s schedule that will take effect beginning with Friday’s first meeting.

The fact that the noon luncheon is on Friday marks one of the changes, returning to the final day of the work week after the past few years of meeting on Thursdays. The Medford Linebackers meet for one hour weekly in the Medford School District board room at Central High.

Cost of the luncheon, which is optional, is $10. Medford Linebackers membership dues are $20. All meetings are open to the public.

“We just felt we needed to get back to Fridays and help drive more people to come to luncheons and just make it more of a game-day experience,” said Tom Ersepke, this year’s president of the Medford Linebackers.

Part of the move to Thursdays was necessitated when J.J. North’s closed and the group had to find an alternative spot to meet. Another factor involved trying to ensure the Medford high school football coaches could all attend since Friday’s typically are travel days.

To offset the potential loss of a high school coach speaking to those in attendance, sharing insight into their team’s season or football stories in general, the Linebackers have adopted a format change that involves various guest speakers this year. Friday’s guest speaker will be Josh Jamieson, director of men’s basketball operations at the University of Oregon.

“We put a greater importance on finding quality guest speakers this year,” said Ersepke, who has worked jointly with program chair Ed Singler to create this year’s changes. “For years it’s just been coaches — and that’s good and will continue to happen because we all as fans want to hear from the coaches — but we spent the offseason trying to find out who would be a quality addition to really make it about sports-related topics and student-athlete related topics and add more to the experience.”

Jamieson expects to tackle the issue of what it takes to be a Division I athlete, not just in basketball but in general, among other topics on Friday.

Other scheduled guest speakers include Richard Lotz, a nurse practitioner at Southern Oregon Orthopedics, on Sept. 26; Dr. Brian Shumate, Medford School District superintendent, with a focus on academics and athletics on Oct. 3; Scott Spiegelberg, Leadership Institute director at Oregon State University, with a focus on teaching athletes life skills for after their playing days on Oct. 10; and Dr. Todd Clevenger, an orthopedic surgeon at Southern Oregon Orthopedics, on Oct. 17.

The respective doctors expect to handle a variety of topics, from concussions to knee and anterior-cruciate ligament injuries and beyond.

The Oct. 24 meeting will consist of alumni guest speakers from North and South Medford high schools in preparation for the annual Black and Blue Game.

On Oct. 31, the guest speaker is still to be determined but the group has hopes that it will fit in along the lines of the previous speakers.

“We just wanted to make sure that we really upped the quality of speaker and give people more reason to come on out,” said Ersepke.

Ersepke was the program chair one year ago in his first year as a Medford Linebackers member, and understands some of the misnomers that come with the organization.

“I knew of Linebackers way back when I was a broadcaster working at Channel 10 and I’d show up on Fridays just to hear coaches talk,” he recalled, “and I was under that same understanding that just business owners (could attend) or it was somewhat exclusive, where you had to have attended one of the Medford schools, but you don’t even have to have a kid going through Medford schools. You could have gone to Crater High School or anywhere, it’s open to everyone.”

Membership figures for the Medford Linebackers is around 120, according to Ersepke, but the group tends to only get around 40 to the luncheons.

“And enough of those people are obligated to show up there,” Ersepke said with a laugh.

The hope with some changes this year is that more people get the word and realize there are good opportunities for football fans each week.

“We would love to have parents of the football players and friends of the football players to come on out and support,” said Ersepke. “We think it’s a good opportunity on a Friday to take an hour out of your time to come to lunch, although that’s not the focus of it, but spend time and listen to topics you want to hear about if you’re a football fan. It’s going to be a quality hour of time spent.”

Medford Linebackers is a community organization established in 1961 to support the Medford School District’s athletic facilities needs. The group also provides weekly opportunities during the football season to get to know the coaches and players at North Medford, South Medford, Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s High Schools.

The Medford Linebackers have spearheaded past projects as vast as the installation of artificial turf and resurfacing of the track at Spiegelberg Stadium in 2004 to a 2012 donation for weight room facilities at St. Mary’s, the creation of the Medford Sports Hall of Fame in the 1970s and an ADA-compliant ramp on the visitor side of Spiegelberg one year ago.

Ersepke said the group is formulating a blueprint and working with the school district for refurbishing and improving Spiegelberg Stadium, from providing easier access to entering the stadium to ticket booth improvements and potentially an expansion of concession stand items.

“We’re going to compile a list and ideally create a master plan and take things off year by year,” he said.

Before that happens, Ersepke said he’s just excited to talk a little football and discuss the early successes of the local programs.

“We’re excited with North being so good and South being good and St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian both off to good 2-0 starts,” he said. “We’re really primed for an exciting season and we’re really looking forward to getting our meetings started.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry