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Phoenix gets helping hand from North Valley athletes

Tim Sam grew up on Glendower Street near Coventry Place in Ashland.

Even if he didn’t, it would have been impossible for him to turn a blind eye to all that those at Phoenix High School have endured since the Almeda fire — originally dubbed the Glendower fire — ripped through their community.

As such, Sam, who now serves as the North Valley High athletic director in Merlin, reached out last week to Phoenix athletic director Dave Ehrhardt to see if there was some way his Knights could help their Skyline Conference peers.

What has resulted is a “team adoption” program that aims to bridge the gap between the two schools in numerous ways.

“I wanted to find a way to help and we did some talking about how we could do that,” said Sam. “Then I thought, I can’t be the only one thinking this, so I had a chance to talk with some of our coaches the last couple days and we just came up with the idea of having some of our teams that had the willingness, time, capacity, heart or whatever to adopt some Phoenix teams and find ways to help them.”

Programs began pairing up Thursday and Friday through the outreach program, some with a few concrete plans while others remained in the initial stages of communicating needs and ideas.

Examples of early work include distribution of Human Bean and Dutch Bros. gift cards from the North Valley boys basketball team to their peers at Phoenix, and North Valley’s girls soccer team working on fundraisers and organizing clothes drives while also sending messages of support to the Phoenix players and coaches.

The list goes on as North Valley coaches in every sport are in discussions with their Skyline Conference mates to formulate short and long-term plans.

“It is amazing,” said Ehrhardt. “We are just so grateful for the generosity of North Valley High School and its coaches and kids and its administration. We’re so grateful and so blessed that as we come out of this there’s just all the amazing stories of people willing to help out.”

All this, of course, coming at a time when Ehrhardt said Jesuit High in Portland had its theater group contact the school in order to provide assistance, along with the Grants Pass band coming to town Thursday to deliver care bags for every student in the Phoenix band.

“It’s just amazing the outreach from everywhere,” said Ehrhardt. “It’s so, so touching.”

The fact that North Valley has stepped up in such a personal way was especially meaningful for Phoenix multi-sport seniors like Josie Bolstad and Kassandra Skaff.

“I think it’s just an incredible thing that North Valley is supporting Phoenix like that,” said Bolstad, who competes for the Pirates in volleyball, basketball, softball and, this year for the first time, cheerleading. “It’s a school that we’ve visited for the last three years and it shows that they care about us.”

“Our conference is pretty spread out and just to know that another school’s athletic department and specific teams have reached out and are helping our school — one of their competitors — is great,” added the 17-year-old standout. “It just shows a lot of mutual respect and sportsmanship, and I definitely think that’s a really positive thing.”

Bolstad was one of many who was forced to evacuate her home, fearing it was lost as she went to bed that night on Sept. 8 and thankfully learning that it remained standing the next day. The family still had to stay away from their home for a week before being allowed to return.

“It was definitely hard the first night because we went to bed thinking that our house was gone,” said Bolstad. “We were grateful that we learned that it wasn’t gone the next day, but just being away from home and having school and sports being affected by COVID already, it was just a lot at once.”

As fortunate as her family was, Bolstad knows far too many people who didn’t have such luck. Her good friend Skaff lost her home and almost all of the family’s belongings in the fire.

“Some of my friends had three minutes and some of them had several hours so the needs are varying, specifically with athletic stuff,” said Bolstad. “One of my friends was able to grab a softball bat while another, I don’t know if she was able to grab anything at that point.”

Having to deal with those issues firsthand adds to the appreciation Skaff has for the outreach efforts by North Valley.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said, noting that she’s not surprised the Knights would step up as they are. “I don’t feel like there’s that much animosity between any of the conference teams off the court, but I think it’s really awesome how much they’re willing to support us and help our teams recover. I think it’s really great.”

Those needs, however, are difficult to quantify at the moment.

“We’re at different places with different programs,” said Ehrhardt.

As an example, affected players in the Phoenix girls soccer program have already each received $200 gift cards from the Soccer Post in Medford, which did some early fundraising to pitch in.

As such, discussions between programs have taken on more of a personal approach with notes of support that Bolstad and Skaff agreed are as valuable as any pair of soccer socks.

“Also just giving time is important,” said Bolstad. “Being there if they need something or they need somewhere to go to take a break. That’s how me and a lot of my friends have been helping when it comes to our own friends who have been really impacted by the fire.”

Added Ehrhardt: “People’s emotions, we’re finding out, are a day by day thing. People are going to have days that aren’t as good as others and we’re just trying to make sure we provide as much support as we possibly can.”

As for the tangible items, only time will tell what voids the Pirates still need to fill.

“Our needs are across the board,” said Ehrhardt. “We’re around 28% of our kids who are still displaced by the fires so for a school our size, that’s about 215 kids we estimate right now. We’ve got needs that are considerable all over the place but we’re still assessing those. When we start to actually see kids in person (when practices resume Monday), then we’ll start to know more about the needs that we have to help them fill.”

For Sam, being part of such an outreach “just feels right.”

“It’s heartbreaking; everyone’s got a story,” he added. “It’s just unimaginable, but at the same time rather than wallow in that we’re trying to find ways to make good.”

Sam said the impetus is part of the “Victory Beyond the Scoreboard” motto the school has formulated, and the adoption process will continue to be a hands-off situation where everything develops organically.

“There’s great value in that, rather than somebody sitting a chair saying, here, go do this,” said Sam. “It allows for open communication with what you truly would want and make you feel good if you were a kid in this position. It’s a great way to find ways to cross over the line or the net or whatever it is that you’re competing against somebody else for and realize that you’ve got some common bonds and some humanity in this world. I think we could use a little bit more of that, to be honest.”

That Sam would step up and initiate such a helping hand was of no surprise to Ehrhardt.

“Tim’s just an amazing guy who has done a tremendous amount over his career,” said Ehrhardt of the former North Medford High AD who has also been part of the governing bodies for the Oregon Athletic Directors Association and Oregon School Activities Association. “Just to have him at our conference is amazing. He does a great job at North Valley and all of this says a lot about Tim, too.”

For his part, Sam remains humble.

“It is just part of the journey,” he said. “The older I get and longer I’ve been in this business, year 31 now, the more important the people are to me and the legacy of taking care of people. I think it also helps fill holes. I know it does for me.”

“We’re in this funny deal where some folks might be feeling sorry for themselves because they’re not able to compete or play sports or get with their teammates,” added Sam. “When you find ways to help other people, I think that sense of purpose gets filled and sometimes in even a better and brighter way. We’ve been doing character development with our kids and coaches and this is one of those steps on that journey to find ways to lift people up. I’m hopeful that it turns into something meaningful for both sides, honestly, but especially for the folks in Phoenix-Talent that need it.”

For Ehrhardt, “grateful” just isn’t a powerful enough word.

“It’s just so heartening to know how many people are thinking of us right now,” he said, fighting back his emotions. “Hopefully at some point we can repay the favor to people. People’s generosity is just amazing during times like this. If there’s a silver lining, that would be it, we’re just seeing some huge acts of generosity from lots of places.”

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePHS athletes Josie Bolstad and Kassandra Skaff with athletic director David Ehrardt at a nearby apartment complex that burned down a half a block away from the high school in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePHS athletes Josie Bolstad and Kassandra Skaff with athletic director David Ehrardt (middle) in the Pirate gym in Phoenix Friday.