Maddie Harris, Russell Holly are Husky Athletes of the Year

Scott Swanson

Maddie Harris and Russell Holly were named the Booster Club Boys and Girl of the Year at the annual Senior Sports Awards Dessert held June 5 at the Elks Lodge.

The event honors graduating seniors who have stood out in their athletic and academic careers at Sweet Home High School.

Presenter Karyn Hartsook said Booster Club leaders met with coaches to determine whom the honorees would be.

Football Coach Ryan Adams described Holly, who has played three sports – football, basketball and baseball – throughout his high school career, as “one of the kindest and hardworking athletes I’ve had the pleasure of working with” during their six years together.

“He’s an exceptional athlete, along with being an exceptional young man. He has worked hard for everything and has been a great teammate to those around him.”

Other coaches’ comments were nearly word-for-word with Adams’.

“He’s a competitor and a leader, a hard worker, a role model and always striving to get better and a team-first kind of player,” said baseball coach John Best.

Holly was also outstanding in the classroom, Hartsook noted.

Harris, who was also salutatorian for the Class of 2022, was a top soccer player for the Huskies as well as a four-year letter winner in softball.

She was an All-League forward in soccer and in softball was voted First Team as a utility player and Second Team at pitcher in the league, which included three of the top teams in the state, including state champion Cascade – to which Sweet Home handed its only league loss, and state semifinalist Stayton.

“There wasn’t anything short of hard work and accomplishment for her to get those honors,” said Hartsook, who is the softball coach.

Keynote speaker Kerry Eggers spoke to the crowd of approximately 100 people who attended the event.

Eggers, whose 45-year career in sports journalism ended in 2020 after stints with the Oregon Journal (1975-82), the Oregonian (1982-2000) and the Portland Tribune (2001-2020), noted that he played football at Corvallis High School with former Sweet Home Coach Rob Younger in a league that, at least during the early years of his high school career, included Sweet Home.

His high school teammates also included former Oregon State football Coach Mike Riley, Donny Reynolds, Gary Beck and Jerry Hackenbruck, who won state championships in football, basketball and baseball as juniors and seniors.

He was an all-league defensive end on the Spartan team that won the state AAA football championship during his senior season in 1970.

Eggers related how, when he wasn’t a starter, he got a chance to get into the state championship game in football.

“They called a pass play for me and I guess I was a little too excited because I ran the wrong play,” Eggers said, opening his remarks. “That was a low moment for me, but there were an awful lot of highs through my high school career and Corvallis had a lot of success.

“I was fortunate to have some good moments on the athletic field.”

He told the crowd that he benefited from sports in other ways.

“One of those was a spirit of competition, working with others to achieve success in the group,” he said. “That certainly benefited me for the rest of my life, throughout my career as a sportswriter but also in life in general.

“I feel that life is competitive, not in a mean-spirited way but in a way that results in better performance at every level. Winning is a good thing, something that sometimes can be overemphasized at times, but mostly it’s a great element of high school sports.”

The other thing he’s gained from sports, Eggers said, “was the opportunity to develop relationships with people.”

“I made many friends among the athletes I played with who are good friends today,” he added, citing Younger, who played a year behind Eggers. “Fifty years later.”

Teammates, he said, “play as hard as you can but you also cover for the other guys when something goes wrong. You learn to help each other out to reach goals and achieve success.”

He said learning that in high school gives athletes “a head start in understanding what it takes to have a successful marriage and raise a family, what it takes to be an important part of any business.”

Eggers referenced his latest book, a biography of Portland Trailblazers star Jerome Kersey, who grew up in Clarksville, Va., a community much smaller than Sweet Home, and had to battle at every level for success and the attention of recruiters and coaches before finally establishing himself as a starter for Portland and later for the San Antonio Spurs, where he won an NBA championship.

“The title of the book, ‘Overcoming the Odds,’ couldn’t be more appropriate for Jerome,” he said. “Others often shortchanged him, but he didn’t shortchange himself. That’s a good message for each of you to take out of here tonight.”

U.S. Marine Corps Award

The U.S. Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete Award, for leadership and being a positive role model, was presented by track coach Nathan Whitfield, who also coaches football and wrestling.

Honorees Kami Hart and Colby Gazeley, Whitfield said, “are very similar,” both participating in multiple sports and achieving success through hard work.

“Both of them, when they started out, did not look like the most stellar athletes,” he said, “but they showed up to every single off-season workout, every morning, every morning run – all of that. They made themselves great athletes.

Hart has signed to wrestle for Linfield University, while Gazeley won the state 220-pound wrestling title earlier this year.

“These are just two amazing kids that I’ve gotten to work with the last four years,” Whitfield said.

Larry Johnson Sportsmanship

The Larry Johnson Sportsmanship Award, named after the longtime athletic director at Sweet Home High School, was presented by volleyball coach Mary Hutchins to Alex Kisselburgh, Aiden Shamek and Zoe Opperman.

Hutchins defined sportsmanship as “an understanding of commitment to fair play, ethical behavior and integrity and general goodwill for an opponent. It is an affirmation that an athlete is disciplined enough to have perspective, maintain poise and do what’s best for his or her teammates.”

She quoted coaches, who told how Kisselburgh had developed into a team- and school leader “who does the right things in competition and in the classroom.”

Shamak, coaches said, has a “positive attitude” and willingness “to do whatever is asked of him” and example to younger athletes. “He never complains and always has a smile on his face. This is something I see in him just not on the track but every time I see him.”

Opperman, Hutchins noted, performed the national anthem for “every single (volleyball) game and I really hope someone recorded it so you can use it.”

Moe Award

Wrestling coach Tomas Rosa presented the Moe Award, given to athletes who show humility and courage, putting others first and encouraging others.

Rosa noted that the award is named after a local doctor who exhibited such qualities.

Recipients Joey Heimenz, Kami Hart and Zoe Opperman “are the hardest workers,” Rosa said. “They are the people that are the first to arrive and the last to leave, the ones who always give their all.”

Heimenz, he said, was a captain on the soccer team and volunteered to be basketball manager after he didn’t make the team.

He noted that Heimenz was a student assistant in his niece’s sixth-grade class, where he was “an awesome, awesome influence.”

Speaking as a wrestling coach, Rosa said Hart “was always looking for ways to improve” and took advantage of every opportunity to do so.

Despite early shyness, she developed into one of the state’s top wrestlers, and was a leader on the young girls team, organizing study halls and being a mentor to younger athletes.

“We didn’t have behavior issues, largely because of this person’s work,” he said.

Opperman, Rosa said, was also a mentor to younger volleyball players, which, he noted, was a common characteristic of all three winners: “They pour into the younger kids in the program and that’s something that’s huge if you want to continue the success of these programs.”

Opperman was student body president and Rosa said he has personally witnessed her walk around campus and find someone who’s eating lunch alone.

“And she’ll sit next to them and she’ll include them,” he said, adding, “that is a valuable life quality.”

Bruce West Spirit of a Champion

Football Coach Ryan Adams presented the Bruce West Spirit of Champion Award to Kyle Watkins, TerahMae Meadors, Eddie Martinez and Mykel Johnston.

The award, he noted, honors athletes who have overcome adversity to participate in athletics – “anything that would have caused others to give up, get frustrated, make excuses, anything like that.”

Coaches Scholar Athlete Award

John Best, the baseball coach, presented the Coaches Scholar Athlete Award to Maddie Harris and Russell Holly.

Both, he said, exemplify the “team leader” qualities that the award represents.

Both have been team MVPs – Holly in basketball and baseball, and Harris in soccer, and both threw at least one no-hitter in their diamond sports, and both have been All-League selections in multiple sports.

Scholarship Awards

Wrestling Coach Steve Thorpe presented four memorial scholarship awards.

The Greg Hagle Memorial Scholarship, a $500 award, went to Christian Gregory, Jacob Ingram, Isabel Sayers, Jamie Seward and Adaira Sleutel.

The Norm and Donna Davis Memorial Scholarship, $1,000, was awarded to Paige Chafin.

The Pat and Ernie Baxter Memorial Scholarship, $500, was awarded to Christian Gregory, a three-time state place-winner in wrestling.

The John Seward Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Chloe Tyler, described by Thorpe as “the greatest swimmer Sweet Home has ever seen.” Tyler plans to swim for Illinois State.

Hall of Fame Award

Athletic Director Dan Tow presented Hall of Fame Awards to Paige Chafin and Malia Hewitt.

Hewitt, who is graduating from the Oregon Charter Academy with a 4.00 GPA, competed for Sweet Home throughout her high school swimming career, contributing to two team championships and was a three-time individual champion for the Huskies. She plans to swim at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Chafin, Tow noted, is a triple crown winner in wrestling, which means she won state titles not only at the OSAA state championships, but also in Greco and freestyle, which are not contested in high school competition. She also placed fifth in the nation in the folkstyle national tournament.

“She’s the most decorated women’s wrestler that we’ve had in the history of Sweet Home wrestling,” Tow said. “I saw her wrestle a number of times and I never watched her wrestle for very long because it didn’t take very long for it to be over.”

Chafin, he added, is an “outstanding” student who will wrestle in the fall at Eastern Oregon University.