Track coach running strong after six decades


Last updated 3/9/2022 at Noon

Charlie Kanzig

Jim Anderson has been helping athletes improve and excel for six decades.

John F. Kennedy was president, The Beatles had not yet been discovered by American fans, and gasoline sold for 31 cents a gallon when Jim Anderson began his coaching career in 1960.

Monday, February 28, the first official day of high school spring practice, marked the start of Anderson’s 61st season as a high school coach, as he returned to the track at Reed Stadium to mentor a new crop of pole vaulters for the Outlaws track and field team.

Anderson fell in love with the pole vault when he moved to Baker, Oregon (now Baker City) in seventh grade and witnessed some high school kids with their bamboo poles and a sawdust landing pit practicing at the high school across from where he was staying.

“I walked over and they let me give it a try,” he said. “And I lost my heart to the pole vault. I was hooked.”

Anderson went on to be a three-sport athlete at Baker High School, where he continued vaulting during the spring track season. After graduating in 1955, he attended the University of Oregon. After a year he transferred to Eastern Oregon College in La Grande, where he finished with a degree in secondary education in 1959.

He landed his first job that fall at Waldo Junior High School in Salem, where he taught for three years and coached basketball for two. It was during this period he met his wife, Karen, to whom he has been married to for nearly 60 years.

“In my heart, I wanted to work at the high school level, but nothing was available in Salem, so I decided to make a move,” he said.

He was offered a job at Oregon City High School, but while in the area made a visit to Clackamas High School, which had opened a few years earlier. There he was surprised to find his principal from Baker High School in the principal’s office.

“He asked me what I was doing and I explained I had just been offered a job at Oregon City,” said Anderson. “He then said, ‘You’re hired…what do you teach’?”

Little did he know he would spend the next 31 years at the school before retiring in 1994. He coached cross-country and track throughout his time there, along with some years in basketball.

“I had no experience with cross-country at that time, but the athletic director said he needed someone to drive the kids to meets, so I did and eventually I became the head coach for both cross-country and track.”

Directly following his retirement, the Andersons moved to Sisters, where they built a house in Tollgate. One day while he was out walking with his wife, a man stopped to say hello.

“It was Bob Johnson, who coached for many years at West Linn, one of our arch-rivals in track when I was at Clackamas,” explained Anderson. “He had moved to Sisters the previous year and told me he was coaching the sprinters at Sisters High and invited me to come out and help out.

“Actually, what he said, verbatim, was, ‘Get your butt over to the high school, no one knows how to pole vault over there,’” said Anderson, chuckling at the memory.

Anderson did just that and has been involved with the team ever since. His first season in Sisters in 1995 marked just the second year that high school pole vaulting became an option for girls. Oregon was the first state in the nation to offer the event to females.

“Suzy Fouts was one of the first girls I ever got to work with,” he said, “and there have been dozens and dozens since then.”

While his main focus in recent years has been pole vault, he has also coached triple jump and long jump.

When asked what the draw to coaching has been for him, he simply replied, “The kids. My wife tells me still that I will never stop coaching because there is always a freshman or eighth-grader coming up that I want to see through, so there is no end,” he added.

Anderson’s philosophy and approach to coaching has a deeper purpose than athletic performance.

“I want to share a perspective that is quite different from the general population,” he said. “I am a Christian. I want to [them] know that there is a better way to live than the general culture. I want them to learn how to both follow and lead. I want them to develop a belief in themselves that allows them to continually learn and perform, not just athletically.”

Anderson is a big believer in the discipline that athletics provide.

“I want these kids to learn consistency,” he explained. “I want them to embrace the concept of not just showing up when they want to, but to commit and show loyalty to their team, their coaches, and themselves.”

He practices what he preaches, giving of his time in the summer and some Sunday afternoons, to give kids more practice time.

In his long career, Anderson has coached kids of all abilities and skill levels, including a number of state champions.

“To be honest, it is very exciting to be involved with coaching those highly talented, driven athletes like Amy Cretsinger and Sara Small, but I find joy working with all of the kids, including the middle schoolers.”

Anderson is well known statewide in the track and field community as a leader in pole vaulting and has built a culture here in Sisters for the event.

“He’s like the pied piper of pole vaulting,” said one coach. “He’s very welcoming, approachable, and inclusive.”

When asked what rewards he gains from coaching, he responded, “I don’t really think of it that way. All I can say is that I love it.”

And that shows.

At practice last Thursday when the team broke up into groups to try different events, a long line formed on the pole vault runway, and anyone watching could testify that Anderson was in his element.

Ever humble, when asked what he wants people to understand about him, what he is proud of, he answered, “That I have stayed the course. That’s the thing. That I have kept my commitment to the kids who have committed to me.”

Anderson is grateful to the head coaches in Sisters over the past 28 seasons who, he says, “Appreciated me and gave me a place to be.”

And there he remains, at the southeast corner of the track, surrounded by teenagers holding fiberglass poles.

Right where he belongs.


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