Beloved track coach honored in ceremony
Last updated 10/24/2023 at 9:56am
Friday night's football game switched from Homecoming to heartwarming as longtime track-and- field coach Jim Anderson was honored in a surprise ceremony for his dedication to youth. The unveiling of the Jim Anderson Vertical Jumping Area showcased brand-new, state-of-the-art high jump and pole vault pits and standards made by UCS.
The equipment acquisition is entirely provided by private donations at no cost to the Sisters School District.
Anderson, who began coaching in Sisters in 1994 after retiring from a long career of teaching and coaching in Clackamas County, had no idea beforehand what he was about to experience.
"This was better than any surprise party, ever," said one onlooker.
Dennis Dempsey, Sarah Thorsett, and Jim Reiss, who all help coach the high school track team, had heard Anderson talk frequently about how much the old pits needed to be replaced for safety reasons. Soon the idea was hatched to not only find a way to acquire the pits, but to honor a man who has become a legend in Oregon track-and-field.
Dempsey began pricing the costs for the equipment and discovered it could be upwards of $60,000. One of the people he talked to, Summit High's coach Dave Turnbull, shared the idea of trying to obtain the pits that were going to be used at the USA National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in July at a potential discount.
"I had already gotten some donors lined up to help for new pits, so I asked what they thought and they told me to go for it," said Dempsey. "We established an account through the Sisters Schools Foundation and money started coming in toward the $39,000 cost."
On July 31, Dempsey, Jim Reiss, Rob Phelps, and Curt Scholl commandeered trucks and trailers to haul the pits from Hayward Field to Sisters, where they were hidden away.
High School art teacher Bethany Gunnarson and her students went to work on creating the sign for display on the fence surrounding the track, fundraising efforts continued, and the plans for the ceremony were developed.
When it came time for planning the ceremony, Dennis Dempsey tricked Anderson into coming to the football game to "help" and had previously contacted Anderson's son, who rallied other family members to attend the ceremony while keeping the whole thing a surprise.
The secrecy efforts worked like a charm, and as it dawned on Anderson that there was more than just a sign with his name on it, he became temporarily speechless while more than a dozen current and former Outlaw pole vaulters and high jumpers, along with another dozen family members, surrounded him at midfield.
Even as he sat in the stands for the first half of the game, he hadn't realized that a dozen family members were sitting a few rows away.
When it came to raising the funds, families of current and former track athletes, community partners, and even high school athletes themselves jumped at the chance to contribute on behalf of honoring Anderson, who some refer to as "the Pied Piper of Pole Vault" for his uncanny ability to attract middle and high school kids to take up the event and then develop a love for it.
Athletes' love for Anderson was evident throughout the ceremony, including when Gracie Vohs, a senior jumper, left her spot among the other homecoming royalty court members and dashed down the track in her dress and tiara to give Anderson a hug as he made his way to midfield. Hers was the first of many heartfelt hugs from athletes he has coached and from fellow coaches from over the years.
Norah Thorsett, a sophomore vaulter who was on hand for the ceremony said, "I have been vaulting with Anderson since fourth grade and his love and commitment for track-and-field and the kids has truly inspired me to do my best."
Mae Roth, a junior, said, "Not only has Coach Anderson made me fall in love with track-and-field, but he has shown me and so many others unconditional kindness and support. I will forever be thankful for him."
"Family, community, and service are the words that came to my mind as I observed the ceremony," said Sarah Thorsett.
Anderson, 86, began his coaching career in 1960, which clearly makes him one of the most long-standing in the history of Oregon high school athletics. His focus the past few years has been entirely at the pole vault, where his athletes have qualified for State year after year.
Anderson made it clear that all the celebrating in no way signals his retirement from coaching middle and high school pole vaulters.
"I have no intention of retiring," he said. "Every year the kids come out with enthusiasm to learn, and that keeps me going."
In summing up the surprise evening, Anderson said, "I was completely blown away by all of this and totally surprised. I see God's hand all over this happening."
He continued, "I have a lot of people to thank. It's wonderful for me, but it means so much to the kids as well, for them to know that people are so generous and care enough about their safety and performance."
About $4,000 remains to be raised, according to Dempsey. Donations can be addressed to Sisters School Foundation, P.O. Box 2155, Sisters, Oregon 97759.