By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Former McNary High School wrestlers are invited to McNary Restaurant and Lounge on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. for a reunion and celebration of longtime coach Jerry Lane.
After wrestling at Iowa State Teacher’s College and then coaching in Colorado, Lane came to McNary when the school opened in 1965.
At the encouragement of his old high school coach, Cy Bellock, who was now leading the wrestling program at North Salem, Lane had interviewed for a job in Salem two years earlier but decided to stay in Colorado. When Bellock called Lane again to tell him the district was opening a new school, Lane couldn’t turn down the opportunity to build his own program.
“It was a dream,” Lane said. “At McNary you were able to start from scratch.”
Lane was an assistant at North Salem under Bellock for two years while McNary was being built. Bellock then left North Salem and joined Lane as an assistant coach at McNary.
The Celtics joined a stacked league that included recent state champions Lebanon and Sweet Home. Corvallis was on its way to winning two titles.
McNary defeated both Salem schools, North and South, in its first year but finished fifth in the conference. In its second season, the Celtics had their first district champion in heavyweight Dick Wilmschem. Dave True was district runner-up.
McNary took three wrestlers to the 1968 state tournament and placed them all. The Celtics then won their first district title in 1970.
Larry Hayward, one of the former wrestlers in charge of the reunion, was on the 1970 team.
“This was a great man that influenced a lot of of kids’ lives both as a coach and a teacher and we just want to celebrate what he’s done for so many,” Hayward said of Lane.
McNary went 21-0 in 1974 but wasn’t quite ready for the bright lights of the state tournament. While Sam Hewitt won an individual state championship, no one else on the team placed.
“Most of our kids were sophomores and juniors and we really didn’t do a good job,” Lane said. “We really bombed.”
The Celtics were ready in 1975 and became the first Salem-Keizer school to win a wrestling state championship. No SKSD school has won the title since. McNary finished second in 1976. North Salem and Sprague have also been state runner-up.
McNary was the last three-grade high school (sophomores, juniors and seniors) to win the state tournament.
“We were really good in 74 but in 75 we had the experience,” Lane said.
The Celtics sewed up the title in the semifinals by advancing three wrestlers to the finals, where they went 1-2. Stacey Stone won the individual title. Tony Young placed second. Howard Harris, a junior who would later become a four-time All-American at Oregon State University, forfeited his match after straining his back earlier in the tournament. That was the only loss Harris had in his final two seasons at McNary, where he finished 80-5 in his high school career.
In 1980, Harris’ senior year at Oregon State, he moved from 191 pounds to heavyweight and pinned all five of his opponents to win the NCAA championship. Harris defeated Indiana State sophomore Bruce Baumgartner in the finals. Baumgartner went on to wrestle in four Olympics and win two gold medals.
Harris was voted the outstanding wrestler of the 1980 NCAA tournament. He still owns the OSU record for career wins (169) and is second in pins (87).
“Nobody ever asked me who my best wrestler was,” Lane said of Harris. “Everybody knows who my best wrestler was.”
McNary also participated in the Oregon Wrestling Cultural Exchange, which beginning in 1963 sent a team as far as Russia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany and Cuba. The exchange ended in the 1980s but the Celtics had at least one wrestler make the team in every decade.
Lane, who retired from teaching in 1994 and quit coaching in 1996, said he had great assistants at McNary—Bellock, John Wayland, Mike Morgan, Bill Sanford, Craig Nickalaus and John Mangan.
Over 30 years, Lane led McNary to four conference championships, coached seven individual state champions, 58 district champions and 37 state placers.
For his lifetime service to wrestling, Lane was inducted into the Oregon chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1996.
While Lane, now age 79, living in Portland, acknowledged the state championship team was a “special group of kids,” he enjoyed every season.
“We had years when we weren’t as good as other years but in that era, if McNary didn’t win the league, they were going to be second or third,” Lane said. “I didn’t care about winning and losing but you just had to get better, you had to show improvement to be able to live with yourself. You had to realize you can outwork people. The most important thing wasn’t did you win or not, did you wrestle up to your capabilities? That’s what we were all about, I hope.”
RSVP to the reunion at [email protected]