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Month: February 2018


Of the Keizertimes

In the course of eight days, Salem Habitat for Humanity handed over the keys to two new Keizer families.

On Saturday, Feb. 3, Construction Manager Dave Connell presented the Ramos-Gasca family with their keys to half of a new duplex on Alexis Lane North in Keizer. The family of four – including mother and father, Arturo and Sara, and daughters, Brianna and Jessica – were welcomed by Habitat staff and volunteers and led through the home for the first time by members of Girl Scout Troop 10048 and Brownie Troop 10133.

“It’s something we’ve dreamt about for a long time,” said Sara, after accepting the keys. “There is no way, shape or form that we could have pulled this off without each and every one of you, that’s a guarantee.”

The build was sponsored, in large part, by Thrivent Financial, which has contributed more than $800,000 to Salem Habitat over the course of its last eight builds. A week prior to the Ramos-Gascas getting its keys, Habitat handed over the keys to the Ramos-Gasca’s new neighbors, the Wuelfing family.

The Ramos-Gasca family, Arturo, Sara, Jessica and Brianna, with Habitat construction manager Dave Connell. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
The Ramos-Gasca family, Arturo, Sara, Jessica and Brianna, with Habitat construction manager Dave Connell. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Heather Wilson, Habitat’s director of programs and volunteer engagement, was brought to tears as she talked about how involved the family was in construction of the home and how they were there in spirit when they couldn’t be there physically.

“When I think of this family, the single word that comes to mind is gratitude. They said thank you time and time again to donors, volunteers, made homemade salsa and chips and cookies and delivered it to the job site,” Wilson said. “The girls are old enough and crafty enough and had it in their heart to make cards and posters with messages with candy bars in them. There is no family more deserving than the Ramos-Gascas.”

The family had been paying $900 a month for a residence in which one room was completely uninhabitable because of a severe mold problem. When colder weather arrived, it pushed the family’s utility bills into the hundreds of dollars.

“As a mom, you want to give your children a stable foundation. You want to be that foundation and you want the doors to forever be open. I want this to be (our daughters’) home and because of you guys we get to have those memories,” Sara said.

Ron Mohr, a representative with Thrivent Financial, said that someone asked him a while ago how big the home was, but Mohr said that missed the point.

“What’s more important is the memories that they’ll have with all who enter,” he said.

McNary cadets to learn to fly

Of the Keizertimes

Casey Toavs, a senior at McNary High School, has wanted to fly ever since he first went up in a plane with his father, a flight instructor.

This summer, Toavs and another McNary cadet, Noah Egli, will get their shot.

Both Toavs and Egli have been selected to participate in the first Flight Academy Scholarship Program, where they will attend an aviation program at one of six partnering universities to get a private pilot license.

The scholarship, valued at $20,000, covers transportation, room and board, academics and flight hours.

The McNary cadets were two of 120 chosen out of more than 800 who applied.

“The dream and the goal was always to become an Air Force pilot and I saw this as a great opportunity and a step to get there,” Toavs said.

Egli, who has participated in Young Eagles, a program by the Experimental Aircraft Association in Independence that allows kids to ride in an airplane, always saw the opportunity to fly as nothing but a dream.

“Being able to do this and get a private pilot license, it makes it feel like an actual job I can do in the future instead of it just being a dream,” he said.

To get into the program, Egli and Toavs had to take the written Aviation Qualifying Test and take a physical fitness exam, which included a 1-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and sit reach.

They’ll be assigned to one of six universities—the Embry-Riddle Florida campus, Kansas State, North Dakota, Purdue, Liberty or Auburn.

The Flight Academy Scholarship Program is a new Air Force-level initiative in collaboration with the commercial aviation industry to address the national civilian and military pilot shortage. AFJROTC has been charged by the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force to bring back the “luster of aviation” to high school students and increase diversity in aviation fields.

Civilian airline industry experts project a demand for 117,000 new commercial pilots over the next 20 years. The Air Force is currently short of at least 1,500 pilots to fulfill its requirements.

Both Toavs and Egli have been in the Air Force Junior ROTC program at McNary for four years.

“I was a pretty shy kid and I needed an extra class,” said Egli, who is now the group commander as well as on the color guard, unarmed and armed drill teams at McNary.

“I thought I might as well take this class and learn some leadership skills and I’ve definitely grown since my freshman year. It’s a very fun class.”

Toavs and another McNary cadet are in charge of planning the military ball on April 7 at the Reed Opera House in Salem.

“The want to get into this program here at McNary kind of stemmed form my want to become an Air Force pilot,” Toavs said.

“I saw it as another opportunity to help me get where I wanted to go and I also thought it was a good program that I could learn some leadership skills from, which would help me in many aspects of life.”

Both cadets plan to participate in ROTC programs in college and then enlist in the military after graduation.

Egli is going to Oregon State University.

Toavs has been accepted to OSU as well as Embry-Riddle, North Dakota and the University of Portland.

“It’s a different perspective looking at the earth from that height,” Toavs said.

Sidewalk talks continue at traffic safety board

Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer Traffic Safety, Pedestrian and Bikeways (TPB) Committee continued its search for an improvement project to enter into the race for state funding at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 8.

Committee members are hoping to identify a project that qualifies for potential funding under the Keep Oregon Moving Bill, HB 2017, a massive transportation and infrastructure funding package passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2017.

At the committee’s January meeting, it looked as though improvements to Delight Street North had risen to the top, but new information redirected discussions to the area around Kennedy Elementary School last week.

Both areas serve a wide swath of Keizer’s youth and neither has sidewalks. Delight Street comprises the eastern border of the Cummings Elementary School campus and is also frequented by McNary High School students who use it to walk to school. The area around Kennedy is also devoid of sidewalks and the Keizer branch of the Boys & Girls Club sits right next to the school campus.

“Under the Safe Routes to Schools program, Title 1 schools have priority. Cummings is not a Title 1 school, Kennedy is,” said board member Hersch Sangster.

Title 1 schools are those that have a substantial portion of their student body coming from low-income families. Cummings only recently moved beyond the Title 1 designation.

“You might be able to put in sidewalks on major routes that would be a great step forward. If we’re not funded, we’ll still have the plan,” said David Dempster, another member of the committee.

Choosing between the two projects might present a quandary for the committee as both projects have appealing elements and handicaps that might sway decisions.

If the Salem-Keizer School District passes a bond measure in May, the package includes funds for installing sidewalks along the Cummings property on both sides of the school. Piggybacking on the investment along Delight Street from another community partner might stand out on a funding request. However, addressing needs at one of Keizer’s low-income schools is a boon of another sort. The problem with seeking the funding for the Kennedy area is that there is no Safe Routes to Schools program established in Marion County. The city could allude to the potential for compliance, but there is no formal Safe Routes plan.

Additionally, the rules and requirements for applying for funding are not yet set in stone. One of the expected requirements is that the projects are already included in an existing plan. In that regard, both projects have some cover. Both areas were identified as needing improvements in a citywide Transportation System Plan crafted in 2009, but the Delight Street area was addressed explicitly cited as needing sidewalks and bike lanes.

During the meeting, Dempster was tasked with looking at the Kennedy area to determine which streets might be included in a grant request if the committee decided something less than full sidewalk coverage is necessary due to budget constraints.

In the area of Cummings, the committee’s newest member, Mike DeBlasi suggested other traffic mitigations might be possible as an interim solution.

“We could put in for money to put in bollards as a test case to see how people react to it. At the corners where students will be crossing, it will give kids a more protected area and might slow down some traffic,” he said.

Wayne Frey, chair of the TPB, said the committee will continue to look at the options and define a project scope.

Bond passage would have far-reaching effects

Of the Keizertimes

If voters approve a $619.7 million Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) bond measure in May, improvements at McNary High School and Gubser Elementary School will be some of the first in the district to receive renovations and redesigns.

While those projects would be among the first to undergo construction, the bond plan includes improvements or maintenance projects at every school in SKSD.

As the second largest high school in the district, administrators have long planned for McNary to be near the top of the list, but Gubser was more of a surprise, said Superintendent Christy Perry.

“Gubser is one of the most overpopulated elementary schools right now. We tried placing an additional teacher there to help with class sizes, but there simply wasn’t enough space in the building,” Perry said.

There is still an additional teacher at Gubser, but they float throughout the building and assist where they are needed most, she said.

In that sense, improvements at Gubser – including three new classrooms, a dedicated cafeteria and kitchen and gym upgrades – will have the effect of lowering class sizes. That will not be the case for all schools, but bonds can only pay for capital improvement projects and not continuing budget items like teacher salaries. The latter funds are much more volatile and heavily dependent on state funding set by the Oregon Legislature.

The biggest single change district-wide, if the bond is approved by voters, will be increasing capacity at five of the six high schools to 2,200 students. At McNary, that will mean about 200 more students than are currently enrolled, but it will also mean that the portable classrooms some classes use will be replaced with permanent structures.

The bond will cost a homeowner $1.24 more per $1,000 of valuation than they currently pay. For a home valued at $200,000, that amounts to roughly $250 per year.

For the first time in decades, polling paid for by the district suggested taxpayers were amenable to an increase in what they pay for schools. Polls suggested comfort with $1.51 to $2.50, but the SKSD board went for an even lower amount. Polling also directed how the funds will be used, Perry said.

“What resonated in polling was career technical education (CTE) classrooms, safety and security, expansion of classrooms and seismic preparedness,” she said.

On the CTE end of things, each of the SKSD high schools will be getting two dedicated CTE spaces with the intention of establishing dedicated programming at each school based on desires and the local market needs.

“We have a coordinator for CTE programs and he’s put together an investment program for the next several years. We want to make sure that the schools understand what the students want and need,” said Mike Wolfe, the district’s chief operations officer.

While the new space will create opportunities for additional programs, it might mean that some current programs move within the schools.

“The culinary program at McNary is a great space that we’ve invested in through grants over several years. That might be a program that gets moved into one of the new CTE spaces and the existing space becomes an incubator for another CTE program,” Wolfe said.

The bond also includes funding for revamping and realigning existing spaces and specifically puts money toward music education space at every school.

The district is already assembling design teams for each school and will eventually enlist community representatives to serve on site teams if the bond passes. Those teams will hammer out specifics within the district’s overall design plans as the process moves forward.

In regard to safety and seismic concerns, several schools will be getting new card-access security systems and some front offices will be renovated or realigned with front entrances for optimal supervision of the school entries.

Many schools will receive seismic strengthening, but any new buildings constructed will be constructed for re-occupancy. That means new spaces will be built to withstand a catastrophic event and then be used as a shelter or headquarters for community recovery efforts.

“Every feeder system will have buildings to use for shelter in the event of a catastrophe like a major earthquake,” Perry said.

One of the biggest differences between this bond measure and the last one, for $242 million, approved by voters in 2008, is how the money will be used, Wolfe said. About $160 million of the 2008 total was used to catch up on deferred maintenance projects, but that process helped district administrators hone in on bond priorities this time around.

“We were able to become more familiar with our facilities through the implementation of the 2008 bond and we were able to focus on the future and meeting growth projections for the next 10 to 20 years,” Wolfe said.

“The district did a good job with that money as far as what was promised and what was delivered. My hope is that the process built trust  with voters as good stewards of public money,” Perry added.

At a glance: Keizer’s place in SKSD bond

McNary High

14 new classrooms

1 new science lab

2 career technical education spaces

Dedicated special education class space

A new flexible learning space

Replacement classrooms (13,700 sq. ft.)

Repurposed/renovated space for admin and support staff

Redesigned parking lot and additional parking

Purchase of additional property and relocating sports fields

Claggett Creek Creek Middle

Cafeteria expansion

Converting 3 classrooms into 2 science labs

Library upgrades

Gubser Elementary School

3 new classrooms

Dedicated cafeteria and kitchen

Gym upgrades

Keizer Elementary

4 new classrooms

Dedicated cafeteria and kitchen

Library upgrades

Cummings Elementary

Cafeteria expansion

Sidewalks along campus

McNary wrestlers eye state finals

Of the Keizertimes

McNary senior Brayden Ebbs and West Linn junior Sean Harman, two of the top 160-pounders in the state, have known each other for a long time, training on the same club team, All-Phase Wrestling, since they were little.

But they’ve never met in high school competition.

Ebbs hopes to change that at the OSAA State Championships Feb. 16-17 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

“We’ve been best friends for a very long time,” Ebbs said of Harman. “We’ve gone on out of state trips together, multiple camps and we’ve been very close for a long time. We have trained a lot together. He’s actually helped me become a tougher wrestler.”

Harman, undefeated at 40-0, enters the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. He won the 152-pound state title last season and is part of a wrestling family that includes a grandfather, father and two brothers who have all wrestled for Navy.

“When we were younger I actually used to beat him a lot but he got a lot better as he grew older and he became a great wrestler,” Ebbs said. “As long as I make it to the finals, I know it’s going to be a good match between me and him and there’s going to be a lot of respect from both sides and I think it will just be a fun match to be a part of, too.”

To get to the finals, Ebbs, the No. 3 seed, will have to first get past No. 2 Josh Grant of Century.

Grant, a senior, lost to Harmon 5-2 in the semifinals last season, and took third in the state.

“He’s a tough wrestler but me and my dad (McNary head wrestling coach Jason Ebbs) have prepared and we know what we’re going to do and what we need to avoid,” Ebbs said. “I think I have a pretty good shot of beating him.”

McNary junior Enrique Vincent was just happy to qualify for the state tournament a year ago.

That won’t be the case this time around.

Vincent is the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds after winning back-to-back district titles.

Leading his bracket is No. 1 Gavin Jolley, a two-time state champion out of Sherwood and Phillip Kue, the reigning 113-pound state champion from Centennial.

Vincent lost to Kue at the Oregon Classic last month.

“My coaches and my parents, everyone said I wasn’t wrestling like I normally do and at first I went into the match intimidated,” Vincent said. “I wasn’t wrestling like I normally was, aggressive wise or technique wise. I was just stalling out and trying to get any point I could and that didn’t work out that well. My game plan is to go in and do what I normally do.”

Vincent wants to improve on last year’s performance when he placed third in the state at 120 pounds.

“This year I’m not scared at all and I’m just looking towards that finals match,” Vincent said. “Last year was my first time there so I thought I’d be lucky to place but this time I better place and I better place higher than third.”

McNary sophomore Nicolette Parra also has her eye on the finals of the girls state tournament.

Parra finished second in her 135-pound weight class out of 47 girls on Jan. 26-27 to qualify for the exhibition tournament. The OSAA Executive Board voted Monday, Feb. 12 to create a separate state championship division for girls beginning in 2018-19.

Parra will open the tournament against Grants Pass senior Kaitlyn Dara. Mostly likely awaiting her in the finals would be Central Linn junior Sarah Conner, who defeated Parra in the qualifying tournament and won the 132-pound state championship last season.

Parra has spent her break from competition getting in better shape.

“I’ve really been taking care of my body because my health wasn’t that great at qualifying,” Parra said. “I’m not really worried about. It’s like any other tournament.”

McNary senior Blake Norton is seeded fourth at 220 pounds after winning the district championship at McKay on Feb. 3.

Norton has something in common with No. 1 Brett Nicholson of Aloha and No. 3 Julian Stone of North Medford. All three wrestled in the state tournament as heavyweights last year and were eliminated early. Daniel Serik, the No. 2 seed out of David Douglas, hasn’t wrestled in the state tournament before.

McNary junior Nick Hernandez and freshman Grady Burrows will make their debuts in the state tournament after finishing third at 138 pounds and fourth at 106 pounds in the district.

Headlining the 138 bracket are David Douglas senior Kyle Beal, who was the state runner-up last season, and West Albany senior Sawyer Myres, who placed sixth last year.

David Douglas senior Max Hodge and Sprague senior Bollong Joklur are the top two seeds at 106.

The state tournament begins Friday at 8:30 a.m. Finals are scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Trump should forgo military parade

By Gene H. McIntyre

On July 14, 2017, President Donald Trump was in Paris on Bastille Day to join French President Emmanuel Macron on his reviewing podium to observe representations of that country’s military might.  We Americans learned that Trump was deeply impressed and wants a similar military parade here on July 4 of this year.

Bastille Day honors the thousands of Parisians who struck back against a monumentally corrupt Louis XVI, his family and friends after years of having their fellow Parisians thrown into a cesspool of a place whose name was the Bastille where they typically were beaten and tortured for transgressions such as stealing a loaf of bread. French men and women were fed up with their treatment and turned to revolution, including the beheading of their king and members of his court.

We’ve now got tens of thousands of Americans whose financial and general economic circumstances are so bad their living conditions have come to homelessness while thousands of others have mainly lost everything, including health care for themselves and their children, about whom a threat continues that every final safety net will be taken away and the last hope of avoiding destitution will be lost.

Although discontent represents a common view among these and other Americans, a full-blown revolution here appears unlikely now, but not unthinkable. Regardless of numbers of Americans living wherever, President Trump wants a big military parade estimated to cost in the seven figures, delivered by U.S. armed forces in Washington,. This writer likes the idea of a parade but not one that glorifies U.S. killing machines.

A military parade would pay tribute to Trump while in fact he’s advised to get a grip on where this nation’s people live and breath and cancel such an outlandish extravagance to advertise the U.S. military, a military that’s already so large and bloated in manpower and materials that every other country in the world knows full well it has no chance against it. Meanwhile, our military is rife with waste and corrupted by fighting unnecessary wars. Further, such a parade will simply enrage and further upset those Americans who direly struggle and those who’ve lost that struggle and now inhabit our sidewalks, our parks and private property.

No, instead, since large numbers of those Americans with excessive control over money, money that fifty to sixty years ago was generally more evenly spread throughout the American population, we should have a parade that recognizes them.  So, the American version of a Bastille Day parade would simply show how disproportionately rich our wealthy have become. In a word, America’s “one percent” could display their collections of material goods.

Their displays could include signs that inform the parade goers as to what amount they will receive every year in future by way of the tax reform bill passed last month by Republicans in Congress and signed into law by President Trump. Also, miniatures or models of their many homes could be set up on traditional floats like those in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.  Then, too, their fleets of super expensive domestic and foreign cars could be lined up behind floats driven by their private chauffeurs.

President Trump could still receive accolades by way of high praise and recognition for his wealth accumulations. Should he wish to do so he could wear a generalissimo uniform and stand or sit at the head of the parade displaying floats with replicas of his New York City tower, his hotels, his private homes and his resort golf courses, as well as every achievement of his as a business deal maker.

Oh, sure, of course, there could be a few M1 Abrams military tanks and LGM-30G ICBMs in the mix of floats.  After all, we formerly were proud as a peaceful people intended to resemble ancient Athens, not entirely given over to a Sparta-look-alike!  The result of the rich showing their wares? Perhaps the American people would awaken from their long slumber to vote persons into federal public offices who will keep their jobs because they design and pass legislation into laws that begin to help to address and reverse the democracy-disabling disparities in U.S. pay and salaries, living standards, opportunity, and chance to embrace the American dream.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

Their words still resonate

Millions of Americans will have a holiday on Monday, Feb. 19, known as President’s Day—to honor both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. They and millions of their fellow American residents will use that day to sleep in, enjoy a hobby or go shopping.

As with any holiday that honors a person, we hope that at least a bit of time is spent to think about Lincoln and Washington, specially, what they said. Lincoln was our most quotable president; what he said resonates to this day.

Some of his nuggets:

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Our first president, George Washington, had his own set of quotes that live on through the ages and are as relevant today as in the 18th century:

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals.”

The world is a different place than it was 200 years ago. People are the same, as they have been through millenia.

The lessons of our forebears ring true in the 21st century.


Yet another conversation

Here we go again. A community conversation, co-sponsored by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Community Development Department, will be Wednesday, Feb. 28 to discuss the future of River Road.

We’ve been here before. The last time was the River Road Renaissance Advisory Committee in 2012, led by a high-priced consulting firm out of Portland. What came out of that endeavor was the creation of five districts along River Road. From that came a short-lived project of beautification, adding meandering sidewalks, bioswales and native plants. Unfortunately, the Renaissance Project was stopped short when the Urban Renewal District funds were used to pay off construction overruns of Keizer Civic Center and making up for shortfalls at Keizer Station.

The 43-page report from the initial River Road Renaissance discussions haven’t been sitting on a shelf for six years. The report gets perused from time to time. It is one of two reports about Keizer that gather more dust than attention. The other is the Keizer Compass report, a community project that set out to design what the city should look like in the 2020s.

Yet, here we are, getting ready for another discussion about River Road. If you are talking about something you can say you’re doing something. Not in our book. Talk is cheap, we’ve talked and talked before. Let’s implement.

We urge the facilitators of the upcoming Community Conversation to keep the discussion on track and not let it turn into a bitch session about what the city is doing wrong. If there must be another conversation about River Road let it be one that answers the primary question: what kind of city/River Road corridor do the residents of Keizer want? It is a basic question, one that needs to be answered before a shovel of dirt is turned or a zone is changed. If the majority of people do not want to expend public money to turn Keizer in general and River Road specifically into a dense, commercial center, then the conversation ends and we should move on.

It is important to remember that iterations of reports about the future of Keizer were the work of a very small number of residents. To make credible policy one should rely on more than the opinions of less than 1 percent of the citizenry.

When having a conversation about River Road specifically, though, it is important to have all those affected. That includes not only the people who own a business along the city’s main thoroughfare but the people who own the properties. A lessor has only so much leeway to make major structural or landscape changes. If we’re going to talk, let’s be sure all the players are at the table.

The community conversation about River Road may very well hinge on a few narrow topics such as sign and landscape codes. We can have that conversation but the city and its people will be best served if a consensus is reached to give the Chamber of Commerce and the city a direction.

After this discussion we want to see action, as do most of the people interested.


Lady Celts fall at South Salem

Of the Keizertimes

SALEM—Down by three points with 30 seconds to go, McNary had a shot at South Salem, just no one would take it.

After passing the ball around the 3-point line for nearly 25 seconds, Saxons freshman point guard Hilary James stole it, knocked down one of two free throws and the Lady Celts fell on the road 39-35 on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“We’ve had very few end of the game situations,” McNary head coach Elizabeth Doran said. “We wanted to get to the basket if we could and draw contact, score quick.You’ve got to want it at the end of the game. You can’t be passive. We made five or six passes and we had open shots and nobody wanted it right at the end.”

The Lady Celts trailed 34-28 with 4:12 remaining in the game when Kailey Doutt made a free throw and Abbie Hawley knocked down a 3-pointer to get McNary within 34-32. Doutt then hit a jump shot to tie the game at 34-34 with 1:43 to go.

After South Salem made two free throws, Doutt went 1-for-2 from the line. The Lady Saxons then missed the front end of an one-and-one but McNary couldn’t grab the rebound. South Salem made two more free throws to stretch its lead to three points with 30 seconds remaining.

Getting out-rebounded against South Salem, which had five players taller than anyone on the Lady Celts, was a problem for McNary all night.

“They had 16 rebounds in the second half and we had 19 the whole game,” Doran said. “They do have a size advantage but rebounding is about heart, too. You’ve got to get in there and rebound. You can’t just take one shot and that be the possession.”

The Lady Celts led for most of the first quarter before South Salem began to take control in the second and led 30-23 at halftime.

“We started the ball game pretty well and we had a streak there towards the end but we’ve got to put four quarters together,” Doran said.

McNary didn’t score in the final 4 minutes of the second quarter.

“They got into an extended zone on us and we wanted to get to the high post area,” Doran said. “We were just being a little too passive. We let their extension and their arms out kind of bother us and we weren’t making the passes that we wanted to make.”

Doutt scored 18 points to lead the Lady Celts. Hawley added 12. No one else scored more than three.

The top 16 teams in the OSAA power rankings host a first round playoff game. McNary entered the game 15th but dropped to 17th with the loss. The Lady Celts final two games are at No. 29 West Salem on Friday, Feb. 16 and then at home on Tuesday, Feb. 20 versus No. 12 McMinnville.

“These next two games are huge,” Doran said. “We’ve got to regroup and take care of a couple things defensively and rebounding wise and take care of business these next two games. We’ve got to enjoy, too. The end of the season is wrapping up and we’ve got some seniors that have played four years. We’ve got to have fun and play together these last two league games. We’ve just got to fight together and have fun while we’re doing it, too.”

FOR THE WIN: Students get their game on, learn respect for all

Of the Keizertimes

Parents: Imagine for a moment two teams of soldiers fighting in and around a virtual battlefield. Points are scored for each member of a team that is eliminated. The score is tied 49-49 and your son or daughter pulls off a 360-no-scope kill that wins the game.

How would you react? Would you know what to do or say?

Now, what if the action was taking place on a football field and the same child kicked the winning field goal?

“If your kid makes that kick, you’re screaming in the stands and telling everyone, ‘That’s my baby,’” said Jamie Harris, founder of Satellite Gaming, an after school club offered at Claggett Creek and Whiteaker middle schools and McNary High School. “Our goal here is to basically say to parents that there are students who work really hard at video games. You may or may not approve, but if they are playing the games as much as some other kids play sports then let’s encourage them to use it in a positive way.”

Each week, Harris and other volunteers in the program cart in Xboxes and cables to the schools and set up gaming areas where students can play shoulder-to-shoulder. For some students, it’s a chance to play games they might not otherwise have access to, for others it’s a chance to play alongside other players in a world where most multiplayer gaming is now done online with anonymous friends, but Harris is using it as an opportunity to change the way they approach online life.

“I’m a big advocate for online gaming, but we usually get the purpose of an online alias wrong. We begin to abuse it and it becomes a free ticket to say whatever you want and get away with it, but the real idea is keep our own identity safe while experiencing online interaction,” Harris said.

By putting online opponents in the same room where they can celebrate victories together and see the faces of defeated foes, Harris removes the anonymity of online interaction and, he hopes, paves the way for more positive experiences all around.

Ready Player 1

When Satellite Gaming arrived at Claggett Creek Middle School two years ago, Marcos Zepeda and Jacob Mackley were two of the first brave students to take a chance and attend the meetings held every Monday afternoon.

“When it first started there was maybe 10 people, but we’ve gotten word out and more people have shown up. Now we have a max of 21 people,” Marcos said.

Jacob said the idea of “couch-style” gaming, with combatants playing elbow-to-elbow was much more fun than what he had experienced in other gaming online. Faster internet speeds and changes in the video game industry have nearly rendered extinct the days of passing a   single controller back and forth in a game like Super Mario Bros. Now, playing competitively or in teams requires multiple consoles, screens and usually multiple copies of the same game. During the club meetings, opponents can play in the same room with people on the other side of a table by linking systems with direct connections or over the school’s wifi.

“What we do in Satellite Gaming is much more fun than being alone on the couch,” Jacob said, adding that joining the club was something of a no-brainer. “If you have the choice between gaming and doing something resourceful, of course you are going to choose gaming.”

Natalie Smith and Mikayla Gersztyn were the only two girls in attendance on Monday, Feb. 5, but they didn’t mind being the only ones.

“Most of my friend group is boys, so it’s not like it’s real different,” said Natalie, for whom the club is a chance to try out games other than the ones she has at home.

Mikayla said she and her brother frequently play Call of Duty and Minecraft at home, but she prefers Call of Duty.

“I like the strategies of hiding out and attacking the other players,” she said.

But the club provides other opportunities as well.

“We learn about respect because the winner stays in the competition and handing over the controller can be a big deal,” said Mikayla.

Scheduling club meeting for Monday helps Marcos prepare for the week ahead.

“Nobody wants to get out of bed on Monday, but then you think about Satellite Gaming and you look forward to getting to do it and getting through the day because you will feel joy being here,” Marcos said.

Harris points to Marcos when asked who exemplifies the the lessons of Satellite Gaming best.

“With middle school, humility can be a difficult thing for them. Marcos is always asking how he can help when other kids are asking if they can play first. He’s kind of shy and reserved, but he’s got a heart of gold. And he’s like that all the time, not only when he’s trying to impress me,” Harris said.

Old School Gamer

The first notions of what became Satellite Gaming formed during Harris’ high school years.

“I would go to parties just because I knew there would be people playing video games there. I was really into Halo 2 and I wanted to be a competitive gamer,” he said.

While other students at the parties were drinking or finding other troubles to get into, Harris was on the couch with a Xbox controller in his hand. However, it didn’t stop his parents from asking questions about what he’d been up to if he came home smelling of uniquely identifiable odors. Eventually, they told him just to invite his friend over for a gaming night on New Year’s Eve.

“I told them it would be like 40 people, but they said it was okay. We ended up with 50 people playing almost two full games of Halo 2. Then we started having parties like that on a regular basis,” Harris said.

When he became a youth pastor for Lakepoint Community Church in Keizer, Harris quickly discovered video games were a unifying interest for many of his new charges.

“One of the best ways to reach students is finding out what they do and doing it with them or celebrating what they can do,” Harris said.

In that respect, finding ways to connect wasn’t much of a challenge. The only barriers to entry are what parents will allow their students to play. Depending on the school, options range from games rated “E” for everyone, like Super Smash Bros., up to M-rated games like Call of Duty. Parents need to sign waivers if they are okay with their kids playing the M-rated fare, but Harris tries to make sure all decisions are informed ones.

In addition to club meetings at the three Keizer schools, Satellite Gaming also hosts regular tournaments at CCMS and invites youth from throughout the area to attend. While the kids play in the tournament, parents are invited to take part in informational sessions.

“We educate them on the ESRB ratings and how to make positive decisions on which games and how long their kids should be allowed to play,” Harris said.

A lot of the defenses parents put up to the idea of video games end up being straw men.

“They worry about a kid not being active enough when playing video games, but they are okay with them being a bookworm. The amount of physical activity is about the same,” Harris said. “We just want the parents to make sound decisions about the types of games their kids are playing.”

For the kids, the focus is on appropriate behavior even when operating behind an online alias. They can earn experience points and level up during the tournament simply by being good sports and courteous to everyone else.

The last tournament drew a field of more than 400 players. The next one is slated for Friday, Feb. 23, at Claggett. Details and pre-registration can be found at

The lessons Harris tries to impart have a habit of showing up in unexpected moments. When he was walking through Claggett during a lunch period Monday, a pair of kids started chuckling as he passed. Harris stopped and asked what prompted the giggle-fit.  It turned out one of the two had gotten suspended from Harris’s Twitch channel for inappropriate comments. Twitch is a video game streaming site where gamers can play video games and offer comment on their play at the same time.

“I told him he was either making fun of my wife or being really raunchy,” Harris said.

The teen responded that it was the latter.

“I asked why he did it and he told me he felt like you could get away with whatever you want online,” Harris said.

That’s precisely the kind of behavior Harris hopes to redirect through the club.

“If you are in a basketball game and trying to get to the hoop, you might throw a little elbow to try to get someone to back off. That might go unnoticed, but online, the elbows are words and there are real people on the other side of the keyboard,” Harris said.


If there is one story Harris will likely never get tired of telling it’s about a mother who attended one of the tournaments with her son.

She waited outside the Claggett cafeteria while her son progressed to the quarterfinals and then Harris asked if she would like to prop the door open so she could hear what was happening. She told Harris she was busy with work, but ended up sitting in the doorway halfway in and halfway out of the tournament floor.

Once players reach the final rounds, they get to play on the Claggett stage with a big screen in front of them. As her son continued vanquishing foes, the mother was drawn into the game more and more. Increasingly, she was putting her work aside to spectate.

By the time her son made it to the semifinals, she was stopping completely to clap and cheer as her comprehension of the game grew.

In the final round, her son made the game-winning kill for his team and she was filming the moment on her phone.

“I turned around and she was crying,” Harris said. “She said she felt detached from her son for so long and it was the first time in a long time that she understood him. That’s what this is all about for parents: celebrating the effort the same way you would kicking a pigskin ball through two yellow lines.”

For more information, to volunteer or become a sponsor of Satellite Gaming, visit the organization’s website. Spectators are also welcomed and encouraged at the tournament on Feb. 23. The games begin at 5 p.m.