SMALL COLLEGE S.I.D.
MAY 1998 issue of ‘College Football Historical Society’ newsletter
By Tim Marsh
My first recollection of Pacific Northwest small college athletics is from the late 1950s, when I went with my parents to a College of Puget Sound (now University of Puget Sound/UPS) at Pacific Lutheran College (now Pacific Lutheran University/PLU) men’s basketball game in Tacoma, Washington. Little did I know at that time, as a grade school student, that my college days and career would connect me to small college athletics in a more substantial way.
After graduating from high school in 1966 in suburban Tacoma, I attended Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, an athletic arch-rival of PLU in the old Northwest Conference. A journalism major at Linfield, I participated in Wildcat cross-country and track, but my main connection with Linfield Wildcat athletics came in a different way.
When I began at Linfield, Paul Durham was the football coach and athletic director. Other Linfield coaches included Ted Wilson in men’s basketball; Hal Smith in cross-country, track, and wrestling; and Roy Helser in baseball. All had been outstanding college athletes; Durham and Helser at Linfield, Wilson at Eastern Oregon, and Smith at Washington State. During my time at the college, before he left to become athletic director at the University of Hawaii, Durham was still writing a sports colt in the McMinnville News-Register newspaper. This was a remnant of earlier years when he had been the sports editor of the paper, as well as Linfield Athletic Director and coach. Durham had “ink in his veins” from his family’s printing business.
My first contact with Durham came while covering sports for the Linfield student newspaper. Later, with Helser as the A-D., I served an academic year as the college’s sports information director; which was a great experience. On a shoestring budget, Linfield had an excellent athletic program; and being the SID put me in the middle of it, working not only with individuals who were great coaches, but great people. During my years as a Linfield student, 1966-1970, the college had excellent football, basketball and baseball teams In fact, an upset football win by Linfield over the University of Hawaii in Honolulu probably helped Durham in landing the Hawaii AD job.
Linfield Wildcat football home games were played under the lights on Maxwell Field during my years at the school. I recall opponent schools not liking to play at Linfield because the lights did a poor job of illuminating the field. However, I also remember Linfield games at night being extolled; because it allowed fans to attend an Oregon State game in Corvallis or a University of Oregon game in Eugene in the afternoon, and then still get back to McMinnville in time for a Linfield game at night. In my senior year the Homecoming game, unfortunately a loss to Pacific Lutheran, was played in the afternoon. Starting the next season, Linfield switched all its home football games to the afternoon. The poor lighting aside, I think the wooden poles upon which the lights were attached were deteriorating, and there was not enough money available to replace them
The football games I saw on campus at Linfield are now a blur in my memory. So many of them seemed to be blow-out wins or last-second victories. On the road, I particularly remember Linfield playing Pacific University (then the Badgers, now the Boxers) in Forest Grove, Oregon. A Linfield star player was injured in the first half. In the stands was a player of a similar size in street clothes. The coach had him come out of the stands and suit up at halftime, wearing at least the jersey of the star player, if not the entire uniform. In my SID role, I recall climbing up to the pressbox to inform the media of the halftime uniform number reassignment.
During my Linfield days, I wrote about the transition of the football head coaching job, from Durham (1948-1967) to Ad Rutschman, a Linfield graduate who had been a star running back for Durham With Rutschman (1968-1991) the program never missed a beat in its success. In his first game as Linfield head coach at the start of the 1968 season, Rutschman’s Wildcats beat the Boise State Broncos in Boise’s first football game as a four-year college, by a score of 17-7. Rutschman’s teams won three NAIA Division II national championships. I am fortunate today to count Durham and Rutschman, as well as Rutschman’s wife, Joan (who served many years as Linfield athletic administrative assistant and ticket manager), among my close friends.
After graduating from Linfield, I worked on the old Oregon Statesman daily newspaper in Salem before becoming sports editor of the Observer daily newspaper in La Grande, Oregon, home of Eastern Oregon College (now Eastern Oregon University), then a member of the old Oregon Collegiate Conference. While there, I continued on with my connection to Pacific Northwest small college athletics through covering games of the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers. But it was tough getting very close to Mountie athletics, as my sports beat also included seven high schools in the newspaper’s circulation area. When I arrived in La Grande from Salem, I was somewhat familiar with the town and college. In my senior year, Linfield had played Eastern Oregon in a NAIA District men’s basketball playoff game, which pitted Linfield’s Ted Wilson against his old Eastern Oregon coach, Bob Quinn. Linfield won the game in front of many Wildcat fans who made the 300 mile trip.
Leaving La Grande, I became news service and sports information director at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. I especially enjoyed working there with Roy Thompson, the football coach, and John Wilcox, the men’s basketball coach and assistant football coach: while also becoming friends with some of the Whitman student-athletes: including Thompson’s son Mark, who would go on to his own successful football coaching career. Roy Thompson’s college playing career had included the University of Washington as a freshman and, after World War II, Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, and the University of Portland (Ore.) where he played on Portland’s last football team before the sport was discontinued. Wilcox had played football for Boise Junior College and the University of Oregon, along with one year for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL.
The Whitman sports team are called the Missionaries. It is a natural name since the college (not to be confused with Whitworth College in Spokane or Whittier College in California) was named after missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. This was a nickname which implied to me, at least, passivity; and it gave the impression that Whitman, a nonsectarian school, was church-related. I did some checking and learned that the “Missionaries” name, although used for many years, apparently had never been officially adopted by the Whitman student body. This was enough of an opening for me to start promoting a “Shockers” nickname for the teams. Walla Walla is wheat growing country, and the Shockers (short for Wheat Shocker) seemed appropriate. I started using the Shockers name in my SID work, which dismayed some at the college and amused others. But as soon as I left the college for a new job in Oregon, use of the Shocker name was discontinued at Whitman College.
During my SID days at Whitman I was always uneasy when Whitman would play Linfield, my alma mater. With any other opponent I could feel completely comfortable with a Whitman victory. But a Whitman win over Linfield would be greeted with mixed emotions. Most of the time there was nothing to worry about, as Linfield usually did well in sports and Whitman did not. When Whitman traveled to McMinnville to end the 1973 football season, I certainly expected that Linfield, coached by Rutschman, would beat Whitman, coached by Thompson. This was a game in which I had two close friends, influential people in my life, coaching on opposite sidelines.
Whitman came into the contest with a 2-5-1 record. Linfield was 7-1-0, and the expected win over Whitman would give the Wildcats at least a share of the Northwest Conference title, and assure them a spot in the NAIA national football playoffs. But the unexpected happened, as Whitman won the game by a score of 18-9, and I was in a state of shock when it was over. I would not believe that Whitman had won, much less had pulled off the upset on the road at McMinnville. In a way, I was heartbroken, as Linfield had been battling to get back into the NAIA football playoffs for many years. The Wildcats finally returned to the playoffs in 1974 under Rutschman, having last been in the NAIA playoffs in 1965 with Durham as the coach. However, knowing the struggles Thompson and the Whitman team had been through that season, I was still pleased. Despite my allegiance, then and now, to alma mater Linfield; my heart had to be with my employer. At Whitman we called the game the “Shocker Bowl”; the game that had helped to earn the name Shockers for the Whitman sports teams.
Since leaving Whitman in 1975, my connection to Pacific Northwest small college athletics has been through the teams of Linfield. I was able to assist the college when it played in four NAIA national football playoffs in McMinnville. Looking back on my Pacific Northwest small college experiences, the games and the wins and losses are enjoyable to remember and talk about; but more important are the friendships which resulted from my time as a sports information director for Linfield and Whitman Colleges.