The Bulldog, part one


February 5, 2012 by David Gillaspie

Nominations are open.

The measure of a man comes from how much they give. The big man who gives little shows up small in his reflection to others. He can see all there is to see in a lady’s purse mirror.

You find a lot of those people around.

On the other side, a man who gives what he’s got to give needs a glass tower a hundred floors high to see just a part of what is reflected back from those who know him.

Not so many of those walking down the street.

What happens when you meet one of those guys in middle school? They leave a mark. You may not notice it then, but it shows up like a fresh tattoo without the buzz of the an ink needle. You wonder where it came from, then remember.

North Bend Junior High School felt like a big deal in seventh grade. How big? The high school varsity basketball team played their home games in the junior high gym on the same floor Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Peasly taught PE classes. Skinny little twelve year olds used the same floor as the giants of the hardwood.

One night the likes of Mike Rose, Ken Lumsden, Jim Prentice, and Frank Bastendorf ran the floor. The next day junior high classes pretended they were as good.

The years don’t change the images of youth. Even though they fade for some, and grow into bigger-than-life for others, there is middle ground. That’s where students who showed up in 1968 stood. From Bangor, Hillcrest, and Roosevelt, from Sunnyside to Lakeside, students flocked to their new school.

Class schedules changed from one teacher in one classroom all day handling every subject, to a new teacher and classroom for every subject. Like fish in the ocean, hallways filled after each bell with currents leading from Mr. Ten Eyck’s math to Mr. Popoff’s history to Mr. Wetherell’s english.

English classes were the most interesting. Maybe it was the teacher, maybe it was recognizing that books in every other class were written in english, which made everyone a writer. Or maybe it was the chance to join them, however briefly.

What made it interesting to junior high kids? When a teacher asks you to write something that had a profound effect on you, you start digging. Most kids in the age bracket dig with little shovels. What have they done, or seen in North Bend, that had a profound effect?

Maybe it’s the same for kids in all small towns, but in 1968, North Bend seemed unique. Baseball games played out on a field called ‘The Rock Pile’ where every hit came with a bad hop. That’s what you get with gravel and dirt for a diamond, along with a coach telling you to stay down on a grounder after the last one bounced off your face.

Football games affected by ocean tides? That was the reason for ankle-high mud? Or was it a way to keep visiting speed teams under control?

From junior high it all made sense. But was it profound? More so than a story about a kid locked out of his house when he needed to use the bathroom? That’s a theme of panic and desperation. It’s worse than taking a one-hopper off the cup, or losing a shoe sucked into the mud while chasing down a sweep.

Luckily, Mr. Wetherell taught english with a larger sense of the world. Think bigger, beyond the moment, and you’ll get it right. Focus on the important parts of a story, not just one. Build a story with pace and don’t mistake immediate needs for universal truths.

When you get a paper back that asks you to do better work, you remember. You might wonder why a teacher thinks they know the difference between good work and bad. You forget for a moment you’re in junior high and they’re not.

Over the years, Mr. Wetherell proved he knows the difference. He may have the Dorian Gray gene for youthfulness without the evil, as decades of students know. He may have the gift of recognizing needs in others and working toward solving those problems. More than any characteristic, Mr. Wetherell has been what those who follow him understand, a true Bulldog.

With that in mind, I look forward to his posts ever time I turn on my computer.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor. This Bulldog’s for you.

(Now put the idea of abandoning your keyboard away.)

From his Hall of Fame induction:

Richard Lee (Rick) Wetherell was born in Pendleton, Oregon to Del and Kate Wetherell. He was raised in Echo, Arlington, and Hermiston, Oregon with two brothers and one sister. Rick graduated from Hermiston High School and earned his BS degree in Secondary Education from Eastern Oregon College. He completed his graduate work at Oregon State and Portland State Universities.  Rick began his 40 year teaching and coaching career for the North Bend School District in 1965. He taught English, Speech, and Forensics. He also coached three sports for over 30 years. While at NBHS he served as the advisor to the Shakespeare Club and 15 Junior Proms. His coaching career at both the sub-varsity and varsity levels includes football, basketball, and baseball. He drove the school vans well over 300,000 miles transporting students during this time. He coined the “TGWB” logo (Thank God We’re Bulldogs), which has appeared on the uniforms, scoreboards, school yearbooks, and in classrooms.  Rick was named Oregon Teacher of the Year in 1985. In 2005 he was awarded the Assistant Coach of the Year in Oregon by the Oregon Coaches Association.  Rick was elected to the North Bend City Council in 1997 and has served as the Mayor of North Bend since 2002.  Rick is currently a Superintendent, Principal, and a Teacher at Kingsview Christian School. He has been married to his wife Judy for 43 years and has two children and four grandchildren. He has truly made a positive difference in the lives of students, colleagues, and fellow citizens during his teaching/coaching career and he continues to serve his community. And Lou Gehrig thought he was … “the luckiest man on earth.”


3 thoughts on “The Bulldog, part one

  1. Rick Wetherell says:

    Oh, that I could take even a small part of the credit for what and how you write/think/live.

    I, too was in awe of that little junior high and later high school. We were on the same hardwood, sweating the same sweat, existing among what we thought were “giants among us” and perhaps occasionally thinking we were “small giants”ourselves.

    As Mother Gillaspie recalls, “Wetherell coached out of book.”

    Maybe he did (I cannot remember) but he also coached/taught with a fire and love from inside. The body and brain may wane, but the love and fire does not. (I like that phrase “brain may wain”). I had not thought of the “rock pile” for some time, but I do remember often saying:”…a little skin for the school….”

    In a sense we grew up together, all ten thousand or so, I am still growing up in search for the ever-elusive self. In a way I do not want to find me for I fear disappointment. And as I sit here with moisture-filled eyes overlooking my beloved Bay of Coos, I truly know “I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

    I have been able to travel life’s pass with the likes of Calhoun and Younker. Thank you, Mr. Gillaspie, I never thought I would be taught by a wrestler, but today I have been.

    Thank You,

    tgwb, weth (I will never count FB “likes” again.)

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