2003 McNary Celtics Define March Madness

March madness is my favorite time of the year. Many high school athletes put in a tremendous amount of hard work to arrive at this exciting moment. Sacrifices, sweat, cheers and tears. The fans go crazy when their team advances each game. The joy of continuing the playoff ride to a possible state birth is an experience never to be forgotten.

In March of 2003 there were six seniors that had played together since the grade school days. Josh Erickson, Ryan Rufener, and Robbie Wood played on their school’s tournament team (A Team). Matt Espinoza (Noza), Jared Wick, and Keith McCallister played on the school’s tournament team (A Team and B Team).

I know for a fact, that Matt, Robbie, and Jared spent countless hours at the Courthouse Athletic Club – it was their second home. Josh spent hours of practicing elsewhere including practices with tournament teams. Ryan was a kid that had natural ability, I never saw him at the athletic club, but I’m sure he was grinding elsewhere.

All of these kids had a drive to get better fundamentally – to learn the basketball skill sets required for them to eventually be part of a varsity high school team. For them it started with good coaching – not only on the basketball court but off the court as well. At the grade-school level defense was stressed – a big part of the game. Team work was always brought up and spending time together off the court was a huge a benefit. They would get together for barbeques or a day at the river.

By their freshman year they were all playing on the same team at McNary High School in Keizer, Oregon – which sits right next to Salem, Oregon. Josh, Ryan, and Robbie were all very advanced on their skills, but Matt, Keith, and Jared were still learning and improving everyday.

They were all decent shooters, but the most consistent were Matt, Josh, Ryan, and Robbie. It was all due to practice. If a player has the desire to get better, he will learn the fundamental way to shoot the basketball and he will put the necessary time in. I can’t count the number of times that my son, Matt, practiced in the backyard until it was dark. He requested that I put in a spotlight for him so he could practice shooting into the late hours. I’m pretty sure the others practiced similarly.

In 2003, their senior year, Head Coach Jim Litchfield acquired a group of boys that were well prepared and that believed in themselves – they were ready to compete in the Valley League Conference (which is now the GVC). There were 10 teams in the league back then, McNary; Crescent Valley; McKay; Sprague; South Salem; North Salem; West Albany; South Albany; West Salem, and Corvallis. Some of the teams had players as tall as 6’ 9”. Our tallest players were Matt Espinoza who grew from 5’ 7” as a freshman to 6’ 4” as a senior and Keith McCallister who also grew to be 6’ 4”. Ryan also grew to be 6’ 4” but the McNary guards were all 5’ 10” or shorter.

The Statesman Journal Newspaper predicted McNary to place fourth because of their size. These six seniors along with Malik Parker-Hill (a sophomore) were thinking a little different. West Albany was ranked first, South was ranked second, and Crescent Valley third.

Some of the boys were dealing with something at home. Two examples … Robbie was dealing with a dysfunctional family at home – his teammates kept him going. Matt was dealing with losing his mom to brain cancer. If you read my book, Noza: A True Basketball Success Story, you’ll get the full experience of his story and the McNary Celtic’s adventure. Basketball was a form of counseling for some of these boys – a positive thing.

During the regular season, McNary was starting to prove to everyone that they were among the top teams in the Valley League. They only lost two games during the regular season – one to West Albany and one to South Salem. They tied the longest winning streak in the state – 16 straight wins.

The Celtics became the Valley League Champions and earned a birth to the OSAA State Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, where the Trailblazers used to play (now there's a new coliseum, the Moda Center). These boys loved the game of basketball and the joy was displayed on their faces every game.

2003 - Matt Espinoza at the OSAA 6A State Tournament

2003 - Matt Espinoza at the OSAA 6A State Tournament

As one of the parents, I couldn’t have been more proud of what they had achieved. At the coliseum, there were several seats reserved for all the parents to sit together. One of the parents took charge and organized that part. If anyone ever gets this opportunity, I guarantee it will be a memory that you will never forget.

McNary was facing the Barlow Bruins in the first round of the state tournament. Barlow had 6’ 5” Jeff Bell and 6’ 9” Tyler Otis. Matt Espinoza who was playing post at 6’ 4” had his work cut out. The blocking out and positioning earned him 10 rebounds. Ryan Rufener finished with 18 points. Josh Erickson and Robbie did a great job shooting and handling the ball as well. The Celtics won 56 – 46. The crowd went wild and the adventure continued.

In the second round of the state tournament McNary was facing number-three-ranked Jesuit – a powerhouse team who had the Tarver brothers, Josh, Seth, and Zach. The game was a battle to the end, Jesuit gave the Celtics their first loss in 16 games. Jesuit got by with a 74 – 67 win. The Celtics were still alive for the fourth place trophy but they had to win Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, they dismantled South Medford, 62 – 46 and on Saturday they convincingly beat the Southridge Skyhawks by plucking them, 67 – 44. The Celtics had won the fourth place trophy. All the years of hard work paid off for the McNary Celtics.

They set several records for the school, but the biggest one was 25 wins and 3 losses. I’ll never forget that year – it was an amazing ride all season long. There will be another group of kids this year that will experience the same adventure. I can say that I will be happy for them because it’s such a fun and rewarding experience. And I definitely plan on going to the Chiles Center at the University of Portland to watch some of the games. I'm really disappointed that the state tournament isn't held at the Moda Center. Come on Paul Allen, can't you donate to 6A Boys and Girls Basketball? It's only a few days.

Matt Espinoza went on to play college basketball at Southern Oregon University and minor-league-professional basketball. Josh Erickson went on to play at Willamette University. Robbie Wood went on to play at Chemeketa C.C. Ryan Rufener went on to play college football at OSU and then professional football overseas. Jared Wick went on to play college football at SOU. Keith McCallister went on to play college football back east somewhere. Malik Parker-Hill played college basketball at Umpqua C.C.

This time of the year is so exciting, March Madness! And every year I think about the time both my boys, Matt and Jake, played at the state tournament. Jake in 2001 and Matt in 2003. What a true blessing and accomplishment. I will never regret what I went through as a parent of two athletes -- I would do it all over again in a split second.

McKay Basketball has Four Boys on Senior Night

For parents and athletes, senior night can be a bittersweet ending to a high-school career in any sport. This is the last time some of these kids will see each other -- the last time they will play together on a high school team.  At McKay High School there are four seniors that I would like to recognize, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera.

The last game of the regular season is tonight, Tuesday Feb. 21, 2017. McKay plays South Salem -- a tough team. In order for McKay to win, they will have to play a good game all four quarters. No matter what the outcome might be, McKay has a chance to play in post season. If all of the selections and situations happen with the state rankings, we will be watching McKay in post season. The GVC has already been labeled as one of the toughest conferences. With a win tonight it will be more of a guarantee. Good luck Scots!   

From left, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera. At the bottom is Manager Bailey, thanks for your hard work, Bailey!  

From left, Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels, and Noah Tavera. At the bottom is Manager Bailey, thanks for your hard work, Bailey!  

Let's start with #24, 5' 11" Hayden Hull. I've known Hayden since his sophomore year. Hayden is fearless, he attacks and plays defense like there's no tomorrow. A lot of people don't know that Hayden had surgery two weeks before basketball tryouts this year. He played in the first game of the season and did very well. That's who he is, he doesn't give up and he loves the game. This year he has hit some huge three-point shots to help the Scots win big games. He's had some amazing steals and finished lay-ups. Hayden is one of the nicest kids I've met at McKay. If Hayden wishes to pursue playing basketball at a community college, I really feel he can with some extra summer training -- he works hard and he is a fast kid with a nice shot. Best of luck, Hayden, I enjoyed watching you play and grow as a young man.

What can I say about #5, 5' 4" Josiah Castillo? Wow, this kid has range on his three-point-splash shots. Josiah is a quiet kid, but I've seen how his talking happens on the basketball court. I remember when he was interviewed on CCTV, a local TV station. I think John Piper did most of the talking, Josiah said maybe three words. This kid is a competitor and always gets back up when knocked down by a 6' 7" player. Josiah has a natural gift of hitting the big three-point shot. I remember watching him release the basketball before tryouts when he was a freshman -- nothing but net -- effortlessly. He is one of the reasons McKay was able to beat highly ranked teams like South Salem and West Salem. Josiah is another kid that, I feel, can play community college basketball. Thanks for the exciting games you played Josiah, it was fun watching you hit some of the thirty-footers. I'm wishing you the best in your near future.

The next player I want to recognize is #1, 5' 11" Shaton Daniels. Shaton, nickname "Bam" has been with the McKay Basketball Team for two years. During tryouts of his junior year I didn't know who he was or where he came from. All I knew was that this kid was fast and energetic. I never knew of a kid that was injured and then one minute later he was healed. I remember one time I saw him limping a little. I walked over and asked, "Shaton, you okay?" He replied, "No, I pulled my groin." Then a minute later the coach had everyone run lines. Shaton zoomed pretty fast and was one of the top five finishers. In one of my previous blog posts, I wrote Shaton's story. If you haven't read it yet, please do so. Shaton has overcome so much -- his family moved from New Jersey. Shaton is one of the hardest workers on the basketball court. A lot of people may not know that he is also a great mathematician. Shaton can play basketball at the next level if he chooses to strive for that dream. He is fast and can finish baskets with lightning speed. Best of luck in whatever you pursue, Bam, you can achieve it.

The fourth senior basketball player is #4, 5' 9" Noah Tavera. When I first saw Noah during his freshman year, I really thought he looked like Fred Savage (actor and brother of Ben Savage from "Boy Meets World"). Anyway, Noah has been such a huge asset to the basketball program. He is one tough scrapper on the basketball court. I was worried that he might not play basketball this season due to his baseball dream. I'm sure I can speak for many -- we were all glad he did play. One of my favorite plays that Noah executed was when he hit two back-to-back And 1's against North Salem. We were struggling as a team to that point. He turned that game around for the Scots. He is a competitor at any sport he plays. Noah went through a rough time last year when he lost his dad to cancer. I know that it will be tough for him and his family on senior night, but I also know that his dad would have been so proud of Noah's senior year and how far he has come, not only as a decent young man, but also as a senior leader on the basketball court. I'm excited to write Noah's story pre-baseball season -- I'll keep you posted. Congrats to Noah, your future is bright, never give up!

I would also like to recognize the coaching staff, Dean Sanderson, Matt Espinoza, and Jack Martino. These coaches sacrifice so many hours of their own time to help these young men become who they are, not only good basketball players, but also decent young men. It's difficult to stick to rules at times, and I appreciate that at McKay, if you don't follow team rules, well, you're not going to be playing. This teaches kids to be accountable for mistakes made during the season. This will help them become remarkable people. In a future job, the employer will have work policies. These young men will follow those policies because of lessons learned during their high school sport's days. Thank you coaches for showing love to these seniors.    

My final thoughts are for the parents of these amazing young men. Thank you to all of you for supporting your sons and the basketball program at McKay, for attending their games; taking them to practice; feeding them; disciplining them; keeping them in school; laughing with them; crying with them; sacrificing your social events for them; buying basketball shoes, and keeping them educated. These kids have managed to make it through high school with passing grades. This success reflects on you, the parents -- you are a big part of it. Give yourselves a pat on the back, you've done well. You showed so much love for your senior kids, they will remember it forever, trust me.

New Release, Parenting The Athlete

A new book release.

Thank you to my editors, Matt Espinoza and Loni Espinoza. Thank you to my graphic designer, Jake Espinoza -- remarkable job on the cover! Thank you to Tyson and Kaleb, my cover models. And thank you to all of the coaches, referees, parents, and schools who touched my life in one way or another. Writing this book was possible because of my knowledge and lessons learned while parenting my two boys in the world of sports.


Are you a parent or guardian that has a child in grade school, middle school, or high school that plays sports? If your answer is yes, then this book is a must read.

The number one reason kids go out for sports is to have fun! In today's competition world things have really changed. The focus seems to be on winning at all costs. Parents are pressuring their kids. Athletes are transferring out of their schools as coaches try to build powerhouses. This book will help you, as a parent, avoid the dark side that could leave your child depressed and unhappy. The author has pinpointed crucial issues and resolutions. Read about helpful tips, for you as a parent, to guide your child in a fun adventure in sports. Learn about what it takes to be a good sport as a parent or as an athlete. The author writes about true experiences that will be of value as you discover a successful and productive ride with your children in the world of sports.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask, Just send me an email at espi42@comcast.net   ...  or you can leave a comment as well, thank you!

McKay High School Basketball is a New Home for Shaton Daniels

When anyone watches Shaton Daniels dribble the basketball at lightning speed, they must wonder how he doesn't lose control of the rock. I'm guessing he probably runs the forty-yard dash in about 4.5 or 4.6 seconds, with the basketball maybe 4.7 seconds. At 5' 11" wearing number one, Shaton has played such a huge role as the point guard for the McKay Royal Scots in Salem, Oregon. He is one of the reasons the team's overall record is ten wins and three losses. In GVC (Greater Valley Conference), it's four wins and one loss thus far.

Shaton Daniels Jr. was raised in the south side of Elizabeth, New Jersey. His dad is Shaton Sr. and his mom is Tanequa. He has a younger sister, Shanai, and an older sister, Jazymne. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and knew which areas to stay away from. He developed a friendship with many kids in the area. Shaton was also very close to his cousins.

Shaton goes by the nickname, "Bam". When his mom ran track in high school, that was her nickname. Tanequa's coaches and friends called her Bam, she must have been quite the athlete in her days. Tanequa gave birth to Shaton while still in high school. She decided to pass on the nickname to her son.

When he was a six year-old, a friend's brother invited him to come play basketball in the park with everyone else. This friend saw the athleticism and he started encouraging Shaton. This was an inspiration to start playing the game of basketball.

"I always liked football and never played basketball. But this guy kept telling me that I could really be a good player if I worked at it more, so I started playing more with my friends, " Shaton said.    

Shaton attended Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Christopher Columbus Middle School in New Jersey. It was during middle school that he started playing organized basketball for the school. He also played on an AAU team called the Pirates Elites. Not having the funds for travel expenses, his family would go door-to-door asking for donations. They raised enough money for him to be part of the team. It's expensive to play on an AAU team, uniforms; hotels; meals; shoes, and fees. Their door-to-door option worked. The Daniels family went on to help one of Shaton's friends raise money. His friend did not have the money to play on the team and really wanted to.

"I like helping people, and I was glad that my friend was able to play on the team with me, he really wanted to so bad, " Shaton said.  

When he was promoted to high school his parents wanted to focus on a high school that would prepare him for college classes. They enrolled him at Alexander Hamilton High School -- a prep school. This school had many students that lived in upper-class neighborhoods, which was the contrast from where Shaton lived.

"That was definitely tough for me. The kids were different, we had to wear uniforms to school and all, I really didn't like that part, I found a way to adjust. I liked the school because of the courses that would prepare me for college," Shaton said.

In New Jersey, the competition is a little tougher as far as making the high school basketball team. Thousands of kids try out from all five schools in the area. Shaton tried out as a freshman, but the result was not good, he was cut from the team. He was very disappointed because he really loved basketball and wanted to play on a team.

Shaton is a laid-back and quiet type of kid. He is always observing and thinking. He likes to joke around in a quiet way, but definitely not in a bubbly way. He is a driven person that wants to succeed in anything he does.

In the year 2014 things got a little dark for Shaton -- he struggled emotionally with what was happening, not just getting cut from the team, but another thing that was even more serious. He was very close to his cousin, Quadriqe Pretlow, they would hang out together many times. During school Quadriqe was bullied by many people, he was called names that I won't write on here. This left Shaton sad and discouraged.

"People picked on Quadriqe in school every day calling him names. He eventually committed suicide by hanging himself," Shaton said.

The neighborhood that Shaton lived in started going downhill and the violence was getting worse. It wasn't safe to live there anymore and his parents started thinking of how they could move out of the area. With friends and family there it was not an easy choice to make. They had been a part of that community for many years.

Shaton always talked to his mom and dad about Oregon and how he loved the University of Oregon's colors and uniforms. He would hint to his parents that some day he would love to attend college in Oregon somewhere. One day his mom asked him, "How would you like to go to school in Salem, Oregon?"

"I was like, really? I couldn't believe it! That was like a dream come true for me," Shaton said.

The Daniels moved their entire family to N.E. Salem, Oregon, where they have embraced the community. His dad landed a job in construction and his mom enrolled in the nursing program at Chemeketa Community College.

A big change like that is not easy, especially for a quiet kid like Shaton. Coming into McKay High School was a challenge, he had to open up and ask people questions. He was not familiar with the surroundings, the people, or the staff. It was somewhat of a culture shock to him.

That all changed when, as a junior, he tried out for the varsity basketball team. His speed and ball handling was noticed right away. Shaton made the team and his spirits were lifted so high that it put a huge smile on his face. Shaton and his family are adapting to the community and finding some light to their huge change, not only in a geographical area, but also in the diverse people they are around. Now in his senior year, Shaton has exploded to becoming a major contributor of his basketball team.

#1 Shaton Daniels flies past a McNary defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

#1 Shaton Daniels flies past a McNary defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

Shaton is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen, he picks up skill sets rapidly. I've had the pleasure of being around him and watching him play, not only at practices, but at games as well.

Assistant Coach Matt Espinoza says, "Shaton has made a huge improvement as a basketball player from last season to this season. It's all thanks to the commitment he made to showing up to off-season workouts. I'm excited to see how his senior year develops in the coming months."

One of Shaton's most memorable moments in basketball happened this season during the McKay-North Salem game where he dropped 24 points in one night helping his team cruise to a GVC win.

"I had never scored 24 points in a game. That was definitely a great moment, but playing for McKay with these guys is a greater moment. We trust each other -- it's a great bond. I've never had a team like this. Coming from New Jersey I didn't know anyone, and now with basketball, I was able to make friends and I was able to feel welcomed and accepted," Shaton said.

Shaton (far right) and the 2016-2017 McKay Varsity Basketball Team. 

Shaton (far right) and the 2016-2017 McKay Varsity Basketball Team. 

Shaton is still learning on the basketball court, his progress has been a vital part to the team and it's success this season. At every practice and every game Shaton puts in a one-hundred percent effort and nothing less.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson says, "Shaton has really grown up from last year. We are able to count on him to give great effort and we know he will be out on the floor at the end of close games. I believe he is one of the most improved players in the league. I'm excited to see what is next for him as he concludes his high school basketball career in the next few months."

While Shaton is very active in sports playing wide receiver in football and point guard in basketball, he is also focused on not getting distracted from his studies. He enjoys studying at home where it's quiet and he can concentrate. Getting good grades is something he takes seriously.

Join me in wishing Shaton Daniels the best in his senior year and in his future. And if you can, come to a McKay High School basketball game -- you won't be disappointed.

Shaton, what is your favorite subject in school?

Math and History

What is your short-term goal?

I want to help our basketball team make the playoffs. And I'd like to graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA.

What is your long-term goal?

I'd like to get a job that has to do with numbers since I like math, maybe an engineer someday. I'd also like to play college sports.

What are your hobbies?

I like playing videos games, listening to music -- hip-hop. I also like hanging out with my teammates.

What advice can you give a young athlete?

Keep working hard and don't give up. Stay motivated, if you think you can do it, you will.

What is something no one knows about you?

I always wanted to play baseball. The problem was that I asked my parents if I could play all the sports. They couldn't afford all of the sports, so they gave me two choices. I picked football and basketball.

A Thrilling Finish for McKay Boys at the Abby's Holiday Classic

Early this month I wrote about McKay High School and their obstacles. The type of kids that attend the school and the resilience that many acclaim is inspiring. I had the honor of traveling to Medford, Oregon, with my wife to watch the Abby's Holiday Classic -- an annual tournament that's held every year for eight teams. Thank God the weather was cooperating and we didn't run into any snow or ice during this four-hour drive.

A few parents made the long drive and were not disappointed with the outcome. Thank you to those parents -- you know who you are. I'm pretty sure we all had an exciting time watching these remarkable and athletic kids play the game of basketball.

On Tuesday December 27, 2016, the McKay Royal Scots loaded up the small Salem/Keizer van and headed to Medford, Oregon. Thanks to Coach Noza for driving the boys there and back safely. I'm not making excuses but when our team has a 4 -1 record with a recent defeat of a highly-ranked West Salem team in a GVC Conference game, well, maybe the boys were just a little over confident. With a long Christmas break due to bad weather and only having one practice before tip off against a hostile home-team crowd, we were hoping for the best.

Yes, McKay's first game was against the host team of that tournament. The entire gym rooting for North Medford, and maybe seven parents rooting for McKay. Playing a game after a long drive can be a strong challenge, especially against a powerful Medford team. Despite all of that the boys played hard and did bounce back a little from a poor first quarter, just not enough. I don't want to take anything away from North Medford because they did outshoot us and they were more prepared to play than we were. So McKay loses the first game by nineteen points. This definitely woke them up.

The following day, Ashland, Oregon was waiting for us -- another local team. This time the boys had some rest from the long trip and were able to collect themselves. Coaches Dean Sanderson and Matt Espinoza were strategizing to stay in this tournament for a trophy. During the warm-up drills, David Kovalenko stepped on Drioji Joel's foot and sprained his ankle severely -- luckily the X-rays showed no break -- thank God. The Royal Scots were now without a good shooter and shot blocker. The game was close and leads were exchanged throughout, but in the second half, McKay took over. The press, the three-point shots, the fast break opportunities that McKay capitalized on because of their speed and quickness, was too much for the Ashland Grizzlies. One of the highlights of the game was a monster dunk, by our tallest player, #22 Jordan Sampson. The McKay Royal Scots defeated Ashland, 99 - 87, and advanced to the next day's fourth-place trophy game against a talented Reynolds High School team.

That evening Abby's provided free pizzas for our entire team, Thank you Abby's Pizza for sponsoring this tournament and providing pizza for our team. Abby's Pizza does this every year for the eight teams that play in the tournament. This year it was McKay; North Medford; South Medford; Oregon City; Ashland; Reynolds; Roseburg; and Forest Grove. 

Thursday at 1:45pm, #31 Ryan Bangs, jumps the ball against a Reynolds player to get the game started. This was one of the most exciting games I've watched in a while. Yes, of course, the Oregon - UCLA game the night before was electrifying too! McKay and Reynolds are two fast-break-running teams that were so fun to watch. Reynolds was shooting the ball at a very high percentage and McKay was struggling just keeping up. Trailing in the first half the Scots never gave up, and their full-court press created roughly 5 consecutive steals, if not more, to take the lead. But Reynolds hung in there when McKay hit a cold streak of shooting in the early fourth quarter -- nothing was going in. Reynolds' excellent shooting climbed them back to tie the game, 99 - 99 ... with only three seconds left in the fourth quarter -- wow! It was McKay's ball and #14 Andre Tavor had the green light with a look at the fifteen-foot jumper. The ball bounced out of the rim! Hayden Hull jumps up very high, I mean this kid can get up there, and he matches the Reynolds' player. Unfortunately, the referee called a foul on Hayden with .03 seconds left. We all just took a swallow.

Reynolds had not missed a free shot in the last eight visits to the stripe. McKay had ten team fouls, the opponent would get two free throws. Head Coach Dean Sanderson calls time out right before the free throws to make this kid think about it more. The entire gym was quiet, then a few people started yelling, "Miss it ... miss it!" The first shot rattled in and out of the rim. I knew it was going to be tough for this kid to make the next one -- the pressure. The second shot went up and bounced out of the rim again, while both teams scrambled for the rebound the time expired and the game went into overtime!

The McKay boys went on a shooting exhibition during the overtime, everything was clicking like an automatic transmission. Castillo was hitting threes -- nothing but twine, Khyler was hitting free shots and threes, Andre was hitting free throws, Israel was driving and finishing lay ups. Shaton Daniels was running the floor at lightning-speed like there was no tomorrow. Everyone was contributing. The final score was McKay 115, Reynolds 102. McKay had six players in double figures, Shaton Daniels, Josiah Castillo, Andre Tovar, Khyler Beach, Isreal Garza, and Hayden Hull. Everyone on the rotation scored and contributed. This is one reason why I feel McKay has a legit shot to play in post season this year. They play with a lot of heart, they play as a team, and they don't give up. Their winning record is now at 8 wins and 2 losses.

Abby's Pizza, the tournament sponsor, called the McKay/Reynolds game the highlight of the tournament. I have to agree with them. It's not often you see both high-school teams score over one hundred points in one game.

I'm inviting everyone in NE Salem to come out and watch McKay Basketball, you won't be disappointed. This Saturday Dec. 31 at 3:00 p.m. they play Crescent Valley. This team is #8 in the state in Class 5A. Please ask a friend to come watch with you. Let's try to pack the gym. This is fun and exciting, and a great community event. Thank you and hope to see you at all of the games. Go Scots!   

McKay Boys Basketball on the Rise Despite Obstacles

McKay High School is located in the northeast side of Salem, Oregon. The area is very diverse which brings many ethnicities with their cultures into the school enrollment of roughly 2000 students, give or take a few hundred - grades nine through twelve. There are Islanders, Asians, Latinos, and Blacks (pardon my political incorrectness, I mean, African Americans). The Whites are the minority at this school. Pretty much the entire student body is on the free-lunch program.

Sports programs outside of the school are simply not heard of due to many families struggling financially or just simply being in dysfunctional situations. I've supported the basketball program there for the last five years in several ways. The McKay area has some pretty amazing people that do the best they can during the off season -- whether it be mentoring or training young athletes that show up. There are a few athletes that put in work in the summer because of the passion they have for the sport. Other schools in the area are blessed with more finances and parents that are more involved. These kids will always have the edge on McKay-bound kids. Other schools in the area develop their young athletes at a younger age in most cases. When they finally enter high school their skill sets are more mastered than a lot of the McKay kids.

McKay's facilities cannot compete with most of the Salem schools, or other schools in the Greater Valley Conference -- McKay's league. The dressing rooms are old and need updating. The hallways are crowded. At every game, visitors that come into the small bathrooms that badly need an uplift, aren't too impressed with the facilities. Half of the time there aren't paper towels available. The weight room is small and the equipment is old. They don't even have a stationary bike in there. Outside of the school, on the walkway, the concrete is falling apart with potholes everywhere. I almost took a spill walking through there one night -- there's not much light through the back door of the gym.

I've given you a small taste of what it's like at McKay High School. Some athletes have left McKay High School for better opportunities with other schools. That's right, we've had some pretty tall kids with talent that have transferred out of McKay to seek winning teams and a chance to make it to the state tournament. I've also seen many kids walking the hallways that are athletically built, but for some reason they don't go out for sports.

My son, Coach Noza, started coaching at McKay six years ago. He is the assistant varsity coach. Dean Sanderson is the head coach. I support my son in his coaching adventures and I usually adopt the team and support them in anyway I can. This year there are sixteen amazing kids on the varsity basketball team -- including a few kids that swing from JV. I have gotten to know each one of those kids by hanging out at the practices, attending the games, and driving to watch the away tournaments -- summer league or regular season. I observe many situations, and the past few years I have witnessed how all of these kids have worked so hard. The sacrifices and sweat, the beating they have taken from schools like South Medford, South Salem, West Salem, Sprague, McMinnville, and many more, has been tough. It has also been tough on the coaching staff.

2016-2017 McKay Boys Varsity Team and Coaches.

2016-2017 McKay Boys Varsity Team and Coaches.

This year the team is loaded with juniors that have gained solid experience in their sophomore years, Drioji Joel; David Kovalinko; Andre Tovar; Khyler Beach; Damian Rios; Israel Garza; Ryan Bangs, and Levi Beaty. There are four seniors this year that are solid and have mastered several skill sets throughout the years, Shaton Daniels; Noah Tavera; Josiah Castillo; and Hayden Hull. The tallest player on the McKay roster is Jordan Sampson, a junior who is working hard earning his way into the line up. Another junior added to the roster is Pharoah Williams, a hard worker that can hold his own ground.

I have seen Ryan Bangs dunk the ball. I have seen Jordan Sampson dunk the ball. I have seen Israel Garza dunk the ball. I have seen Shaton Daniels almost dunk the ball. I have seen David Kovalinko dunk the ball. I have see Khyler Beach almost dunk the ball. These kids aren't very tall, but they have mad hops. They are all very athletic -- that's what will help them compete in the GVC this year. I really feel that their heart will pull them through a successful season in 2016-2017. 

Seniors: Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels (Bam), Noah Tavera, and manager Bailey.

Seniors: Hayden Hull, Josiah Castillo, Shaton Daniels (Bam), Noah Tavera, and manager Bailey.

This season will be fun to watch, just like it was last season. When you come watch McKay basketball, you won't be disappointed. They are a running team and play a fast-pace game that will leave you entertained by the time the game ends.

I can't say enough about Dean Sanderson and his coaching staff. What they've done with these kids is pretty remarkable. Over the years I have seen my son, Coach Noza, take a group of kids to the state tournament at the Moda Center. I guess the district is making it tough for the coaches to continue this for insurance purposes or something like that. Last year was the first time we didn't take players to watch games at the state tournament in Portland. Some of these kids had never seen the Moda Center. They received that opportunity a couple of years ago, it encouraged them for the following year. I think Ryan Bangs was a freshman the last time we went to the Moda Center. The OSAA 6A State Tournament is now held at the University of Portland.

Head Coach Dean Sanderson has a full-time job outside of coaching that keeps him busy. Despite that I've always seen him around the gym even during the summer. He's always involved in whatever is happening, it doesn't matter what time of the year it is, he'll come by and do whatever he can to help or to give pointers. Coach Noza works with two players at a time during the off season -- he puts in a lot of volunteer hours for these kids to improve and to teach them skill sets and good human-being values -- to be decent people when they leave high school. I really admire these two guys, what an example they are setting for these kids.

This season, Assistant Coach Jack Martino is joining the team. With his experience and successful history, he will help the team even more. We are rooting for all the coaches to set a positive example for their team and to stay healthy on this long grind -- it's definitely tons of work for some of you that don't have an idea of what coaches go through every season.

The McKay Royal Scots will surprise a lot of people this year. With no real height underneath the basket, they will have what most teams don't. They will have great depth, we're talking ten solid players that have become hungry competitors, I mean, look at Shaton Daniels. This kid dribbles the ball at lightening speed and finishes lay-ins, or hits a big three-pointer. Or Josiah Castillo, don't leave him open at NBA range because he'll knock it down. The defensive effort of Hayden Hull, Israel Garza, and Andre Tovar will bother the opponent so much that a turnover will magically appear. It just goes on and on. I definitely feel that this McKay team has a legit shot at making the playoffs this year. That's right, I said, they have a decent chance to play in post season.

We can sit here and talk about facilities, money, and lower income people living in the Northeast Salem area all we want. That fact is that we are witnessing a group of juniors and seniors that refuse to allow anything to get in their way. They are out on a mission and I see that in their eyes and feel it just watching their practices.

They have started the season with a 2 -1 record losing to powerhouse South Medford by 4 points. This close match has given them a large quantity of confidence. I'm so excited to see this team compete, and the most important thing, to see them have fun playing one of the best sports ever invented.

If McKay basketball has future expectations to rise at the level that other schools are at, the community has to get involved. Assistant Varsity Coach Noza (Matt Espinoza) has taken that first step. He is the executive director and founder of Salem Hoops Project. I am the director of operations and Jordan Carter is the treasurer. This program is a non-profit business and is growing every year with attendance.

Salem Hoops Project is a program that provides free basketball skill-set training to any kid in the Salem area and surrounding areas. Geared toward the NE side of Salem, we welcome any kid that wants to learn basketball skills in a fun and non-pressure environment. The volunteers that help us with this program are amazing! They have a passion for basketball and they are good with kids. We normally ask the high school varsity players from the girls' team or the boys' team. Coach Noza also has former college athletes help at Salem Hoops Project. The point is that our volunteers have a passion for the game and know it well. Who better to learn from? Powerade drinks are provided for kids and sometimes we raffle prizes. So far the kids and parents have loved this idea and many youngsters that couldn't even dribble a basketball are now shooting the basketball and scoring a basket.

The basketball clinics are normally for kindergarten and middle school, and certain series are for high school -- depending on the schedule. For more information on Salem Hoops Project go to www.salemhoopsproject.org ... register your child and receive an email for upcoming free clinics.

We truly need more programs like Salem Hoops Project for these kids that cannot afford fifty-dollar an hour lessons, or three-hundred-dollar basketball camps. They deserve a chance to get the proper skill-set training despite the financial lacking.

I'm really touched by some of the parents that have been walking their kids to Salem Hoops Project clinics when the weather is cold outside. They enjoy it that much and they want their kids to learn the skills.

Come out and support McKay basketball, make it a fun evening for the entire family and friends. And I'm rooting for the McKay Boys' Basketball Team to have a fun and productive season.  


Memories of My Christmas Times in Poverty

With the holiday season dashing through the air I'm getting close to turning fifty eight years wiser -- that's right, on December 16, 2016. As I get older I reflect more on some history -- the good old childhood days with my family back in Dimmitt, Texas. We packed up and moved to Oregon back in 1976, wow, seems like yesterday.

The holidays were so much fun for us, my mom was the type of lady that made it fun. She would sing Christmas carols while cleaning the kitchen. The kitchen was a small area with torn vinyl in different spots. All of our appliances were very used when we bought them at garage-sale price. I was one of the kids wearing that floor down with five other kids trampling it every day.

We had quite the bunch, Gilbert, who now likes to be called Gilberto, is the oldest. Guadalupe, who changed his name to Loop is next in line. Maria Louisa, who goes by Louise, is my oldest sister. Then there's me, David, close to a middle child. My younger brother Richard, who I am thankful for, he helped me become the great athlete I used to be. And finally, Diana, the youngest of our family.

I guess the best memories I've collected were the grade-school days, when we were living on the north side of the tracks in the ghetto. The roads were dirt and the neighborhood was lower income. Every year the anticipation of Christmas arriving was exciting. My mom would put up a silver-artificial tree that she kept in a worn box under her bed. My dad just couldn't afford to pay the high prices for a real tree. There were a few years where he bartered for a real and free tree. He was a janitor for years and then became a ready mix truck driver. He was the sole income for the family. It was difficult watching him come home from work looking depressed and very tired. He knew there were bills to pay and food to buy for the family. Most of our clothes were either hand-me-downs, or given to us from the wealthy people on the south side of the tracks.

The Espinoza family in the 1960s.

The Espinoza family in the 1960s.

There were days where I would come home from school and there would be no food in the cupboards. I try not to remember those days, because to tell you the truth, it is painful to think of the rough life my family once lived. I would often hear my parents argue about money. They would receive phone calls from bill collectors. I wish I didn't have such a good memory, unfortunately I do and I remember a lot of things. I can't wait to write my autobiography, but first I will finish the current book I'm writing.

Bless my mom and my dad. They were a team that knew their roles in a marriage. My mom was optimistic when it came to Christmas, my dad was the pessimistic. Once my mom convinced him to get presents for all the kids, well, my dad joined in with other treats. He would buy a box of oranges for the family. We had two old cars, a Buick and a Ford, they worked most of the time -- thanks to my dad's mechanical inclination. With a foot of snow we'd get every year, he was always busy putting chains on tires and driving us just about everywhere. Heat was a problem at our house. We had this box heater that we'd plug in and it would keep our small two-bedroom home warm.

As grade-school kids we really didn't go anywhere during the holiday seasons. We would just spend time around the house. With patches of ice and snow on the ground we couldn't ride our bikes. My brothers and sisters would all have different ideas of what games to play. Monopoly, sculpturing with clay, checkers, chess, and playing out in the snow. We'd also laugh a lot and fight a lot. It was really tough shooting a basketball in the snow, so we would take a break during Christmas time. We would also read comics and eat some homemade-almond-colored ice cream that my mom made -- it truly was from scratch. It wasn't really ice cream, it was vanilla, sugar, and snow mixed together. I think I'm the only one that didn't like it, everyone else seemed to acquire a taste for this clump of cold sugar. The important thing was the thought. My mom had a heart of gold that made the holiday season a joyous one for all of us.

As Christmas got closer, my dad pounded some nails on our small porch and hung up some Christmas lights. That really excited us even more and all we could think about was presents that we could possibly find under the tree. All of us kids screaming and jumping was over the top. Although Santa is a made-up character, we were told that he existed. When I was in the second grade I figured out that it was just a traditional fiction idea. Christmas is about our Savior Jesus Christ, and celebrating his birth. Santa was just a fun thing for us though.

Any little thing that my dad would come home with was priceless to us. One day he showed up with a package of fireworks. Wow! The colorful-red wrapping that shined against the Christmas lights was such a joy, especially for the boys. We loved fireworks. I loved them until one blasted on my thumb while I was throwing it. My thumb was throbbing all night, very painful. I gained so much respect for these dangerous sticks with a fuse.

I remember people giving us food baskets, walnuts, or some kind of dessert. We ate and ate, we were a bunch of hungry kids with a bottomless pit. My mom would cook beans, rice, and she would make the best homemade tortillas -- she was an expert at cooking Mexican food. I remember us all sitting at the kitchen table. She would throw a tortilla toward the middle of the table and whoever caught it first rejoiced eating while others looked on waiting for the next tortilla to fly. My little sister always cried because she could never catch one. My mom would tear a piece off of one and give it to her. It was a challenge at the dinner table when I was growing up with six kids and one cook.

One thing I'll never forget is watching my mom tear up at the end of the day. She knew we were struggling and she was tired. Every day she would clean the house, wash clothes, iron clothes, cook, discipline her kids, and deal with collectors on the rotary phone. I don't know where she found the energy and stamina all those years. I would say that her prayers kept her going -- the good Lord was there guiding her.

At night she would grab the mattress that was leaning on the kitchen wall and place it on the floor, that's where my dad and her slept every night. I can't even begin to imagine that. The four boys would sleep in one room and the two girls in the other room. The sacrifices that our parents made for us were above and beyond. My mom is no longer alive -- she's with the Lord. If she was here now, I know what I would tell her. Exactly what I've told my dad, who is still alive today. I have already told him how much I love him and I've thanked him for taking care of us when we were growing up.

Despite all of the heartache and uncomfortable living conditions, my mom and dad would find a way to get us all Christmas presents, or as they would say, Santa got them. The charge card at Montgomery Ward or Sears came in handy during the holidays. And, I know they paid them off throughout the rest of the year. They would send in a payment once in a while to keep the collectors from calling.

The only time we didn't get Christmas presents was during that one year we came to Oregon. My dad was unemployed and we were living in that rental house I talked about in my book, "Poor Kid, Wealthy Kid". Other than that, we always had something for Christmas.

We were thankful to have something under the tree on Christmas morning. Every year, half of the kids liked what they got, and the other half didn't like what they unwrapped. So the drama of "I wanted that!" started with some of us. My parents were great at assuming what each kid would want -- they got fifty percent correct. Each kid got a toy, plus underwear and pants, sometimes socks. The boys got a pack of Blackjack Fireworks and the girls got a Barbie Doll. The idea was, "To be surprised Christmas morning". Sometimes that didn't work as well as planned.

I think for me, the best part of the holidays was the food, plus that electric football set I once got when I was in the third grade. The tamales were from heaven. Sometimes my Aunt Juana would help my mom make them all day. Making tamales is definitely a complex process. The hot tamales were wrapped with a red string around them. One year my mom got them mixed up and we were surprised when we took the first bite. The authentic tamales were so good that we ate them all in one day.

I miss those days when my brothers and sisters were little and full of energy and joy. We didn't have a dime in our pockets, but we had each other. We watched TV together, we ate together, we played together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we went to church together. Oh, and yes, we all got into trouble at one time or another, watching the belt on my dad's hand was terrifying. My mom didn't use the belt, she used her hand. I normally didn't see the belt or my mom's hand as much as some of the others, I tried to be a good kid.

The holidays are so much fun, I often wonder what my brothers and sisters are thinking during the holidays. Do they ever think about the good old days in our tiny house? Gilberto lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Loop lives in Kalispell, Montana. Louise lives in Woodburn, Oregon. I live in Salem, Oregon. Richard lives in Keizer, Oregon. Diana lives in Columbia Falls, Montana. We all have families, some of us have grandkids and some of us don't. My dad lives in Otis, Oregon, close to the coast.

I know that with my own family now, we will have a nice Christmas. My wife has two daughters and I have two sons. We have six grandkids now. The holidays are still fun and Christmas is a blessing to us. Sharing the joy of our Savior's birth and celebrating with love toward each other is a Christmas blessing.

While my brothers and sisters are all far away now, I still think about them often. To tell you the truth we all have different values, time has made each one of us the people we have become. We've all made decisions along the way to put us where we're at today. Some are doing very well and others are struggling. I still keep in contact with some through email. The ones I see the most are my brother, Richard and my dad, Wences.

Richard, Dad, Me

Richard, Dad, Me

During the holidays I always think about where I came from and how we lived with so little, but yet still found a way to smile during the holiday seasons. Precious memories are those that we keep in our hearts forever. Sure, there was a lot of sadness and disappointments, but the Love we had for each other overcame everything miraculously.        

Merry Christmas and Have a Happy New Year!

The Kid Espi Story and How He Put Oregon on the Map

Jacob Espinoza, aka “The Kid Espi”, a hip-hop recording artist that would do it all over again if he went back. I’m proud to say that he is my son, and he was also my mentor when I started writing books. Jake also designs all of my book covers with his computer graphic skills. We have a great father-son relationship – a true blessing.

Jake was born in Salem, Oregon, and is the son of David (me) and Candi. His wife is Jennifer and his two sons, Tyson and Kaleb. He now has a step-mom, Loni. He has a brother, Matt, and two step-sisters, Darci and Kalin. All, brother and sisters have their own families too -- I love them all.

Jake grew up in the suburbs of Salem. He attended Scott Elementary School through the third grade and then Haysville Elementary for his fourth and fifth-grade years.

“I remember sports being a big part of my life. My dad built a basketball court in our backyard. We had friends in the neighborhood – we played a lot of two-on-two. It was convenient having that hoop in the backyard. My dad would spend a lot of time in developing our skills,” Jake said.

At school, Jake was a leader among his peers – physically always one of the tallest kids. Teachers were excited to have him in the classroom. His grades were always at the top of his class. His mom, Candi, was his teacher at home – he pretty much knew what they were teaching him at school beforehand. He was an outstanding reader and mathematician. He once made it to the Math 24 Challenge finals – a math competition.

“I love my mom, she was the first person I talked to after school – I always told her about my day. She volunteered a lot at our school while my dad was at work,” Jake said.

Jake was the type of kid that always looked to help others become better at things. He was a natural leader among his peers.

“Teachers would enjoy having me in their class because I was always trying to show kids how to become better people instead of disrupting the classroom,” Jake said.

Jake was a dominate force in basketball because of his coordination and height. Put that together with skills training on a regular basis, and you have progress. His younger brother, Matt, was always hanging around him and trying to keep up. Jake won so many awards that it was hard keeping up – his biggest being the Elks Hoop Shoot Contest. He advanced to the state and regional finals placing second at the regional completion. Another one, believe it or not, is he won a guessing count of pumpkin seeds in a huge jar. And, an M&M's count in a big box. Both handed out a nice prize for him.

During his younger years, Jake played basketball for the Boys and Girls Club League, Adam Stephens Middle School team, and an AAU traveling team. He was a major contributor on all of his teams.

“Dad was always there for me – even when I played baseball which is a sport he wasn’t too excited about. He would help me practice on my pitching in our backyard,” Jake said.

The Espinoza family was enjoying life and everything was going as planned with family, school, sports, and church. The everyday routine of practices and meals became part of life – whether it was soccer, basketball, track and field, or baseball.

His mom, Candi, had been battling headaches for years but the doctors never thought of scheduling an MRI, “It’s just a migraine,” they would say. In 1986 she started having more severe symptoms. They scheduled an MRI and she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

She went through surgery and it was discovered that the tumor was malignant. Candi went on remission for five years – I even wrote a story on her beating cancer. We actually thought it was over. In 1991 we were driving to the grocery store. Candi looked at me – she was trying to talk but you could only hear a constant stutter. That really scared me.

“I was so young, but I remember being scared when she couldn’t talk. It’s a tough thing to see as a little kid. We found out the tumor was back,” Jake said.

After a long hard battle – including a more aggressive chemotherapy treatment at OHSU (Oregon Health Science University), Candi died in 1994. It was like a huge downhearted feeling. This only happens in movies, not to us.  All I had to hang on to was her pillow and her scent that got me through many lonely nights. 13 years of marriage – she was only 32 years old and the boys were 11 and 9.

“My dad took over a huge role – he took care of me and my brother. He was always there protecting us and taking care of whatever we needed. When I was little I didn’t understand the impact it would have on me. As I grew older I realized that all the kids I knew had a mom,” Jake said.

Jake faced a huge challenge when he lost his mom – he was really close to her and probably remembers her more than Matt. He was always full of smiles and very ambitious – always explaining rules of the games he created to play with his friends. All of that changed – I could see it in him.

Jake would always assure me that it was going to be okay. He would see me in tears for days. He started helping me by doing his own laundry. With a job that took intense thinking, making out bills, keeping the house clean, keeping up with their school activities, and coaching their teams, it got to be a bit overwhelming. I prayed every night for the Lord to guide me through all of this.

Things were never the same.  We adjusted the best we could – I did the best I could to keep our boys going on the right path. We were building a new home in Salem and the boys attended Sacred Heart School – we rented a room from my brother, Richard, and his family for a year. My mother-in-law, Elaine, and my sister-in-law, Julie, helped me out with the boys many times. I’m so grateful to them.

No mom for the first day of high school, birthdays, games they played in, awards they received, graduations, etc. I can’t imagine what Jake and Matt must have felt like.

Jake started listening to hip-hop music. I remember as a young kid he had a Kris Kross tape which was good – maybe some Will Smith. I wasn’t comfortable about him listening to the foul-language rap but the clean stuff I didn’t mind.

“I think I fell into hip-hop music with a rebellious attitude. My parents didn’t want me listening to it, so naturally I listened to it more,” Jake said.

I had a tough time getting Jake to clean his room, so I cleaned it some of the times. I would always find stacks of paper with rhymes – you could see the amount of thought he had put into this. Some of the lyrics were more mature then what you’d think a high school kid would write.

I wasn’t going to complain because he was a straight A student his freshman year at McNary High School. He was also one of the best players on the basketball team. As a parent I was so proud of him.

Jake’s sophomore year things started going downhill as far as grades – but I was unaware of the situation. Every time I asked about his grades and school, he would tell me that everything was good. Based on conversations I had with Jake in the late evenings, he was missing his mom and dealing with a lot of emotional pain. We cried together a few times.

“We had moved to the McNary High School boundaries. I really didn’t know many kids there except for the ones that were on the basketball team. I got to know a few and my priority started being with my friends – hanging out with them. On occasion we skipped class. I just did enough to get by as far as grade – not having my mom around I lost motivation,” Jake said.

I was the dad that found out what my child was up to and who he was hanging around. I called his friends’ parents to touch base with them on where my son was. I didn’t want Jake to get into trouble. There were times when I embarrassed him by coming to pick him up when it was past midnight. I grew a few gray hairs during Jake’s sophomore and junior years. I loved my son so much that I was willing to do whatever it took to keep him safe and out of trouble.

“I would never say that I was hanging out with the wrong crowds – I formed great friendships during high school – I enjoyed the social life. I can’t say I would do it any different if I went back. I don’t think my dad had any problems with my friends but maybe the activities we were engaged in,” Jake said.

Jake realizes that those years were a setback for him and that he could have been a better student and athlete had he focused more on those things. It was fun for him to go through those experiences, and he did learn from mistakes, and that’s okay.

“My junior year the coaches had a meeting with my dad and I. They were threatening to kick me off the basketball team because of my social life and bad grades. That would have torn my dad. I started putting more effort into my grades and focused on becoming a huge impact on our team” Jake said.

By the end of his junior year, Jake had received the "Comeback Kid Award". I was so proud to read that in the school newspaper. I couldn’t have asked for more from my son. I know his mom would have been so proud as well.

His senior year, McNary had a pool of talent that no one really expected. Jake Espinoza, Ryan Medford, Brian Zielinski, Clark Ellison, Chad Harms, Trevor Cross, and Drew Miller. Jake helped his team make it to the 2001 OSAA State Basketball Tournament.

“We really didn’t have one superstar on our team. Everybody played a role and we executed. It was a lot of fun to be part of that. We all went on to play college ball after high school. That was a lot of players from one team, which is very rare these days,” Jake said.

Jake graduated high school and continued listening to rap music and writing lyrics. More stacks of papers with thousands of words – it was difficult reading his writing but I had no idea how someone could come up with rhymes like that. Writing came natural to Jake. I remember once he brought home a note from his teacher. It was in red ink. A+ Wow! You have weathered such a huge storm – you’re a true survivor. I posted that on our refrigerator for months.

I knew that Jake didn’t have the passion for basketball like his brother Matt. I thanked Jake for following through and taking care of his high school responsibilities in the classroom and on the basketball court. I also told him to think about playing college ball – this could pay for his college education. At 6’ 4 and 3/4” and how talented he was, he could do it, I had that confidence in him.

“I started working for a warehouse in Woodburn. After a few months I received a letter from North Seattle Community College. They were very interested in me playing for them and wanted me to come for a recruiting trip. I also decided I didn’t want to work in a warehouse the rest of my life,” Jake said.

Jake was playing in a pickup game when he came down on his ankle and broke it. This was right before the recruiting trip to Seattle – he had to sit out for a year. Although he was very disappointed, this was a blessing in disguise because when he recovered he ended up getting a scholarship to play at Linn-Benton Community College. Not only that, but this was about the same time that his brother was headed to play for Southwestern Oregon Community College – the same conference as Linn-Benton CC.

“My favorite moment of all time was playing college ball against my brother – that was a lot of fun. You don’t see brothers playing against each other too often. It was a big deal and I remember all the newspapers writing an article on us. Matt had a very successful college basketball career – two years at SWOCC and then two years at SOU,” Jake said.

Jake helped Linn-Benton CC advance to the NWAAC Championships – the first time the college had ever made it there.

“I always wanted to be a news reporter, and then I started studying advertising and marketing. I was the sports editor for the Linn-Benton Commuter. I also wrote articles on entertainment. That’s when I first started getting serious about becoming a hip-hop artist,” Jake said.

Jake had a friend, Jim Hauge, who was getting into the real estate business. Jim had sold a house and with the commission he purchased all kinds of recording equipment – to create beats and record. Jake started traveling to Jim’s house in Portland while attending the University of Oregon. He was beginning to put together songs – he was writing his own material.

“To get better at anything you have to create good habits of hard work. You have to put in the time and focus on what you want to accomplish. I now know so many things that I didn’t know back in high school,” Jake said.

Jake was thinking about a stage name and tried different ones. But the one he liked the best was “The Kid Espi”. It’s the first part of his last name. And in one of his songs he says, “E for the Excellent, S for Significant, P for the Progress, I for the Intellect”.

In a few months Jake had put out his first EP, “Moments of Clarity”. He teamed up with   T-Dubb in a couple of the songs. The producers were, Grand Raps, The Developer, and Animal. He performed in his first show in 2006 at the Ike Box in Salem, Oregon. He later did another EP, “Capitol City Hip-Hop”.

Jake established relationships with business owners – he made it possible for Salem to start having hip-hop venues.

“I feel that I made a huge impact in the community. I really wanted Salem to have hip-hop shows and I wanted the owners to feel that it would be a safe environment for everyone,” Jake said.

As an independent rapper he wrote and recorded his first full album, “The First Book”. There were 19 songs in this album and the local area was pumped to preorder this one. Tony was the producer at Apollo Sound Production’s Studio. Songs were mastered by John McDonald. This album includes a song he wrote about his mom “Not the Same Acoustic” – his brother Matt sang the chorus and played the guitar.

Jake teamed up with other artists he met during shows. They had the same driven goal and they blended well together – Jason Gundlach (JG), Lyndon Hansen (Middle but now Abolish), and Gabe Van Eikeren (Amsterdam). The album was “Healthy Portions”. Several producers like Grand Raps, Terminill, Shay, Anno Domini, Mo Pounds, and Sapient took a great role in the mixes.

Jake wrote the lyrics to a song that has received worldwide attention and continues to this day. I’d have to say that this song put Oregon on the map. “Oregon Homeboy” produced by Sapient. You can find this song in his second solo album “True Love + High Adventure”. There are 17 songs and the producers were Terminill, Cheddy, G-force, Sapient, and Goodwill. Kid Espi recorded this one at Momentum Studios.

“I really can’t remember why I wrote the lyrics to this song – it’s been so long. I guess because of how proud I am to be an Oregonian. I wanted to share Oregon with the rest of the world. And at the same time I added some humor to the song,” Jake said.

In the song he talks about Bend, Seaside, Salem, and more ... lines like “We picked Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan?” He describes him self as a 6’ 4” chunky slim vegetarian. He also talks about the Professor and Napoleon Dynamite being from Oregon.  There is so much truth in his lyrics that people took it all in. I’d have to say that this song put Oregon on the map and continues to be his bestseller.

Another full album he recorded at Momentum Studios was, “The Wright Family the World’s Happiest Gremlin”. Kid Espi teamed up with JG and L. Barnhart (singer). The producers were Terminill, Goodwill, and the mixer was Zebulon Dak.

The last album Jake (Kid Espi) recorded was “Sweatshirt Dinner Party”. The lyrics were written by Jake mostly. This album features Pigeon John, Debra Arlene, Gray Skull, Geo of Blue Scholars, Amsterdam, and Deshaun. This album was produced by Sapient and Terminill.

Jake designed all of his CD covers. He took classes at University of Oregon on computer graphic arts. His albums are all available on iTunes.

Jake was performing in a lot of shows. Every Friday after work he was on the road to another town in Oregon – from Seattle to Bend, and sometimes Ashland. Everyone wanted to hear his songs and especially “Oregon Homeboy”. He got the audience involved and made every show special with something different. But he speaks about how difficult it was getting up to go to work on Mondays. He had a day job while performing.

“Probably the biggest show I ever performed in was when we opened for E40 and Twista at the Eugene Fairgrounds – there must have been 5,000 people there. We sold 200 CDs to the crowd waiting in a long line outside. I don’t recommend this for anyone, but it worked for us,” Jake said.

When the tickets went on sale through Ticket Master, I saw Kid Espi printed on them as one of the performers.  I have to say that I was really proud of my son and what he had accomplished through his hard-driven work in the music industry.

The Kid Espi was for real. He took great pride in his lyrics and music. When someone wanted to manage him or encourage him to sign with a major label, it always came down to what was important to him. He wanted to be sure it was his music that was going to be recorded.

I remember the first time I heard “Oregon Homeboy” on the radio. I pulled over and listened to the entire song. I don’t remember the radio station – a hip-hop station. I have to say that it was such a great feeling and I was very blessed to be his father. I would do anything to support what his passion was.

“I toured a lot including two west coast tours. It’s amazing the amount of time that artists spend on the road away from home. At the time I had a fiancé and I started realizing that I wasn’t quite sure about continuing my music career. Undoubtedly I could have gone on to become very successful. I’m not sure that I wanted to live a life like that. All of the hard work I put into this was all worth it. I had a lot of fun and met some amazing people that I still keep in touch with. I’m now married to Jennifer and have two sons, Tyson and Kaleb.  I love these kids so much that my priority is for my wife and them. I stopped performing and I’m now trying to change my image. With a mortgage and family, I want to be home for them – that’s the life I want,” Jake said.

2016 - Jake and his family in Salem, Oregon.

2016 - Jake and his family in Salem, Oregon.

Jake was the founder of WeOutHere Magazine. With his web design skills he created the website for the music industry in the northwest. He was the chief editor for several years before stepping down and moving on to other things. The magazine is doing well and still serving for many hip-hop groups or bands.

Jake is the type of person that listens to people. When he meets someone new he figures that this person is taking time to talk to him, so he will give them his undivided attention.

Jake currently works for T-Mobile as a manager. He manages a retail store in downtown Salem, Oregon, and mentors a staff of fifteen people. He also continues to sell his music on iTunes – you can do a search on Kid Espi to sample any of his music.

Jake, what is your goal in life?

“I’m into leadership development. I read a lot of books and go to conferences to learn as much as I can. I want to become a better leader for my team at work. I’d like to inspire people to better themselves. Now that I have two sons, I want to be the best dad I can be to them and I want to be a good husband to my wife. I want to live a life I can be proud of.

What advice can you give a young rapper with dreams?

If you’re going to be successful, you need to put in the hard work it takes – you need to focus. I don’t recommend doing a lot of shows every weekend the way we did. It’s more important to do a few big shows that really stand out. Remember that everyone’s doing this not just you, so you have to bring something that stands out to the venue. You also have to invest in relationships – it takes so much of that to make things happen.

Who is your favorite NBA team?


Favorite rapper, band, or group?

No favorites but I do listen to Hip-hop, Jazz, Classical, and instrumental music. I also listen to a lot of talk radio.

Is there a story that no one knows about Jake?

There probably is, but I think we’ll just leave it at that – Haha!

Jake, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule – I love you. Keep up the good work – I am so proud of you. God Bless you son.

Happy Father's Day to Wences, My Hardworking Dad

Father's Day is a day to celebrate and recognize the dads out there that are sacrificing for their kids. We definitely should first put our worship and thanks to our God and Holy Father -- He is number one. However, here on earth I have a dad that is over eighty years old. He lives in Otis, Oregon, sixty miles away from me and I try to get out there to visit when I can. These days, despite my busy schedule, I'm making time because he made time for me.

Wenceslado Espinoza, aka "Wences",  grew up in Hidalgo County in Texas -- in the Rio Grande Valley. He lived a rough life with not much and a large family of eight kids. His parents were the late Guadalupe and Matilda. His siblings are Lupita, Irene, Jessie, Elida, Ninfa, Juanita, and Ellena. Bypassing his poverty life of survival, I want to talk about what he has done for me and our family of six kids, Gil, Loop, Louise, David, Richard, and Diana.

My dad with his wife and kids in the early years.

My dad with his wife and kids in the early years.

After he married my mom, Gabriela, he moved us up to the north part of Texas close to Amarillo (I can't imagine that challenge), where he would work several jobs through the years. He worked as a truck driver, gas station attendant, cotton gin employee, farm worker, etc. I have so many memories that I can't list them all, So I'll try to sum it up as best I can.

My dad would normally rise up at 5:00 a.m. Every morning he was off to work so he could feed his family and keep a roof over our heads. Watching him come home from work was sad for me because I knew the grind he was going through. Depending on the jobs he had, and most of them were labor jobs, I'd see him come home all dirty with either grease or dust -- his clothes were complete opposite as I saw them when he left in the mornings. I'd wake up to eat breakfast with him because I knew there wouldn't be much left when the other kids ate.

My dad found time to throw the baseball or football with us when coming home from work. We all wanted his attention, for him to play with us was exciting and fun. I did not understand at the time how hard he must have had things or how much pressure he was under. He had to earn money to pay for the utility bills, food and gas, mortgage or rent, clothes, and maybe a vacation at a park now and them. I didn't understand how exhausted he must have been.

Wences wanted better for his family. In the early 1970s he rented a piece of land with a small gas station on it -- a franchise of the corporation, FINA. I really feel that he did this because it involved his family and he could be around us more. So he quit his labor jobs and started running his business. Us boys worked for him. This was one of the best things he did for us. We worked and gained experience on a real business with customers and all.

My dad was firm and he rarely got angry, oh but trust me, he would get angry at times. One time he asked me to back up the truck to load a few things to take home. It was late at night and we had just closed the gas station. It was muddy -- it had rained a lot that day. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old. So I hopped on the truck with joy because I got to drive the truck. As I put the gear into reverse, I begin to back up. The mud on my shoes caused my foot to slip off the clutch and I didn't think to press the brake. The entire front gas-station window shattered! I froze and knew I was in big trouble. My dad rushed over and his first words to me as he looked at me in emotional worry were, "Mi hijo! Are you okay? Don't worry about the window, it can be replaced. I'm glad you're okay." He smiled at me and pulled me out of the truck. I knew my dad was going to pay for that window with his hard earned money -- I could tell by the look on his face. He never brought it up to me ever again.

Myself being a dad, when my kids were growing up I remembered that episode from my dad, and I applied what I learned. We make mistakes and sometimes they do cost. My dad had a compassionate way about talking to me when I made mistakes. He wanted to be sure that I learned from them. I'm so thankful to have a dad that taught me lesson after lesson while I was growing up -- and trust me, no amount of money can buy that kind of love.

One of the bravest things I ever saw my dad do was very alarming to me as a very young kid at the time. At the gas station he was normally a very nice man to his customers. He often gave out credit. Well, there was a gentleman that had not paid in three months. My dad and I closed up on a Friday night and he drove us to the ghetto -- just north a few blocks from where we lived. He walks into this bar and I walked in alongside him. The room was full of Black tough-looking guys playing pool and drinking beer.

I was in fear and didn't know if we'd come out of there alive. My dad walks up to the person that owed him money as he grabs a pool stick from the wall.

"You mind if I take a few shots?" My dad asked.

"Oh, no sir, not at all."

"When do I get my money you owe me? I have to pay bills"

"Oh yes sir, I'll get it to ya soon at the end of the week."

"Okay, the end of the week I'll wait for you."

"Okay, yeah, I'll take care of that."

"Okay, I'll be waiting for you at the FINA station."

I was thinking to myself, what are you doing dad? The gentleman did come by the next day and paid his balance. Wow, my dad did what he had to do to pay the bills.

And during holidays? I really don't know how in the world my dad did it. To buy us all a few presents during Christmas time was surprising. Well, actually I do know, he paid the Sears charge card off the rest of the year -- ha-ha! He found a way regardless of finances.

Dad with his Ford.

Dad with his Ford.

My dad built us a basketball goal and he used a plywood for the backboard which was nailed to the house. Our basketball court was hard dirt. Yeah, it wasn't anything special. It was a pretty poverty-run-down sight, but it was our court and we were proud of it.

My dad tried his best to make it to the most important school functions. Events like homecoming when I was being announced for an award. He made it to graduations and major church events. Sundays were truly days of rest for him. He would come to church with us once in a while, but after his six days of hard work, it was tough for him.

One of my dad's passions was cars, he really loved cars and trucks. He worked on our cars on the weekends and sometimes during the week if they broke down, and trust me they often broke down. All of our vehicles were old -- we never owned a new one. He took care of us and our transportation needs.

One of my favorite places that he used to take our entire family to was Palo Duro Canyon. An amazing place just off of Canyon, Texas. If it wasn't for my dad I would have never ridden a horse. I was afraid to get on a horse, it was huge! I must have been eight years old. He told me to not be afraid, the horse wouldn't hurt me. I tried it and had fun riding down the canyons with a group of people and a tour guide. The times I rode following that first time were even better.

When my dad moved us up to Oregon in 1976, I was a little disappointed at first. Now after all these years, I'm so glad that he moved us up to the northwest. I love this part of the country and if it wasn't for my dad, I would not have met either of my wives and I would not have had my two boys and two stepdaughters. And of course the grandkids we have now would not have been possible.

My dad and his brother, Jessie, in 1974.

My dad and his brother, Jessie, in 1974.

Dad, thank you for always being there for me, I know that it wasn't easy for you to raise a large family, but you did it through sacrifices and love. The enjoyment you had playing the accordion and guitar on weekends with your brother was fun for you -- I could tell. I enjoyed watching you and I really think that's why I learned how to play the guitar. You also taught me to be a good person and to always do the right things. Making me help you under the cars was a blessing as I was able to pinpoint problems with my cars and fix them.

Happy Father's Dad, God bless you. I will always remember thousands of amazing memories of us. I will definitely write about some of those in my autobiography some day.

West Salem's Keira McCarrell Redefines Determination in Track and Field

At West Salem High School in Salem, Oregon, there is one talented young lady that is working hard every day to become the best athlete she can be. Only athletes that train as hard as Keira McCarrell can relate to the amount of sacrifice and intense focus that it takes to learn the different skill sets to many events. The training schedule has to be crazy not leaving much time for other things in her life. For her family, well, they love the family time together at track meets or practices.

As a young kid, Keira was not a natural athlete that had talent. It wasn't easy to acquire what she's learned to this point. She's kind of like a rags-to-riches story, except hers is non-athletic to athletic resulting in major success.

Keira has two younger sisters. Taylor has the best 6A-triple-jump mark in the state of Oregon. Her youngest sister, Sydney, is an eighth grader and throws the shot put and discus. Keira would really like to get Sydney to start throwing the javelin.

She is the daughter of Kevin and Terri McCarrell. Kevin played college basketball at Southwestern Kansas where he met Terri. Terri's mom was up in Canada battling a terminal type of cancer. They moved to Canada to be with her. It was there that they would eventually be married. During that time in Prince George, B.C., Canada, two of their daughters were born, Keira and Taylor. When Terri's mom passed they moved back to the USA. Keira now has duel citizenship.

Moving to Oregon, they first lived in the Sprague area in the south part of Salem. By the time she entered grade school they had relocated to the west side of the city. Keira attended Chapman Hill Elementary.

"I really don't remember much about grade school. I wasn't any good at sports ... I know that for a fact -- ha-ha! The one thing I do remember is Mrs. Foekl. She introduced me to science -- an amazing teacher," Keira said.

Keira's low to middle-income neighborhood was right next to a very busy road -- constant traffic. It was difficult to have the normal neighborhood friends. She did manage to have one friend that lived behind her a few blocks away. She speaks highly of Irene. To this day she is one of her best friends. They always get together to celebrate Keira's birthday.

"Irene is so special to me, she's like my right hand. Although she's into robotics and I'm into sports we are super good friends," Keira said.

By the time she advanced to Walker Middle School in West Salem, one could describe Keira as an upbeat and energetic person -- basically a ball of energy. She played basketball, softball, and volleyball. In the sixth grade there was a time where she needed something to do in the spring and summer. Why not try track and field? She was not very good at the hurdles or anything else for that matter. In an all-city meet she placed eighth in hurdles. One of her friends beat her.

She wasn't about to let that friend beat her again. During the summer after seventh grade she signed up to be a member of Salem Track Club. She would look to some day compete in the USATF Jr. Olympic meets. Athletes that win at the state level advance to the regional level and then to the national meet in July.

One day she saw Olympian Dave Johnson throwing the javelin. He started talking to her about the javelin. He showed her a few things and it caught her attention. Later on, she describes this as a miraculous thing. Her family discovered Scott Halley, a coach who specializes in the javelin. Scott inspired Keira to start throwing the javelin and has been her coach since. Technique in the javelin is so crucial and can mean an additional ten or fifteen feet in distance.

"Scott is who really inspired me to start throwing the javelin. He's like a true friend who I can talk to about anything," Keira said.

Keira and her family would drive to Portland four times a week for her individual training with Scott. As the days went by her skill set was getting better and the improvement was noticeable.

"It was crazy, like in basketball, a kid that loves basketball will go out and shoot baskets all night long. For me it was the javelin, I loved going out and working on throwing form -- I really wanted to get better. It just felt so right," Keira said.

She started doing the multi-events experimenting on what she could do and began to excel in those as well. The pentathlon consists of five events and points are totaled for a final score. She started winning in that event as well. By the time she was in the fifteen-sixteen age group she was competing in the heptathlon, which includes seven events, the 100-meter hurdles; 200 meters; shot put; javelin; high jump; long jump; and the 800 meters. The work ethic and time spent to master all of the skill sets needed is beyond words.

Keira throwing the Javelin in a big meet. 

Keira throwing the Javelin in a big meet. 

When Keira was competing in the thirteen-fourteen year old division she won at the state level advancing to the regional competition. At the regional meet she won the javelin and placed third in the pentathlon. This qualified her to the national meet, however, she did not go due to budget constraints.

She was improving each year through her intense hard work. She was competing in the fifteen-sixteen age group this time. In 2015, Keira was throwing the javelin over 140 feet. She advanced to the Jr. Olympic National Meet in Jacksonville, Florida. She became the national champion in the javelin and placed third in the heptathlon scoring 4,354 points-- seven events! She was recognized as one of the top athletes in the nation in track and field. She was awarded the Athlete of the Year Award twice.

Keira speaks of obstacles she ran into along the way. At one point during her middle school days she started realizing who her friends really were. There was a time where a group of kids that were so called the "in crowd" played some bad pranks on her. One time they paid a kid to ask her out and then later they paid him to dump her. Or another time where she was on a volleyball team, unfortunately it was the B Team. Most of her friends were on the A Team and started treating her differently. That was hurtful to her and something she had to work through.

"I started thinking, whatever. I'm the type of person that doesn't really belong to a certain group. I enjoy talking to anyone no matter what their status is. It was a very difficult thing for me to go through, but I started learning who I was as an individual," Keira said.

Keira came in as a freshman at West Salem High School. This school is located up in the hills and many of the students attending there live in upper-class neighborhoods. Coach Bruey Finck had asked Keira to come throw with the high school kids when she was in the eighth grade. He knew of her and was excited to have an athlete like her join the track team.

"My high school experience as a freshman, well, I got cut from the volleyball team. Volleyball was not working out for me. I played basketball until my sophomore year and decided to focus on my track and field career. I had the confidence I needed when track season came around. I was ready, but the uncomfortable part was that I knew I was going to take some spots from juniors and seniors," Keira said.

Keira's dad, Kevin, is a basketball coach at Chemeketa Community College. This was a difficult decision for Keira. She liked basketball and had some skills, but her passion was in throwing the javelin and competing in track and field -- her future.

"It was okay with me. I was excited to watch her in track and field. She was fast in basketball and did have some skills, but her unique abilities in the multi-events are pretty amazing. I'm sure it was a difficult decision for her, but it was hers to make and the right decision I feel," Kevin said.

This year, 2016, as a junior at West Salem, Keira has blossomed to become one of the state's elite athletes. At the GVC District Championship Meet held in McMinnville, Oregon, she captured the title on all four of her events. She won the 100-meter hurdles in 15.89, the high jump clearing 5' 4", the javelin with a throw of 143' 3", and anchored the 1600-meter relay to a first-place finish. She advanced to the 2016 OSAA 6A State Meet at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. She'll be a contender in all her events.

Keira wins the 100-meter hurdles at the GVC District Meet.

Keira wins the 100-meter hurdles at the GVC District Meet.

Her awards are piling up. Last year she was selected first team All-Mid-Valley. And this year she's headed to possibly receive that award again. It's pretty amazing what she's been able to do with no serious injuries.

"I've had mentors in my adventure. My mom, she helps me with my spiritual education and teaches me many things about God. My javelin coach, Scott Halley. My old baby sitter, Emily Reeder, she was someone that I would call a perfect role model. I learned so much from her. It was like she had been through all the things I'm going through," Keira said.

Keira had teammates along the way that were so supportive, such as Junior Ahmed Muhumed, cross country state champion and winner of the 1500 meters and 3000 meters. Keira was the first person to talk to Ahmed when he transferred from Portland as a freshman. She found that they could relate to each other. They were both of color and lived in the flats. They both became elite athletes and they had so much in common. Senior Angela Mumford knew Keira was going to take her spot in the javelin so she didn't want to throw javelin anymore -- she became a great discus thrower though. Another was Senior Deven Nipp, a hurdler who was a good friend and encouraged her and Senior Brooke Chuhlantseff, a long distance runner who will join her at state in the 1600-meter relay. And finally, Junior Kasey Campbell, she has been injured this year.

"My teammates are so supportive of me. They are there for me -- I love them. We work very hard and we have fun while practicing together," Keira said.

Academically, Keira maintains a 3.7 GPA and she likes to get her homework done as soon as possible when she gets home from school. 

Kevin and Terri are raising some overachievers and they are having fun while doing that. Their demanding schedule is very tough but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's amazing to watch her. Kevin coached her in basketball. To watch how it changed her when she started doing individual sports was remarkable. She holds herself accountable, she has a job, she has excellent grades. We spend hours driving to Portland and back and hours at track meets. To us that is family time that we spend with our daughters. The girls cheer for each other all the time. We are so proud of Keira, not just in sports but in so many other things. She is a super hard-working girl with good intentions and always the biggest heart," Terri said.

Kevin makes time to spend with his daughters despite his tight schedule with a full-time job and coaching basketball at Chemeketa. He is to be commended for understanding why his daughter chose track and field and not basketball as her sport. He looked to Keira to make that decision.

"If they weren't involved in sports they'd probably be running around with friends in the streets or something. Hours of driving in a car with my daughters, where else can I have a talk with them about so many topics? Keira has a better heart which is more valuable than what she does as an athlete. She works so hard -- more than we could ever ask of her. She is a blessing," Kevin said.

Although colleges cannot contact athletes when they are juniors until a certain date, Keira has received piles of letters from Division I colleges. I'll list a few of them to give you an idea of the major interest nationally -- UCLA; U of O; Stanford; Kansas; LSU; Yale; St. Josephs; Penn State; Idaho; UNLV; North Carolina; WSU; U of W; and more.

I'm wishing the best for Keira and her family -- she has such a bright future ahead of her. Congratulations young lady! You deserve the success you've worked so hard for.

Keira, what are your favorite subjects in school?

I like anatomy and physiology.

Favorite athletes?

NBA MVP Steph Curry and Olympian Brianne Theison-Eaton.

Do you have a short-term goal?

I'd like to win at state.

Do you have long-term goal?

Throw for Team Canada in the 2020 Olympics.

Is there a story no one knows about you?

Most people don't know that I'm a Canadian. And also, I once wore a softball shoe and a javelin shoe to throw in a California track meet. It was freaky, I looked in my bag and only saw one shoe. My parents took me to a local athletic store to purchase a shoe.

What kind of advice can you give a young kid that's following your passion?

You don't have to be fast to do track and field. Keep your head up because if you aren't doing well in one event, there's fourteen other events you can try. It's an individual sport and you're trying to beat yourself. You're competing against your marks or your time. Maybe one day you'll throw four inches farther than last time. It just takes hard work and making that decision.

Candi Rae Espinoza, A True Champion, Part IV

In the first race of the summer she was one of the top five finishers in the women's 30-39 age group. Her time was 15:29 -- not too bad for the first time competing after all she'd been through. The following week Candi continued to train hard and after the second 3K run she had improved her time dropping it to 15:20 and again finishing in the top five. Candi was motivated and inspired by all of the other runners that could sprint the 3K. The third run was coming up the next Thursday. Candi was striving to break 15:00. After the run was over she fell short running 15:14. That didn't discourage her at all, it just made her train harder the next week. I would run with her to set a faster pace -- this helped her tremendously.

The final 3K race for the summer had arrived in the 1992 Cross Country Championships. First, second, and third would receive trophies in each age group. Needless to say, I did not place in my age group, but wow, what an amazing race Candi had.

1992 Candi is getting ready to run the 3000 meters at Bush Pasture Park.

1992 Candi is getting ready to run the 3000 meters at Bush Pasture Park.

I had not even thought about her fighting brain cancer. We even started having small arguments like old times. Candi's life was beginning to get back to normal and I was very proud to be her husband and to see all of her accomplishments.

The championship race for her age group was finally about to get started. I was at the starting line yelling at Candi with our two boys. I yelled, "You can do it!" Jake yelled, "Good luck, Mom!" Matt just watched and smiled. As the gun went off Candi made a fast dash at the beginning of the race running at a good pace. She slowed down a little in-between to finish strong. At the end of the race she was cruising down the stretch. I was looking at the clock and yelled at Candi, "14:42 .... 14:43 ... 14:44!" Candi heard me and kicked as hard as she could. She placed second, winning a trophy, and broke 15:00 with a time of 14:49. In 1992 at the age of 31, Candi was a true champion in more ways than one.

A few months later Candi started having seizures once a month. We returned to the doctor. She received an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The cancer was back. She was scheduled for a second surgery soon after that. The entire world collapsed on us. After she recovered from surgery for the second time, Salem Hospital could not help us anymore. She was referred to OHSU (Oregon Health Science University). This hospital is in Portland, Oregon. We were told it had the best brain cancer treatment program in the nation. Candi wanted to fight this thing doing anything it took to survive. She wanted to live so bad and to continue being a daughter, mom, and wife. She had just started taking classes at Chemeketa Community College to eventually become an elementary teacher -- she loved kids.

She wanted so much to watch her two boys grow up. She dreamed of watching them play basketball in high school and in college. It tore her heart up and she was very depressed. I remember her words, "David, this isn't fair, I don't want to leave my two boys." I had no words, I just held her and told her how much I loved her and that I didn't understand why this was happening to us. We continued to pray every night for her health and a possible miracle-cure in the near future.

There is so much that went on during her last two years. I'm not going to write about her second brain surgery, or her last year of more intensive chemotherapy treatment at OHSU -- it would be too painful for me. But I do want to say this, Candi allowed doctors to try a couple of experimental drugs on her. This would help other patients with treatments if successful. The purpose of the medicine was to reproduce white and red blood cells for enduring treatments. She was one of the first patients to try that medicine. It was successful and now many people are taking that medication through their treatments -- lives are being saved. Praise God for that.

The sacrifices she made as a mother of two boys while battling this horrible illness was a true inspiration for me. She taught me so much about loving our kids. How to feed them, help them keep up on homework, get involved with school activities, attend church and Bible reading, take them to doctor appointments, etc. She enjoyed watching her boys play basketball or whatever activity was at stake. She was what I call an amazing mom -- there are many of you out there now, and we need more. Mother's Day is a day of honoring mothers like Candi. It's a very tough job but very rewarding at the same time.

When we received the news that Candi had three months to live, it hit me hard. Many family members were saddened and it was a very difficult time in our lives. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to listen to Candi. She shared many things with me, some that are very private and some that I will share with you.

Candi had three months left, she requested this picture of her and the boys.

Candi had three months left, she requested this picture of her and the boys.

Candi said. "David, please take care of our two boys -- they are precious to me. Some day they will both be married and have kids of their own." She started crying and continued, "Jacob is so talented and tall, Matthew is always trying to keep up with his older brother. He works so hard to be like his older brother. One day he will be able to compete with Jacob -- he'll catch up to him. I love my boys so much it hurts me -- this isn't fair. Jacob is going to be fine, but please encourage Matthew. I'm going to be with Jesus soon."

What does a dad do when his oldest child comes up to him and says, "Dad, is mom going to die?" That was very difficult for me ... to talk to my kids about what was happening.

The caring-mom nature she had was truly remarkable. She began to plan for many things. She would write notes and leave them in different places for me to find. She even left two notes in a box that we kept for our kids' memories. One note was for Matt and one for Jake. She knew her kids well and she raised them properly while I was at work.

Her thirteen years of being my wife was a love that not many people have -- we were so in love and we shared two wonderful boys together -- did everything with them. We were there with her until her last breath. I thought I knew how it was going to feel when she passed, but I had no clue until it actually happened. In January of 1994, Candi went to be with our Lord Jesus Christ. She was thirty-two years old. Matt was nine and Jake was eleven.

I do want to say thank you to a few special people that helped me with my two boys tremendously when I really needed it, Jesus Christ (God), Elaine Cover (Candi's mom), Richard and Julie Espinoza (brother and sister-in-law), Kelly Ward/Ferber (my sister-in-law), and Sheri Hall (neighbor on Strawberry Ct.). I'll always be thankful to you for the extra help you provided. I know it was a small disruption from your family -- you displayed "love" in every way.

I think about how very temporary this world is and then I think about eternity. Everlasting life in heaven is what Candi is experiencing now. One day we will see her again. She has no more pain, she has no more sadness, she has everlasting life in paradise. That to me is a celebration. I also think about how proud Candi would have been of our two boys and the fine young men they have become.

When a door is closed in this temporary world, it's terrible -- painful and not fair. The good Lord opens another door when we least expect it. I'm currently married to a wonderful lady, Loni, she has two daughters, Kalin and Darci (they both have families). I gained two talented and beautiful stepdaughters and a wife. We now have six grandkids from both sides, and, my marriage with Loni is growing stronger every year. I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to love twice in my lifetime. After a few years of adjustment, Loni has put a smile on my face that will continue for the rest of my life.

Mother's Day and May 11th are the hardest times of the year for me. My heart is glued together with two beautiful women ... one that I think about from the past -- what would she be like around her grandkids, or seeing her boys succeed in life in so many areas? And the other I think about, is the one that now brings a smile to my face everyday and that I'm learning so many things from presently. Even though this time of the year is tough for me, it's still a day that I cherish. Mother's Day is a day that really should be a paid holiday. Only good mothers know what it truly means to be a mother -- they experience it all, we just get a glimpse of it.

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there that sacrifice for their kids and that show them love through actions. I appreciate all of you.

RIP Candi, 1961-1994, In memory -- may we meet again one day in heaven.

Candi Rae Espinoza, A True Champion, Part III

After a few weeks we were done with talking and we began Candi's road to recovery. The first thing we did was wait for Candi's head to heal from her brain surgery. Believe me that was a challenge in itself. Candi complained about painful headaches. Once she took the Tylenol with Codeine that the doctor prescribed to her, the pain eased up a bit. She was also taking Phenobarbital to help prevent seizures. Candi felt nauseated many times. All I could do is be there for her with as much support as possible. We couldn't have too much noise around the house for a long time.

After Candi was well enough to move around pretty good it was time to start radiation therapy. I can't recall how many days a week I drove her to the hospital for radiation treatment. As soon as I made it home from work, we'd head to the hospital for treatment. The plan was for the radiation to kill the remaining tumor tissue.

After thirty days of radiation treatment, we continued to the next step, chemotherapy. These two treatments work together to combat the cancer cells. I took Candi to many treatment sessions. It was painful watching her go through the chemotherapy treatments. The chemo was administered intravenously. It was too intense and painful to her, so the doctor had to mix the solution with Novocain. A normal chemo session would last anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour. Afterward, Candi appeared as if she was intoxicated and very sick. When we arrived home she would throw up and feel nauseated.

She would sleep for three hours and when she woke up she felt worn out and exhausted. This went on for weeks. Once a month the doctors would take magnetic-imagery scans to monitor whether there was still tumor tissue or not.

When the treatment process was over, Candi was beginning to come around and was delighted that she didn't need to go in and get her wrist or her arm poked by a needle, or simply the inconvenience of being there in general -- at least for another month when the next brain scan was scheduled.

When it came time for the next scan we were very nervous because this was going to decide whether to continue the treatment or not. Candi had been praying every night and even making a promise to God that from now on she would read the Bible every night and become a better Christian. I didn't know how much of a better Christian she could have been. I guess reading the Bible every night was a great addition, not just for her, but for me, Jake, and Matt as well.

We were finally given the results. The doctor said, "I have some good news, no tumor tissue showing up." I jumped with joy and gave thanks to the Lord, the doctors, and the nurses for taking part in a successful treatment process. The chemotherapy physician looked at me and said, "Now I'm not making any promises, this thing could come back or it could be gone for good, but for now it's not showing." He concluded to tell me that Candi would need brain scans every three months for one year. After one year, only if she was having problems would they give her a scan. I was so relieved and happy. Candi was thankful for prayers being answered and for the talented physicians.

That night Candi said to me, "David, I'm going to start walking around Chemeketa track just to see how I feel." I answered, "That's a great idea, I'll support you one hundred percent on getting back in shape. We can take the kids out there with us and I'll jog with them while you walk." So it was settled.

Candi trains for the Bush Park Cross-Country Meet.

Candi trains for the Bush Park Cross-Country Meet.


In May of 1988 Candi began to exercise again. The first month, Candi walked two miles a day and the second month the same. The third month she jogged one mile at a very slow pace. After a couple of months she was jogging two miles. I couldn't believe my eyes, this was more running than Candi had ever done her entire life. Don't get me wrong she was still experiencing headaches and weakness, but the workouts made her feel better health wise. The surgeon had informed us that these kind of surgeries take two or three years to heal provided the medication was taken regularly and the person took care. There were times when Candi wanted to push herself a little more, but she realized she needed to ease back, slow down, and take care of herself.

In the summer of 1992, Candi, Jake, Matt, and myself were training for cross-country runs that took place at Bush Pasture Park close to Willamette University. The races were held every Thursday evening and the final race would be the championship run for the first, second, and third place trophies of several divisions. Candi was training for the 3000 Meter Run. She had never ran it before, this was a good goal for her to reach. Her hard training would hopefully pay off. She was nervous about competing in an event where other runners were around her and people watching in a big crowd. She was used to watching her kids run and compete.

--- To be continued in Part IV ---

Candi Rae Espinoza, A True Champion, Part II

I had my hands full with Matt and Jake. They were good kids but still very young and really didn't know what was going on. Actually, I really felt they were the biggest boost of support for Candi and myself. Jake was sad, he understood that mommy had something in her head that had to come out in order for her to get well and come home again. At four years old, I remember him telling Candi, "God will help you Mom, you'll see." Matt was too young to know what was going on. In any event, they both kept me busy enough that it created unbelievable support in making it through all of the stress and emotional turmoil.

Candi loved watching me pull the kids in a homemade sled.

Candi loved watching me pull the kids in a homemade sled.

Surgery day finally arrived, it was during the month of February 1987 that Candi leaned back on the hospital bed while they prepared her for surgery. The kids and myself were next to her along with her parents and other family members. I thought to myself, this could be the last time I would talk to her, but my heart kept saying she would make it and she will recover, please God give her the strength to survive this operation.

As I looked into her beautiful light-brown eyes, I told her how much I loved her and that I would be waiting for her after the surgery. Candi was in tears and she said, "I love you to, David, and all of you too." She turned her head and looked at everyone in the room, "I keep thinking of that song that says, there are angels all around me." Candi looked very nervous and scared. As they wheeled the hospital bed away, I waved at her and smiled, she waved back wiping the tears from her eyes. My two little guys waved at their mommy as well. Candi and I both questioned ourselves that night, is this really happening to us?

I had never felt so helpless and so downhearted in my life. I took my two boys back to my brother, Richard's house. My sister-in-law, Julie, was so supportive -- watching my kids when I needed it -- so thankful for her. I then drove back to the hospital and waited in the lobby area. The surgeon had told me that he would call me as soon as he was done with the operation.

Candi's parents, Joe and Elaine, were in the lobby area waiting just as I was. They were really concerned. Never had I seen my mother-in-law crochet as fast as she was that day. She must have completed an entire blanket during Candi's operation. We kept looking at our watches in silence.

Meanwhile, in the operation room, Candi's surgery was finally happening. The doctor described the procedure to me but I won't get too detailed with you -- just a brief summary. Candi was given anesthesia and all the necessary medical equipment hooked up to her. Once the procedure began, there was an incision made on her hairline above the forehead. Next, the flesh covering the skull was flapped back. Now the doctor was ready to drill four holes -- kind of like setting up a square. Once the holes were drilled in each corner a saw blade was used to cut the skull from hole to hole. Finally, the tumor, which was described as a white mass the size of a golf ball was carefully removed. The surgeon didn't remove all of the tumor tissue due to delicate brain organs that could be harmed.

The operation took three and a half hours and there was no blood transfusion needed, thank God. When the doctor called me, I answered the phone located in the lobby area. I was relieved to hear that Candi was strong and made it through the operation. I had never prayed before as much as I did at the lobby. I wanted to see Candi but I couldn't. The doctor said it would be a few hours before the anesthesia wore off.

When I had the green light to see her, I walked into the intensive care unit where Candi was placed. She had her eyes closed lying flat on her back with a huge turban-like wrapping around her head. I slowly walked up to her and said, "Hi." My tears slowly started running down my face. I wanted her to feel at ease so I asked her in a whisper, "Can you name your husband and your two boys?" She moved her head a little bit but not much and responded with a whisper, "David, Jacob, Matthew." My heart jumped for joy at that moment -- I knew her memory was still there.

The surgeon told me that she had a good chance to recover and that they needed to take a piece of the tumor to pathology to find out if it was malignant (cancerous). He said not to worry because even if it was cancer, there would be a plan for treatment. I didn't know what to say -- I was in a bit of a shock. The days went by fast as Candi continued to recover from brain surgery.

The days were long for me and busy. I tried to spend as much time as I could at the hospital, but with two kids it was difficult. I started realizing how tough it was to do Candi's job as a stay-at-home mom -- I struggled in that department. I had so much to learn while my wife was in the hospital. I won't even mention the long list, you moms know what I'm talking about. My day-job manager was very supportive and I was blessed to have sick leave saved up. I'm so thankful to my family members that helped me out in many ways.

After several days Candi was up taking walks in the hospital hallway. In eight days she was back home. Now all we had to do is wait for the results from pathology. Was it cancer or was it just a benign cyst? The doctor called and wanted to talk to me alone. We all went to the hospital since it was the same day the staples from Candi's forehead were being removed. As they were doing that in a room, the doctor showed up and pulled me out of the room away from everyone else. He looked at me with a serious look in his eyes and whispered, "It's malignant." I felt like crying followed by an awful feeling all over my body, like a big truck had just hit me. My heart sunk very low.

Dr. Buza followed those words with some encouragement. I remember him saying, "She's young, healthy, and strong. She has a chance to beat this. With treatment and today's technology, there's hope." That made me feel a little better.

I went back to tell Candi the bad news and immediately followed with the good news of treatment and what the doctor explained. Candi was silent and really didn't know what to say. She felt very tired and weak. We immediately scheduled appointments with the radiation physician, the chemotherapy physician, and the neurosurgeon.

--- To be continued in part III ---

Candi Rae Espinoza, A True Champion, Part I

On December 06, 1980 Candi and David Espinoza were married. Candi was nineteen and David was twenty one. Candi was the sole supporter of the family until David completed his college degree in computer science. When he landed a job in Salem, Oregon, as a computer programmer they were financially stable and decided to buy a house in Salem.

Early on in their marraige the couple decided they wanted to have children. On November 6, 1982 Candi gave birth to a healthy boy, Jacob. During December of 1983 Candi had a miscarriage and lost the baby -- sad day for the family. On December 22, 1984 Candi gave birth to another healthy boy, Matthew. The family was doing well -- everything was wonderful and full of promises.

David's side of the family lived in Gervais, Oregon -- a small town about eight miles north of Salem. His parents, brothers, and sisters all lived there as well except for one brother who was serving in the Air Force. Candi's side of the family, parents, one brother and sister, lived in Salem. The other sister was teaching in Oakridge, Oregon.

In the month of January 1987 while David, Candi, and their kids were visiting Richard and Julie in Gervais, David's dad wanted help remodeling his house. Candi and the kids stayed at Julie's house and David and Richard went to help their dad. Late in the evening about 6:00 p.m., Candi called David and complained about seeing double vision. Right away he drove over as fast as he could to pick her up. They headed to Salem Hospital Emergency Room.

Candi was really afraid and worried. Most of her lifetime she experienced headaches, but every time her mom, Elaine, would take her to the doctor, he would say the same thing over and over, "It's just a migraine take some Tylenol." This time there was a symptom that gave the doctor a reason to give Candi a brain scan. I, David, was worried sick and scared. On the way to the hospital I kept asking Candi, "Are you okay?" She kept responding, "Well, I'm still seeing double and my head is hurting." It was like falling off of a cliff and not landing yet.

We arrived at the hospital in about thirty minutes. We had to fill out information -- just normal emergency procedures, good grief. Candi and I both went in when the ER doctor examined her. He immediately said, "I think there's something going on in your head, I'll have to order a brain scan." I went back out to the waiting room while they took Candi back to the scan room. I waited nervously and many things went through my head, I didn't have any spit in my mouth and my breathing was shallow ... I knew I had to remain strong.

I waited for about an hour until finally the doctor came out and handed me the bad news. Candi had a growth that was pushing on her right eye's optic nerve. Candi was admitted to the hospital right away. The doctor explained to us that this growth had to come out as soon as possible. Our family doctor arrived at the hospital that night to examine Candi and to talk to us. He was quite honest and informed us that Candi could die.

The following day the neurosurgeon came and talked to us. He explained that he would remove as much of this brain tumor as he could without harming any delicate brain organs. We had heard that Dr. Buza was one of the best surgeons around and very successful. This made me feel a little better but not much better. It was very difficult and confusing for Candi to accept what was happening to her. She was very emotional and continued to be for the rest of the night.  She kept saying, "God is with us ... I don't want to die." We had always been Christians, we went to church on Sundays, prayed regularly, and in general we were always nice to people ... especially Candi. She would bend herself out of the way to do things for relatives and friends.

As I lied there on the hospital bed holding Candi while she was crying, I kept saying to myself, why? You see these kind of things happen in movies and to other people, but never to us. We had everything going in life with our kids and our house and activities -- life was so much fun. It was one of the longest waits of our lives, waiting for the surgery to take place in a few days.


--- To be continued in Part II ---

Let Me Be Your Next Keynote Speaker, I Pulled Myself Out of Poverty

If you are looking for a motivational speaker that encourages middle school or high school students to further their education and make something of themselves, I'm that person. Not only do I encourage students, but I also like to encourage people in the community to climb their way out of minimum-wage jobs.

I was raised on the ghetto side of Dimmitt, Texas, a small town in the south with few opportunities as far as a professional career. As an eleven-year-old kid I worked in the crop fields during the summers. I pulled myself out of poverty by making good decisions. I have so many positive memories to share in a way that it will help the audience I speak to. You will hear my story.

I attended high school, in Dimmitt, Texas, and in 1976 my family moved up to Oregon -- I was only a sophomore. I went on to graduate from Gervais High School. I made a decision to further my education after high school. I attended Chemeketa Community College. Through intensive hard work I earned an Associates of Computer Science Degree.

It was not easy finding a job after graduating from college, I worked long hours loading furniture at Stanton Industries -- a factory. All my family worked there and they helped me get a job there. Once again, I felt I was working in a labor job that paid very little. I didn't give up, I kept applying at different places.

After working at the furniture factory for six months, I received a call from the Oregon Department of Transportation. They were hiring and they wanted to interview me. In 1982 a new beginning unfolded for me as an information technology professional. I went on to work for several agencies as a software engineer. I finished up my thirty-one-year career with the State of Oregon at age fifty five. In 2013 I retired with a full-benefit package -- huge goal accomplished!


Author David Espinoza at Walkway above Willamette River in Salem, Oregon. 

Author David Espinoza at Walkway above Willamette River in Salem, Oregon. 

My passion had always been writing inspiring sports stories. While holding down a day job I would write during my lunchtime and in the evenings. I'm now an author and have written four books. I was always a three-sport athlete while attending school and enjoyed all of the positive and rewarding experiences. As an author, my focus is on non-fiction and realism-fiction. My new career now is writing and keynote speaking.

I'm confident that I can encourage many students, or anyone looking for direction. I was once a less-fortunate kid struggling and wondering if there was a better way. I never understood why my parents lived the way they did -- with six kids and very little money. I dug deep to learn how to be more successful in life -- I didn't want to feel like I was spinning in the mud and not getting anywhere. I'm living proof that if you work hard and educate yourself, you can live a decent life and support a family some day. I want to encourage other people and help them. Answering questions at the end of my presentation is one of my favorite parts of speaking -- that's when I can really help each individual.

I would love to come speak at your school, organization, or your event.  My fee is normally $400.00 for one hour saving the last ten or fifteen minutes for questions. I live in Salem, Oregon, so if you're outside of Oregon, I would ask for my flight to be paid. Local schools in the Willamette Valley, I'd be more than glad to negotiate a fee with you, since my travel would not be far. Thank you so much and I look forward to speaking at your venue -- please contact me.

David Espinoza

email address:  espi42@comcast.net

website:             www.davidespi.com                     

South Salem's Evina Westbrook has a Passion for Basketball and is Ranked #3 in the Nation

Any girl that's playing basketball right now would love to be in a position where just about every college in the nation is calling and doing whatever they can to reel them in toward their university. Sometimes it's easy to overlook how much work an athlete puts in to arrive at that place. For 6' 0" tall Evina Westbrook who currently plays for South Salem High School, it started on September 2015 when it was legal for colleges to contact juniors. After midnight, she started receiving many text messages from coaches all over the nation.

If you've ever watched Evina play basketball, well, let's just say that you hope your team isn't facing her that night. She can play just about every position, one-guard, two-guard, three-guard, forward ... I think you get my drift. She's become a consistent-versatile player that transitions well on the backcourt. With size and top-notch scoring abilities I'm not surprised to see her team, the South Salem Lady Saxons, ranked so high in the state of Oregon.

Evina's parents are, James and Eva Westbrook. She has two full brothers, LJ and TKO. She also has two half brothers, Tyler and Bryce. With four brothers one can only imagine the basketball battles that went on in this family. Her brother, LJ, plays basketball for Casper College in Wyoming. Her cousin, Avry Holmes, plays basketball for Clemson in the ACC Conference. Avry is also featured in a book, The Professor Grayson Boucher Plus More NW Sports Stories.

In the beginning as a little kid, Evina started out in Albany, Oregon, and shortly after moved to Corvallis. And then for her grade-school days her family moved to the Swegle Elementary area in Salem, Oregon, followed by a move to Weddle Elementary in Keizer, Oregon. She then moved to the Hammond Elementary area in NE Salem.

An introduction to the game of basketball started by her watching her dad, James, while coaching LJ's team. She would study the game and watch the moves and plays as two teams competed against each other.

"My dad and brother definitely had something to do with it, but my true inspiration came from the game itself. I really started liking it. Just watching how players dribbled the ball and shot it -- also how players defended. I just fell in love with the whole aspect of the game and I haven't stopped -- it's a lot of fun," Evina said.

As the years went by during grade school, you would find Evina at The Hoop, a basketball facility that is also used for volleyball, skating, and many other activities. She spent many hours by herself working on her game at a very young age. When she was in the third grade she started playing for a boys traveling team called The Hoop, coached by Price Johnson. Being one of the taller kids she normally played post, or basically any position on the floor.

"I started going to the gym every day at a young age, basketball became my lifestyle. Girls normally mature faster than boys so I was always one of the taller kids," Evina said.

She attended Stephens Middle School in NE Salem, and then Houck Middle School in the north side of Salem. She's always lived in middle-income neighborhoods where things were pretty laid back and calm.

Playing with boys, Evina didn't back down from anyone and the boys didn't treat her any different -- they didn't go easy on her at all. She has one memory of a boy that was guarding her and kept pushing her. He even went on to call her an insulting name. Evina started pushing him back. As she was walking to the sideline after the altercation, the boy called her another name. She turned around and started coming at the boy. Her coach held her back and ended the altercation.

"I don't know why that stuck to my mind, but I have a fresh memory of that. I'm glad my coach held me back," Evina said with a chuckle.  

Evina has a memory of people making comments to her because of her skin color and simply because she was different. Some people judged her based on what she looked like. That was tough for her but she worked through it by taking that anger out on the basketball court. Some girls would give her a hard time. They would say mean things to her like, you're a girl, you shouldn't be playing basketball with boys, you should be on the sideline.

"Those comments used to bother me, but now I don't even worry about it. I took it as something to push me harder -- to prove people wrong. In those days it would help when my coaches told me that in a game I wasn't a girl or a boy, I was a basketball player," Evina said.

The moment came when she had to transition from playing on the boys' team to a new beginning of playing on a girls' team. Evina struggled with the mindset of playing with girls. She had gotten so used to being around the boys to even establishing a comfort zone of a camaraderie.

"It was very difficult for me to make that change. I mean they were my boys and we were close -- we had each other's back. When I left the boys' team I felt like I was letting them down -- I really enjoyed being part of The Hoop team. I built friendships and learned a lot about the game of basketball," Evina said.

The idea of college scouts in the future and many other circumstances was what led Evina to make that transition to start playing with girls. She started her adventures with a travel team based out of Portland, Oregon. Team Concept was coached by Michael Abraham and a player like Evina was something any coach would want.

Evina's highlight playing with Team Concept came against the team, Fast. She scored 19 points to help her team win a big game.

Evina's blood was flowing with basketball and practices were feeding her to perfecting her skills inside the gym. As she grew older she joined an elite-all-star team called Cal Stars coached by Kelly Sopak. The experience was so fulfilling and the team bonding with talented girls from different cities was so rewarding for her.

In 2013 the moment of truth was coming and Evina would be entering South Salem High School as a freshman. She would be playing high school basketball for the first time. She would wear number 22, because her grandfather's birthday is on Sept. 22 -- significant meaning.

"I was scared and nervous. The one thing I had in the back of my mind is, I didn't want to take a senior spot on the team. I felt very uneasy about that. My mom kept telling me that it wasn't a senior spot it was anyone's spot," Evina said.

Evina knew that she had worked hard for years and that if she was chosen to be one of the starters on the varsity team, well, she deserved it just as much as any other player. Not only did she land the spot after the tryouts, but she has been a varsity starter all three years of her high school career.

Evina Westbrook #22 and her mom, Eva, celebrating a win.

Evina Westbrook #22 and her mom, Eva, celebrating a win.

The first game she ever played in high school was so meaningful and full of joy. She had the honor of representing her school in a varsity game.

"The first game I ever played with South Salem I was so nervous. I kept thinking, Oh my God this is my first game! I knew that I had earned this through my hard work year after year -- long hours in the gym. All the seniors respected me that game -- that meant a lot," Evina said.

Playing in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference), Evina has racked up the all-conference awards, all-tournament team awards, and many more. Now in her junior year she is lighting it up helping her team stay up high in the state rankings. And of course, another conference title this year to add to her collection of accomplishments. If it was up to me, I'd give her the vote for Player of the Year.

Evina speaks highly of her team and how well they support each other. Three top players that are making it happen for South Salem are Evina Westbrook, Dani Harley, and Jordan Woodvine. But the entire team has a role contributing in many ways.

"My team is so supportive of me. We feed off of each other. We have team dinners and we hang out together off the court. We like to laugh ... even with the coaches, Nick McWilliams and Trevor Bodine. We're goofy at times and like to dance and make videos," Evina said.

Evina's player-coach relationship with Head Coach Nick McWilliams is working out great. He trusts her with some decisions whether it be defense or offense. She also gets along great with Trevor.

"I have a great relationship with my coaches. I'm closest to Dani Harley and Simone Leaks. They're my best friends and they have my back. We do many things together that are not basketball related -- we have a lot of fun together. Jordan Woodvine has a different mindset. Sometimes we have to bring her back ... she'll try to do her own thing at times. We check her and make it about the team. She's a great person and a big part of our success. My teammates never get jealous of me, they are mostly very happy for me and I like that about them," Evina said.

A highlight that Evina remembers at the Fitzgerald Tournament in December 2015 at Spokane, Washington, was one for the books. They were playing Lewis and Clark High School and they were trailing by 29 points. Evina took over in the second half and brought South Salem back. She scored 32 points and claimed the big win.

"That game I got on fire because I really wanted the win. The first shot I took from the corner was wet! My teammates kept getting me the ball and I just kept shooting and making everything," Evina said.

Evina #22 with her teammates after the comeback win at the Fitzgerald Tourney. 

Evina #22 with her teammates after the comeback win at the Fitzgerald Tourney. 

Evina's biggest highlight in high school has to be the 2015 OSAA 6A State Championship Title captured in Portland, Oregon. Evina was an all-state selection and played a major role in that road to the state title game. Katie McWilliams, who now plays for Oregon State was her teammate that year.

Evina at church with her dad, James and brother TKO after the State Title game.

Evina at church with her dad, James and brother TKO after the State Title game.

Evina admits that it's a tremendous challenge keeping up with the grades in school and finding a balance with school work, practices, and games. It's a tough thing for a young kid in high school -- she's managed very well. Evina is holding a 3.4 GPA which is remarkable despite the many activities on and off the court she juggles.

"I study best when I study with my mom. I do most of my homework at school I really don't like to take any home. It's my life and I will be in college some day. This is a great way to prepare -- I think school is very important," Evina said.

Along the way this young lady has had a few mentors that have helped her with many things. I'll name a few, her mom Eva Westbrook, brother LJ, cousin Avry Holmes, Price Johnson, Michael Abraham, and Kelly Sopak.

In her junior year, Evina has experienced the recruiting world, something that took her by surprise. College coaches can legally talk to athletes their junior year in September at midnight. So at midnight, Evina received 10 text messages and then a few minutes later she received 20 text messages.

"It was insane right at midnight. And then starting at 8:00 am I received phone calls all morning. All from colleges around the country. I feel really blessed, I know there are thousands of girls that would want to be in my position right now," Evina said.

Presently I'll list some the colleges that are after Evina -- there's way too many to list but her mom speaks of the letter stacks she has at home. Very interested are Louisville; Maryland; Duke; South Carolina; Notre Dame; Baylor; Tennessee; Kentucky; Ohio State; Oregon State, Oregon, and the rest of the PAC-12 Colleges. The letters, texts, and phone calls keep coming.

Evina is undecided and has been traveling on the weekends with her mom. They are visiting several colleges. An athlete gets five official paid visits, Evina and her mom are paying their own way for now to visit more than just five. They want to narrow it down to 10 by this summer. She doesn't show favor toward the East or West but it's important that she's happy with the program and that it's the right fit for her.

"I'm so thankful for my mom. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She's my best friend and my buddy. She has sacrificed so much for me. I know that I'm her only girl and that one day I'll leave home, but I prefer not to talk about that right now. It will happen though and she'll be okay with it," Evina said.

Where do the years go? And how fast time flies when you're having fun with all of the excitement. It's so important to understand how much parents support athletes like Evina. I had a chance to talk to Eva Westbrook, her mom.

"I feel like she deserves what she's getting. I feel so blessed to be her mom. Watching her in a game is so much fun. She spent all her summers in the gym while other girls went to swimming parties or other events. I watched her work hard and sometimes to the point that she almost hyperventilated and I had to rush her to the hospital. She was doing too much wanting to get better. Some people have said, she's so lucky. Luck has nothing to do with it. She has worked so hard to put herself in this position. My husband James and I are so very proud of Evina," her mom said.

You can find Evina coaching an inner-city youth basketball team on the weekends in Portland. She'll also traveling to Seattle, Washington to coach there as well.

Evina Westbrook is a junior, and she has already set a mark at South Salem High School -- one that many people will remember when she's gone to play at a Division I College.

Evina, What's your favorite subject in school?


Favorite pro basketball team?

LA Lakers

Do you have a short-term goal?

Win the OSAA 2016 State Championship

Do you have a long-term Goal?

Make the U18 USA Olympic Team and represent the USA. I would also like to win a national title at least one year with the college team I play with. I'd like to play in the WNBA and later become a broadcaster for ESPN.

What advice can you give a young basketball player?

Play basketball because you love it. Some parents make their kids play basketball. If you don't like it you shouldn't be playing. Put the time in to get better. Go to the gym by yourself and work. Watch players that have basketball knowledge and learn.


McKay Basketball Team Winners Despite Nail-Biting Shocker

I'll be the first to admit that my heart almost came to a complete stop and my emotional pull was strenuous watching the last few seconds of the game between the McKay Royal Scots and the McMinnville Grizzlies. The game was played on Tuesday February 9th. It will be a memory that I will put behind knowing that the Scots played their hearts out.

The McKay basketball program has meant a lot to me since my son began coaching there a few years ago. Not only have I been excited to come watch the practices, but I've also been part of some overnight tournaments and some off-the-court activities. I've also had an amazing opportunity to watch some of the kids excel in their skill set drastically -- not only in basketball but academically as well.

The McKay area, which resides in the north and northeast side of Salem off of Lancaster Dr., has many families living in the area that struggle financially -- definitely a low-income area. For example, there are kids that walk several miles to get home after a hard day at school and practice. They complain at times when the weather gets cold and it's dark outside -- rain, cold, and dark is not a good combination. This is just one example, there are many more.

Despite uncomfortable conditions, there are kids that take pride in hard work to improve in all areas including on the basketball court. For the seniors like Darrell Woods, Tristen Wilson, Demeris Bailey, and Izaya Coronado, this year has been a rewarding experience. McKay has several JV players that also play varsity and contribute major minutes. The seniors have blended well with the young and inexperienced players.

Darrell Woods never played organized basketball until he was a sophomore. He was the leading scorer in this game and finished the night with his all-time high of 32 points -- plus he made all but one free throw -- I'm pretty sure he had a double-double. Tristen Wilson annoyed the McMinnville players hitting his mid-range jumper time and time again. Tristen has improved tremendously since his freshman year. Izaya Coronado took a step back sitting out last year due to a torn ACL in his knee -- he's back to full strength returning from a long road of recovery. Demeris Bailey who stands maybe at 5' 5" is a force and has improved on his shooting and defensive hustle.

The McKay coaches have done a remarkable job with the boys. The volunteer hours they put in are limitless. The progress made by this team has been impressive. Whether their players make the playoffs or not is really irrelevant, but what really matters is the decent young men they will become after leaving the McKay basketball program. The coaches always make it a point to take a group of kids to the state tournament to watch some games. Some kids from McKay have never been to an event that big. When the state tournament was held in the Moda Center a few years ago, some kids said it was their first time actually seeing it live.

The Royal Scots have come up short in many games this season -- games that could have gone either way. A record of 6 - 14 overall doesn't do justice, because their record doesn't represent how good this team is and how much heart the players have.

In the previous meeting earlier this season the McMinnville Grizzlies defeated McKay by more than 20 points. Now they were about to play for the second and final time in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference). It was one special moment to watch McKay take a 12-point lead against the McMinnville Grizzlies.

The game was intense and the Royal Scots, lead by Darrell Woods, hung in there leading most of the game. The Grizzlies would answer back using Wyatt Smith's three pointers. This tightened the score up by the fourth quarter, 75 -71, in favor of the Scots. A free throw sunk by an opponent made it 75 - 72. On the next series McKay turned the ball over and Smith was left open to hit a huge three-point shot making it, 75 -75! The Grizzlies home court erupted as McKay started making mental errors in a hostile environment.

With seven seconds remaining in the game people were standing up on the bleachers, it was McKay's ball underneath their hoop. Everyone was unsure of what the unpredictable result could be. When the basketball was in-bounded, I'm not totally sure what the plan was, but with Darrell Woods triple teamed, junior guard Josiah Castillo ended up with the basketball and a decent look at the hoop. He fired up the three-point shot. Josiah is probably McKay's best three-point shooter. As the ball was floating through the air, the crowd silenced for a moment watching breathless. The ball hit the front part of the rim and bounced once as if it was going to fall in, but it rolled out backward falling short. There was a mad scramble for the rebound and somehow a McMinnville player darted out on the fast break as the ball was zoomed to him landing right on his hands. 4, 3, 2, 1, he finished the lay-in and the home court fans went crazy! I had not heard a crowd that loud in a long while.

I hoped and was rooting for the Royal Scots -- the boys knew this game should have been theirs. It meant so much to me, simply because I have gotten to know these boys and I could sense what they were possibly feeling when the game slipped away in four seconds -- a result that wasn't supposed to happen, but it did.

It's okay to be disappointed -- it's difficult to swallow an ending like that in a crucial conference game. The Scots had their heads down in disbelief, but knowing this coaching staff and the caliber of players they have, well, I can imagine how very proud they were fighting to the end. The accomplishments this season for each individual player has been inspiring. This is the same team that defeated them by more than 20 points in the first meeting.

When McKay played North Salem in the previous week, their free-throw percentage was 45 percent -- all year McKay had struggled at the line. After that game I told them that if they could hit 65 percent in free throws, I'd buy dinner for them at the downtown Marcos Mexican Restaurant. They must have been awful hungry because they shattered their record shooting 85 percent against McMinnville -- phenomenal! I guess I'm buying dinner for the varsity team.

Sure, McKay lost a close game that possibly cost them the playoffs. But there's still four games left, and anything could happen. Also, lets look at Darrell Woods. In a normal game he would be called for "carrying the ball" or "traveling" a few times. This game there were none of those calls made on him. He scored his season high of 32 points. I don't know about you guys, but I think if there is a community college out there wanting a solid player, they better look at Darrell who stands at 6' 0". He has scored over players that were 6' 6" and 6' 8" all season long. Tristen Wilson consistently knocked down lay-ins and short range jumpers and he stayed out of foul trouble -- Tristen at 6' 4" can play at the next level if he puts in more hard work this spring.

McKay looked like a top-ranked team that night. They should all be very proud of what they did on the basketball court playing in an away game. With three sophomores, Khyler Beach, Andre Tovar, and Israel Garza, who all have different skill sets contributing at a high level, it's very possible that this team could end their season in a good note with four remaining conference games. One sophomore that's improving rapidly is Ryan Bangs -- he'll be fun to watch next year. The juniors are Hayden Hull, Shaton Daniels, Noah Tavera, Josiah Castillo, and Joey Hang. Head Coach Dean Sanderson and his staff play twelve varsity players that contribute in the rotation.

Madi Hingston is Versatile and Talented for McNary Girls' Basketball

In Keizer, Oregon, there is one talented young lady that's helping the McNary Lady Celtics stay at the top of the Greater Valley Conference (GVC) next to number two in the state, South Salem. She dribbles the ball effortlessly with either hand. She passes the basketball skillfully dishing out assists, shoots the three-point shot very well, and is a leader on the court.

Madi is a senior this year and wears number 21 standing at 5' 8". She's also the starting point guard for her team. She is the daughter of Matt Hingston and Bonnie Davis. Her sister, Megan, graduated two years ago from Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho. Megan played four years of basketball there.

Madi was raised in Keizer, Oregon, in a middle-income-class neighborhood. The environment was fairly calm and community based. She attended Clearlake Elementary and then Whiteaker Middle School.

"In grade school I hung out with friends like Crystal Wilson, Cammie Decker, Kaelie Flores, and Reina Strand. It was pretty low-key and we had a lot of fun back in the days," Madi said.

Madi's personality is a little on the shy side at times, but she's a fearless competitor when it comes to sports. Most of her life has revolved around sports. A goal-driven young lady is an understatement ... she has a perfectionist attitude and is always finding ways to be ahead of the game.

When Madi was six years of age, she was inspired by her older sister, Megan. She would tag along to watch her sister play basketball.

"I grew up around sports and I always looked up to my sister. I watched her excel -- she did everything so well. I wanted to be like that. I watched her at Gubser Elementary when she was in the fourth grade," Madi said.

While Megan was a huge inspiration, Madi speaks highly of all her coaches. They have all been helpful and she has learned many things from them.

Madi started playing organized basketball at a very young age. Her dad, Matt, and Kaelie's dad coached a KYBA (Keizer Youth Basketball Association) tournament team. She developed into a fine player with this invaluable experience. She played with this team from fifth grade to seventh grade.

Things were going well and Madi was having the time of her life. Not only was she playing basketball, but she was also playing volleyball and involved with track and field. She was spending time with her best friends and earning all kinds of awards.

One of the biggest obstacles she would face was an emotional downturn. Her parents went through a divorce. For a thirteen-year-old child, a heartbreak like that can have a huge impact on many things in life. Madi overcame and adapted to the uncomfortable situation. Another obstacle was when Madi broke her wrist while playing at a playground. She managed to recover from that painful incident and went back to playing sports.

"Yeah, it was an adjustment at first, but now I'm used to it and it's not bad. I like how I get to have individual time with both my parents," Madi said.

By the time Madi reached the eighth grade she had surfaced among the top players in the state. She landed a spot on the Oregon Elite Team -- an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) tournament team based out of Lake Oswego. This team played in competitive tournaments across the USA. Madi traveled to Phoenix, Nashville, Chicago, Charlotte, San Diego, and tournaments in Washington.

"This was an awesome experience! I got to travel all over -- crazy. It was a little nerve-racking at first, but I adapted well with the girls that had the same goals that I had," Madi said.

It was during those experiences that college scouts started taking a look at Madi and her abilities on the basketball court. One college in particular was Seattle Pacific University. They play in the same college league as Northwest Nazarene -- where her sister played.

Wrapping up her middle-school days, in one game Madi scored a game high of 25 points. In one game, playing with Oregon Elite she scored 20 points -- this game went into overtime.

"One of my memorable moments has to be when we beat Oregon City. All of the years that we played them we never won. Well, in the Oregon City Tournament, we finally knocked them out -- it was so amazing. We beat them in an overtime game for the championship crown!" Madi said.

Madi Hingston #21 drives past the defender.

Madi Hingston #21 drives past the defender.

Coming in as a freshman in 2012 at McNary High School, Madi was nervous and didn't know what to expect. Her basketball tryouts went well. What she didn't expect is how the seniors had taken her and her freshman friends in. She went on to make the varsity team and became one of the starters as a freshman. That season she had some good games and some bad games, but the experience she gained was priceless.

"I try to be as consistent as possible, not just in basketball, but also in my grades. Time management is huge. I try to find a good balance with basketball practices, games, and grades. I take grades seriously and focus on staying up with class work, " Madi said.

High school basketball has been rewarding for Madi. She has helped put the McNary Lady Celtics at a very high ranking in the state of Oregon. This week they are ranked number ten and by the end of the season possibly number five.

"It's awesome to be able to play with the girls in my team. Three of them are my closest friends. We've played together since grade school -- Kaelie Flores, Reina Strand, and Sydney Hunter. Our entire team is encouraging and supportive of each other. We like to have fun and sometimes we are even goofy -- ha-ha! But when it's time to battle on the court, we get pretty serious -- very focused," Madi said.

In 2016, her final year of high school, Madi is taking all AP (Advanced Placement) classes carrying a 3.9 GPA. She enjoys focusing on her homework at home after practice. She is the type of person that wants to eliminate stresses for the next school day. AP classes can give a student college credits depending on the college. Madi is also a member of the National Honor Society. In addition, during weekends you can find her refereeing at kids' basketball games.

Madi Hingston #21 hits a huge three-point shot at a home game.

Madi Hingston #21 hits a huge three-point shot at a home game.

Derick Handley is in his second year of coaching the Lady Celtics. He and his staff are doing a remarkable job keeping his team in a top-notch pace for a possible run at the OSAA State Tournament.

"Madi has developed from a good off-guard to a dominate point guard over the last two seasons. Going into her junior year she hadn't quite developed the confidence in her abilities needed to take over games making her somewhat inconsistent. Over the past season her defense has improved dramatically, she's one of our best rebounders, which is phenomenal. She's also one of our best passers. Her belief in her skills along with her teammates has been essential to our improvement as a team," Head Coach Derick Handley said.

Madi displays her resilience on and off the court and sets a fine example for the underclassmen at McNary. She has shown strong leadership and even to where she gives suggestions to the coaches, whether in plays, offenses or defenses. This season she is averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals per game. It's pretty normal anytime she hits four or five three-balls in a game.

Her freshman and sophomore years Madi earned second team all-league honors in the CVC (Central Valley Conference). Her junior year she earned first team all-league honors in the GVC (Greater Valley Conference). This year she was first team all-league in volleyball and in basketball she has scored as many as 26 points in one game.

Several colleges expressed interest in Madi. After exploring several options she decided to sign a letter of intent with Seattle Pacific University where she'll play in the same league as her sister Megan did two years ago. 

"As a dad I'm very proud of my daughter. I don't have any one highlight or moment about her that stands out. To me every time I watch her play is a highlight and my favorite moment. I'm so proud of Madi," her dad said.

Sometimes it's easy to overlook the support that athletes get from their parents. Bonnie Davis, her mom, would give Madi rides to practices and back everyday -- the support list could be a mile long.

"I'm so proud of my daughter," Bonnie said.   

Madi, what is your favorite subject in school?

I like writing -- language arts.

Favorite pro basketball team?

Golden State Warriors.

Do you have a short-term goal?

I want to keep my GPA really high, and I want to make it to the state tournament this year.

Do you have a long-term goal?

Major in business in college and somehow tie it to a field in sports as a career. I also want to help my college team win a conference championship and hopefully advance to nationals.

What advice can you give a young kid that wants to play high school basketball?

Sometimes it's hard when you're at practice -- you want to do other things -- I know it sucks but it will pay off in the end. Set a goal for yourself, and when you reach that goal don't settle for just that. Set another goal and achieve it ... reach it. Don't let anything make you lose motivation.

Alex Hurlburt, a Remarkable Athlete That Refuses to Say Can't

Before Alex was born back in 2000, an ultrasound was performed. After the procedure, the doctor didn't want to say anything negative. The parents asked if everything was okay with the baby, but the doctor was hesitant to say anything. Ed and Julie Hurlburt knew something wasn't quite right. They finally dragged it out of the doctor. They were told that the baby's left arm (below the elbow) was missing.

"I remember the ultrasound because it was take-your-child-to-work day. The procedure was taking too long, many things went through my head," Julie said.

Ed was stunned in disbelief -- like the entire world had collapsed on him. It was very emotional for both parents -- they were both torn inside. Their baby was going to be born with a defect.

"I just wanted to be able to play catch with my son, something any dad would want. I wasn't asking for much," Ed said.

The cause was possibly amniotic band syndrome -- a congenital birth defect believed to be caused by entrapment of the fetal parts. Another possibility, the loose strands could have wrapped around his arm and caused a lack of blood circulation -- a vascular incident. It's difficult to know what exactly caused Alex's defect.

Alex was born in Portland, Oregon, but has lived in Salem most of his life. Sean is his older brother by four years. His parents, Ed and Julie, wanted the best for their son, so they started teaching him that "Can't is not an option". Over the past-challenging years, they have managed to provide a support system (people, programs, etc) for Alex. He has learned to overcome -- this is who he was and no one was about to keep him from accomplishing many things.

He attended Brush College Elementary in West Salem. During his grade school days there was once a group of kids that climbed a fence. Alex was following them and stopped to watch. They laughed and made fun of him -- daring him and yelling out that he couldn't climb the fence with one arm. Alex remembered the words, "Can't is not an option". With his determination and partly angered, he started climbing, finding a way to get over that fence, painfully using one hand to grab the fencing and his legs to push up. He managed to get over! The kids looked at him in a shocking way -- they were left speechless. Those kids became his friends after that moment.

A sense of humor started becoming natural to Alex -- he was that comfortable with who he was. One day the P.E. teacher at Brush College Elementary was warning the kids not to take the soccer balls out of the barrel. She had about thirty soccer balls that were supposed to be left alone. The teacher was unaware of her sarcastic talk to the kids, and realized it too late. She was meaning it as a joke.

"If anyone else takes another ball from the barrel, I'll cut their arm off!"

Alex responded, "You better listen to her, look what she did to me!"

Alex was not supposed to be able to climb a rope to the top of the gym, but he did. Alex was not supposed to be able to contribute significantly to any sports team, but he did. He was a determined kid with a perfectionist attitude and the words in his head, "Can't is not an option". He found a way to master the skills needed.

He played football, basketball, baseball, and in middle school he added track and field. Playing with an all-star baseball team just summed it up. Try visualizing this, he catches the baseball with the glove in his right hand as it comes zooming, removes his mitt with the ball in it, tucks it under his short limb, grabs the ball with his right hand and throws it with amazing accuracy to the baseman or pitcher. It's like watching the gears on an automatic transmission.

In 2012, Alex entered Straub Middle School. He felt a bit nervous about facing new teachers and students. He had adapted well in grade school and had a comfort zone there with the students and staff. Attending a larger school created more challenges. Interacting with teachers, playing the tuba, and sports. Making new friends was very difficult for him. Alex discovered that it didn't take him long to adapt. Because of the bullying policies the school had in place, it was more relaxing and fewer kids made fun of him or joked around.

Alex Hurlburt pitches in a game. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

Alex Hurlburt pitches in a game. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

Alex went on to become a great athlete at Straub Middle School. In football he played defensive end and wingback -- in one game he had four rushing touchdowns. On defense he consistently sacked quarterbacks. In one of his basketball games he scored 18 points and it was normal for him to block a few shots every game. In baseball he played outfield and pitcher and every year he kept improving at every skill. In track and field he ran the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, and a was a member of the 4 x 400 relay team.

"I didn't really have any personal disappointments, but I guess one disappointment was the coaching that we had, it wasn't as great as I wished it could have been. Also the lack of energy that our team had at times. In eighth grade we did have a good coach that we learned a lot from. Our team's record was 9 - 0. We went undefeated that year," Alex said.    

In 2015, Alex was promoted to West Salem High School. Coming in as a freshman his nerve-racking thoughts were back again with the uncertainty of how the new students would treat him. He was more mature and had grown to be a tall 6' 3". There were upperclassmen that Alex would have to face every day at school. Kids would say things to him, some that were very uncomfortable and others that he just joked about himself.

"I've heard many comments all my life, it's tough to work through that at times. To be honest, those comments don't bother me anymore -- I find a way to ignore them and work through it. Actually, it bothers my friends a lot more than it does me. They seem to want to defend me against anyone that makes mean comments -- they usually have my back," Alex said.

There are other situations that make Alex feel a little awkward, such as in the following incident which involved a Spanish teacher. At the beginning of the school year the teacher asked Alex to hold up his fingers as she counted in Spanish. When she counted "six (seis)" she asked Alex to hold his sixth finger up. Alex said, "I only have one hand." She asked him again, "Alex please hold up your other hand!" She walked over and saw that there was only one hand. Alex thought it was funny, but the teacher felt really, really, bad about the whole situation.

Alex entered the football tryouts with confidence but still a little nervous. He would have an entire new coaching staff and players to battle for a spot. He survived making the freshman football team. He would be playing for Head Coach Jay Bacus. His position would be defensive end and wingback. What a year for Alex, he had three blocked punts and three sacks in one of his games. The team went 8 - 3 for the season. He was moved up to varsity for the playoffs for the experience and he was voted Defensive Player of the Year.

Alex during a football game his freshman year. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

Alex during a football game his freshman year. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

Some people think of how much better Alex could be if he had both hands. How much more he could do for his teams.

"My answer to that question is, I don't think I'd be better with two hands. I strongly feel that I'm better with one hand. Especifically because I don't think I would put the hard work in the way I do now. I have to work twice as hard as most people to master a certain skill," Alex said.

Basketball season came around quickly and it didn't surprise me to see Alex as one of the members of the West Salem freshman basketball team playing for Coach Daniel Murray. Watching Alex play against the McKay Royal Scots in a packed house was a humbling experience. I can't imagine how proud his parents must be watching their son play basketball for a high school team. They don't miss any of his games -- love, loyal, and supportive. I can't imagine how proud his coaches, former teachers and current teachers must be of him.

Alex is one of the players in the playing-time rotation. In this game he had four points, four rebounds, three assists, and four blocked shots. He plays half of the game and is one of the posts on the team. He has mastered catching the ball and driving to the basket with no problems. He has a spin move that he learned from playing other sports, and he finishes well underneath the basket. His defense is strong and he rebounds well.

#10 Alex Hurlburt in a freshman basketball game. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

#10 Alex Hurlburt in a freshman basketball game. Photo by Ed Hurlburt.

"Skills that I pick up from other sports translate on the basketball court -- I figure out a way to master a certain skill on my own. Sometimes I'll watch others, but mostly it's just me figuring out what works for me," Alex said.

Along with his athletic accomplishments he carries a 3.75 GPA. He is driven to succeed in his studies as well. Alex finds time to study during school and after school -- very consistent about it.

His mom and dad have experienced so much throughout the years and observed many things. If they'd known back then, when Alex was born, what they know now, they wouldn't have it any other way. Ed wishes he could take back the thoughts he had when Alex was first born. Things came out way better than expected -- He is very proud of his son. You can see Ed taking photos of his son at games often.

"There's always comments made to him by people. I remember once there was a kid that fouled out of the basketball game. He fouled Alex and he wasn't too happy. The kid turned around as he walked to the bench looking at Alex, and said something like, good luck the rest of the game with one arm. I don't think that will ever end ... Alex has done a great job adapting and not making it a big deal. We're so proud of where he is at today and his accomplishments," Julie said.

Alex Hurlburt has a great future ahead of him, he's an inspiration to many kids that might want to give up. He is a prime example of how we should not look at our disabilities, but look at our possibilities.             

This blog post is too short for the entire story, for Alex's complete detailed story which includes the people that helped him, his struggles and accomplishments, etc. please read, The Professor Grayson Boucher Plus More NW Sports Stories, this book includes eight biographies -- one of them is Alex's story.

Alex, What is your favorite subject in school?

Math is my favorite.

Favorite football team, basketball team, and baseball team?

I like the Denver Broncos, Portland Blazers, and the Boston Red Sox.

Do you have a short-term goal?

Getting to the next level in my sports career and maintaining a cumulative 3.5 or better by the time I graduate high school.

Do you have a long-term goal?

I'd love to play a college sport and go into business or law. 

Darrell Woods, from Hardship in Hawaii to McKay Basketball

Not many athletes acquire the basketball skill sets needed in a short amount of time. It takes years to grasp the coordination, the knowledge, and the mind set. There happens to be a basketball player at McKay High School that's finding success despite his life of hardship in Hawaii where he once lived.

Darrell Woods (pronounced Duh-rail) was born in Guam. Four years later his family moved to Hawaii. He is the son of Demitrius Woods and Marsen Sally. Darrell has four half sisters and four half brothers that are much older -- we're talking fifteen years apart. One of his half brothers has passed away.

He attended Queen Ka'ahumanu Elementary School and Stevenson Middle School, both in Honolulu, Hawaii. His family did not have much money and times were very hard. It was during the middle-school days that he was inspired to start playing basketball. He would watch his dad play at different places. He decided to give it try.

"I didn't really know anything about the game. I just watched my dad and decided to start playing. It was mostly street ball that I played ... with my Islander group of friends," Darrell said.

Darrell always looked up to his half sister, Marie -- everyone used to call her "Boo Boo". Unfortunately, Marie was running around with the bad crowds -- getting into trouble, smoking, drinking, etc. Darrell fell into that trap and started making poor decisions. His parents started thinking of ways to remove Darrell from the negative environment -- he was getting ready to enter high school.

With a dysfunctional family and not much money, his parents were evicted from their apartment. The older siblings had moved out by this time. With too much pride and a strong independent mentality, Demitrius and Marsen refused assistance from their relatives -- they did not want charity. Darrell moved in with his relatives there in Hawaii, but his mom and dad chose to live in their car.

"My parents wanted a better environment for me. One of my half sisters, Murina, was living in Oregon. They sent me to Salem to live with her -- she became my legal guardian," Darrell said.

Shortly after, his parents separated. His dad moved to Seattle and his mom stayed in Hawaii. Darrell has always been close with his mom and dad -- he has always made it a point to keep communications open with phone calls from time to time.

Entering a new school and a new state was a huge adjustment -- emotionally, physically, and mentally. Without his parents and with a transfer into a new family was like a dream of another world -- it was real life. Murina has a family of six kids, and now, seven. She welcomed Darrell and does whatever she can to help him despite the financial struggles with a large family.

Darrell started hanging out with a great group of Islanders from Salem that played basketball at McKay High School. Glenn, Akson, and Israel Moses, encouraged him to go out for the freshman basketball team.

"I never played organized basketball in my life. I was not a person that could be coached at that time. I didn't know anything about the basketball skills -- it was frustrating," Darrell said.

In 2012, his freshman year at McKay High School, proved to be a depressing year full of confusion, disappointments, and a major adaptation. He was struggling with grades and he was adjusting to his new large family at home. Darrell was cut from the freshman team to put a cap on his first year at McKay High School.

He gave this freshman-downslide episode plenty of thought. He wasn't ready to give up on something he really wanted. His Islander friends, once again, were looking out for him. Darrell wanted a better future for himself.

He gives credit to, Israel Moses, a former McKay point guard who found success there in basketball. Israel started helping Darrell -- explaining to him about defense and offense and basic fundamental skills. The summer was full of playing basketball with a group of Islanders that became his friends.

"My friends showed me not only how to play better basketball, but also how to treat people the right way. I was never like that before. Islanders have a lot of faith in God. They showed me how to love people," Darrell said.

Darrell worked his tail off that summer, he found a love for basketball and he worked extremely hard to get better. He was adapting well his sophomore year and basketball tryouts had arrived once again. The McKay coaching staff saw something in Darrell that led them to believe he could possibly play on the JV team. Darrell's athleticism and intense play earned him a spot.

"When I was playing JV, Coach Bryan Huber showed me some moves in the low-post area. He was the first coach I had in an organized basketball team," Darrell said.

Darrell Woods drives on a North Salem defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

Darrell Woods drives on a North Salem defender. Photo by Kent Brewer

Wearing #22 on his jersey as a junior, Darrell had grown to be 6' 0" and had made great progress the previous season as a sophomore  -- improvements were noticeable by leaps and bounds. Head Coach Dean Sanderson moved him up to the varsity team where he became one of the starting five. Dean is the type of coach that teaches kids to be responsible. He looks out for their future. It doesn't matter how talented a player is, if he skips class or shows up late to practice, he'll pay the price like any other team member. This was all new to Darrell but he was adapting very well. He joined Tristen Wilson in playing one of the two post/forward positions.

Darrell was utilizing his quickness and speed on the basketball floor, but his control at times was unattainable. The lack of experience was noticeable in that area. He was learning as much as he could through a tough-way-to-learn road. McKay did not have much height on the team and Darrell's rebounding ability was needed. His shooting needed much improvement. He was better at lay-ups than outside shots. The needed skills he would need to learn quickly was three-point shooting and free-throw shooting.

At the end of his junior year, his team, the McKay Royal Scots, did not make the playoffs, but Darrell played one of his best games in the GVC League (Greater Valley Conference). Against the Sprague Olympians, he scored 19 points and pulled down 15 rebounds -- a double-double!

"That was definitely my best memory of my basketball career so far. I remember because I had a choir concert the same night. Coach worked out a solution with the choir teacher. I would play the game and then join the choir at the concert right after the game, which was being played at McKay. Everyone in the choir was telling me how I better score a lot of points if I wasn't going to be at the concert. It was all in good fun - I guess I met their request," Darrell said with a smile.

Darrell was blending in very well with teammates like Tristen Wilson, Demeris Bailey, Kevin Aguilar, Jon Gray, and Glenn. Darrell's personality is more of a loner-type where he recharges by being alone -- he enjoys his space from time to time, and he always makes time to hang out with his friends and to adapt to their interests.

"Basketball has changed me to become a better person and athlete. Travel cards, which are like a progress reports have helped me bring my grades up. Going into my senior year I have decided that I really want to play college basketball," Darrell said.

The summer of 2015, prior to his senior year, had arrived. Darrell received word that his dad had died of a heart attack. His dad always found a way to provide what his son needed despite the fact that he had been living in Seattle without much money. His parents had reunited and they were both living in Hawaii again.

"That was tough for me -- I was close with my dad. I remember asking my dad for fifty dollars for a trip our team was making to a Gonzaga basketball camp. He told me that he was going to give me more than fifty dollars. I knew he didn't have much but he always found a way to give me more than I needed," Darrell said.

During the summer, Darrell went to work on his shooting skills. He needed to develop an outside shot better than what he had. Coaches are allowed to work with two athletes at a time during the off-season. Assistant Coach Matt Espinoza (Coach Noza) helped Darrell with his shooting form and basketball skill sets during the summer.

"Coach Noza was the person that really opened my eyes on high school basketball. He taught me so much. My shooting form, different kinds of moves, ball handling, footing, and much more. It was usually myself and Kevin Aguilar that showed up to work during the summer. During football season, we continued since most of the guys played football," Darrell said.

Darrell Woods has overcome many obstacles and is looking toward the future with his short-term goal of helping his team win a league title -- he likes to dream big. He would also like to bring the grades up to above average. His long-term goal is to play college basketball somewhere and receive a college degree. As far as a career after basketball, he's still undecided.

"Darrell wants to be great. He is beginning to develop into more of a leader this year. I think he has the potential to play at the next level. He has improved his outside shooting tremendously," Coach Noza said.

It's always great to hear from the coaching staff as seniors approach the end of their career of high school basketball. I've had the honor of watching the hard work coaches put in for their team. A lot of the time is volunteer, especially during the summers.

"Darrell is a great kid. His story, while not exactly like other players, is a great representation of McKay Basketball and the resiliency our kids show to have success on and off the court. I'm excited to watch him as a senior and look forward to his future success," Head Coach Dean Sanderson said.

I pray that this young man reaches his dream and that he stays healthy his entire senior year. His work ethic is such a great example for many. Basketball has given Darrell a safe environment to have fun and to be around people that care deeply about him. The McKay basketball coaching staff has done a great job helping Darrell become a fine young man as they do with many athletes.

Darrell, What are your favorite hobbies?

Basketball, singing, and family time

Who is your favorite NBA team?

Chicago Bulls

What is your GPA?

Close to a 3.0

What advice can you give young athletes?

Work hard, even when you think you're that guy. If I would have worked as hard as I am now when I was a freshman, I'd be much better.