Esteemed Track Coach Commemorated in a Special Ceremony

In a heartwarming turn of events, what was initially anticipated as a typical Homecoming football game on a Friday night took a special twist as the community came together to honor Coach Jim Anderson, a legendary figure in the world of track and field. Anderson’s unwavering commitment to guiding and inspiring youth athletes led to a surprise ceremony that left him both delighted and speechless.

The centerpiece of the event was the unveiling of the brand-new “Jim Anderson Vertical Jumping Area.” This remarkable addition showcased state-of-the-art high jump and pole vault pits and standards, expertly manufactured by UCS. What’s truly remarkable is that this essential equipment was acquired through the generosity of private donations, with absolutely no cost to the Sisters School District.

Jim Anderson’s coaching journey began in Sisters back in 1994, following a successful career in teaching and coaching in Clackamas County. Throughout his tenure, he became a beloved and iconic figure in Oregon’s track and field community. Anderson, although dedicated to his craft, had no inkling of the incredible surprise that awaited him.

One enthusiastic onlooker couldn’t help but exclaim, “This was better than any surprise party, ever!”

The idea to honor Coach Anderson and replace the aging, unsafe pits had its origins in conversations among Dennis Dempsey, Sarah Thorsett, and Jim Reiss, who all contribute to coaching the high school track team. Anderson had frequently spoken about the urgent need for pit replacements. Thus, the plan to not only procure new equipment but also celebrate his legacy took shape.

Dempsey initiated the process of pricing the high-quality equipment, revealing that the cost could exceed $60,000. A turning point came when Dave Turnbull, Summit High’s coach, suggested obtaining the pits that were used at the USA National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in July at a potential discount.

Dempsey, having already secured some donors, created an account through the Sisters Schools Foundation, and funds began pouring in to cover the $39,000 required for the new pits.

On July 31, Dempsey, along with Jim Reiss, Rob Phelps, and Curt Scholl, orchestrated the transportation of the pits from Hayward Field to Sisters, where they were kept under wraps. Meanwhile, High School art teacher Bethany Gunnarson and her students crafted a sign to display on the track’s fence, as fundraising efforts continued and plans for the grand ceremony were fine-tuned.

When it came to planning the surprise ceremony, Dennis Dempsey played a clever trick on Anderson, luring him to the football game under the guise of needing assistance. In the background, Anderson’s son worked diligently to rally other family members to join the ceremony, all while keeping the secret safe.

The secrecy surrounding the event worked like a charm. As Anderson realized that the sign bearing his name was just the beginning, he was temporarily rendered speechless. Over a dozen current and former Outlaw pole vaulters and high jumpers, along with a similar number of family members, surrounded him at midfield.

Remarkably, Anderson hadn’t even noticed that a dozen of his family members were sitting just a few rows away in the stands during the first half of the game.

Raising the necessary funds was a heartwarming community effort. Families of current and former track athletes, community partners, and high school athletes themselves eagerly contributed to honor Anderson, often referred to as “the Pied Piper of Pole Vault” due to his remarkable ability to attract and nurture young athletes’ love for the sport.

During the ceremony, the athletes’ affection for Coach Anderson shone brightly. Gracie Vohs, a senior jumper and homecoming court member, rushed down the track in her dress and tiara to embrace Anderson as he made his way to midfield. This was just the first of many heartfelt hugs from the athletes he has coached and the fellow coaches he has worked with over the years.

Norah Thorsett, a sophomore vaulter, shared her sentiments, saying, “I have been vaulting with Anderson since fourth grade, and his love and commitment to track and field and the kids have truly inspired me to do my best.”

Mae Roth, a junior, added, “Not only has Coach Anderson made me fall in love with track and field, but he has shown me and so many others unconditional kindness and support. I will forever be thankful for him.”

Sarah Thorsett aptly summarized the evening, saying, “Family, community, and service are the words that came to my mind as I observed the ceremony.”

Jim Anderson, despite his impressive 86 years of age, remains resolute in his commitment to coaching middle and high school pole vaulters. He emphasized that the celebration should not be misconstrued as his retirement. Each year, he is greeted with enthusiasm from young athletes eager to learn, which fuels his enduring passion for coaching.

Reflecting on the surprise ceremony, Anderson expressed his gratitude and amazement, stating, “I was completely blown away by all of this and totally surprised. I see God’s hand all over this happening.”

He continued, “I have a lot of people to thank. It’s wonderful for me, but it means so much to the kids as well, for them to know that people are so generous and care enough about their safety and performance.”

While most of the funds have been raised, approximately $4,000 is still needed to complete this heartfelt project. Donations can be directed to the Sisters School Foundation at P.O. Box 2155, Sisters, Oregon 97759, ensuring that Coach Jim Anderson’s legacy continues to inspire future generations of athletes.

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