Salem athletic superstars honored as “Beacons”

Nine fixtures of Salem high school athletics were recognized Saturday for the collective hundreds of years they’ve put into coaching and encouraging young athletes.

“The Beacons” is an annual award ceremony put on by the Salem-Keizer High School Sports Booster Club, which works to ensure all Salem-Keizer students have access to athletics, regardless of ability to pay.

Saturday’s gala at the Elsinore Theatre included awards for the top student athlete in each sport offered in Salem schools, as well as recognition for “Beacons” who have played a substantial role in local athletic programs.

McKay High School boys soccer coach Juan Llamas won the Coach of the Year award after leading the varsity team to a 17-0 season and state championship, the program’s first state title.

The honorees — one from each of the district’s six high schools, and three representing the entire community — have put years into their respective sports. Some no longer live in Salem and were honored for their time competing in high school, while others remain coaches. 

“We believe that interscholastic participation builds character, teaches teamwork, develops a work ethic,  develops leadership qualities, teaches the importance of citizenship, and develops confidence,” said Ron Richards, the selection committee chair, in an email.  “Therefore, we are looking for former coaches, athletes, boosters, teachers, or community leaders who exhibit these characteristics and have in their career have exhibited these traits and or have helped support the development of Salem athletes in these areas either overtly or in support.”

Here are the 2022-23 Beacons, with a brief biography of each. More information about the awards and honorees is available on the S-K Beacons website.

John Black, Community Beacon

Black served for 50 years as a referee and umpire for Salem football, basketball and baseball games, earning a reputation for fairness and unwavering support of high school athletics.

He graduated from North Salem High School in 1970 and played second base at Western Oregon University while earning his bachelor’s degree in education. Black later returned to Salem to teach physical education at Englewood Elementary School.

“Black’s lasting impact on athletics came after he retired his own jerseys, and took up a whistle and an umpire’s mask. For over five decades, John was a highly respected official on fields and on courts. He traveled all over the state, not making a great deal of money, but loving what he did,” his Beacon biography said.

John Black, second from left, was one of three Community Beacons honored at the S-K Beacon awards for 2023 (Courtesy/S-K Beacons)

Wes Ediger, Community Beacon

Ediger, 89, is retired after a decorated football career and later work as a school administrator and supporter of athletic programs.

He grew up in Dallas and played as an offensive and defensive end at Oregon State University, earning the nickname “Bear” for his large hands. Graduating in 1954, he briefly played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL before being drafted into the U.S. Army. On completion of his service, he played professionally in Canada for several years before returning to Dallas to teach and coach sports.

He later became principal of South Salem High School, then rival North Salem High School, before serving as the Salem-Keizer School District’s director of secondary schools and athletics. In 1993, he became executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees high school sports, retiring eight years later.

“Wes is a doer. Given a task, he concentrated on that task until it was not only completed but completed well. That standard of excellence, of diving in to fix problems, to not only do a job but to do it exceptionally, and his dedication to high school athletics and its athletes, no matter where he applied his efforts, make him a Beacon,” his Beacon biography says.

Terry Williams, Community Beacon

The 6’ 7” Williams had a decorated athletic career as a basketball and baseball player at what is now Corban University, where he graduated in 1974. He was encouraged to try out for the California Angels baseball team, now the Los Angeles Angels, but decided instead to marry, settle down and have children.

“He became a force in youth sports as he worked to develop opportunities for kids, coach those kids, and also to administer the programs to insure kids were the primary beneficiaries,” his biography says.

Williams was an early coach in the Keizer Soccer Club  and coached middle school basketball, creating both boys and girls’ programs for young athletes to learn the sport and compete locally and regionally. He’s also helped set up Keizer Youth Volleyball, an elementary school flag football program and various other clubs and teams in the 40 years he’s been coaching.

“Despite an overwhelming body of evidence indicating success, Williams is reluctant to sing his own praises. Instead, he prefers to preach about developing the total person of each player he coaches,” his biography says.

Terry Williams was one of three Community Beacons honored at the S-K Beacon awards for 2023 (Courtesy/S-K Beacons)

Gus Envela Jr., McKay High School

Envela was once the top high school sprinter in Oregon, winning the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash at the state 1984 track and field championships. The records he set on all three events stood until 2007 before being broken by Ryan Bailey, also of McKay High School.

He represented his native Equatorial Guinea at multiple Olympic games and now serves as president of the Federation for Democracy and Justice in The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, based in the Washington D.C. area.

“His competitive track days are over, but Gus Envela continues to pursue justice in the world around him. Gus used high school athletics to things much greater. He was an athlete of incredible accomplishments and fame,” his biography says.

Jerry Lane, McNary High School

Lane came to Salem as McNary High School was under construction and became the school’s first wrestling coach after a two-year stint at North Salem High School. He built the McNary wrestling program starting in 1965, while teaching business.

By 1968, McNary sent its first wrestlers to state. Lane retired as a coach in 1996 and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“In the course of his journey as a high school teacher and coach he changed the lives of the young men with whom he came in contact. He taught and modeled for them the values of hard work, integrity, trust, and care for one another. His life has been an example for young people, fellow coaches, colleagues, and others to follow,” his Beacon biography says.

Steve Chambers, North Salem High School

Chambers graduated from North in 1962 holding multiple track records on hurdles which still stand for the Vikings. He returned to teach at North, leading the social studies department, and later served 12 years on the Salem-Keizer School Board.

“Just as Steve taught a wide variety of social studies courses, so his coaching stints covered a wide array of sports,” his biography read. He served as North’s head track coach, boys swim coach, cross country coach, boys and girls soccer coach, as well as coaching middle school soccer and fifth grade girls basketball. 

“Indeed, it’s apparent that when a coaching need arose, Chambers was the ‘go to’ staff member, more than willing to step into the breach. An athletic director’s dream!” the biography said.

Scott McCormick, South Salem High School

McCormick studied physical education at Willamette University and returned to Salem to teach at Highland Elementary after a stint in Nyssa. 

“He initiated a ‘before-school’ program that allowed kids to come to a safe, supervised place prior to the actual school day. Daily several dozen kids would be waiting. He also developed an after-school sports program with a ‘low-key’ set of leagues for flag football, basketball, and volleyball. From private schools to the nearby Oregon School for the Deaf, his elementary kids would participate rather than find trouble on the streets,” his biography said.

He’s coached high school softball for 42 years, starting at McNary before moving to South in 1995. Though he retired at Highland in 2004, McCormick has continued his work as a coach, amassing 714 wins heading into the 2023 season.

Robin Hill, Sprague High School

Hill came to Sprague to coach the football team in 1987 after 15 years of play had produced just two state playoff games, both lost. In the 25 seasons he coached, the Olympians made the playoffs 20 times, went to state championships twice and won in 2004.

“It was the crowning achievement for Coach Hill, who had patiently developed a culture encouraging teamwork, individual effort, self-sacrifice, and more, that pushed his athletes to extend their own limits in search of team success. He was also careful to include academics in his emphasis on excellence,” his biography read.

Hill also coached boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball and girls golf in his years as a coach.

Susi Armstrong, West Salem High School

Armstrong was charged with starting the volleyball program when West opened in 2002, beginning with just one senior on the team. Just three years later, she took a team to the state “elite eight” tournament. She coached until 2011 and retired as a teacher in 2021 after 38 years.

“Susi’s view on the value of sports includes a long list of benefits, including development of a positive work ethic, learning to win and lose with class, pushing to become better as an individual and a team, and valuing relationships and making memories to last a lifetime,” her biography said.

A crowd at the Elsinore Theatre gathered Saturday, June 17, 2023 to honor the S-K Beacons (Courtesy/S-K Beacons)

Student Athletes of the Year

Football: Zach Wusstig – South Salem

Volleyball: Kayleigh Carpenter – South Salem

Boys Soccer: Diego Garibay – McKay

Girls Soccer: Maggie Lapray – South Salem

Boys Cross Country: Jack Meier – West Salem

Girls Cross Country: Nelida Dalgas – North Salem

Boys Basketball: Jackson Leach, West Salem

Girls Basketball: Lizzy Bennett – West Salem

Boys Wrestling: Max Blanco, McNary

Girls Wrestling: Mariko Sonis, North Salem

Boys Swimming: Mika Oprea, West Salem

Girls Swimming: Mia Piexoto, West Salem

Baseball: Brandon Stinnett, Sprague

Softball: Rowan Thompson, South Salem

Boys Tennis: Adam Son, South Salem

Girls Tennis: Tirzah Tarbox, Sprague

Boys Track and Field: Mihaly Akpamgbo, West Salem

Girls Track and Field: Isabel Zamora, McKay

Boys Golf: Colby Sullivan, McNary

Girls Golf: Emily Keel, Sprague

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.