Photo by Ray Rodriguez
Dufur High School celebrated its ninth state championship in the football program’s history in a ceremony Thursday morning. Amongst the crowd were the parents and grandparents of several of the players. The varsity squad went an undefeated 12-0 this season with a Big Sky Conference title and third consecutive 1A state championships. At the bottom of the photo, from left to right, are Ranger seniors Wade Blake, Ian Cleveland, Justin Eiesland, Hagen Pence, Curtis Crawford and Trevor Phetteplace. Not pictured is senior Matthew Sipe. In the past three title years, the Rangers have posted a 35-3 overall record, with final game victories over Crane twice and Hosanna Christian.
DUFUR – There’s a fun little rivalry going on in the Thomas household these days.
Former football standout Ray Thomas won three straight state championships from 1999 to 2001 and nearly two decades later, his son, Anthony, matched that feat with three titles in a row.
“It is actually pretty cool when you think about it,” Anthony said. “It feels really great to do that. It makes me feel like I can compete with my dad.”
As a junior, Anthony has one more year of eligibility left to trump his father with a fourth 1A championship.
“It would set us apart from the teams in the past, so that would be a cool accomplishment,” Anthony said. “We just need to focus on game-to-game and make sure we perform our best next year, because it is going to be a challenge. All of us incoming seniors are going to have to put in a lot of work and we all are going to have to step up and play our roles, because if we make one mistake, that could cost us next year’s state championship.”
Fresh off its third consecutive title, the ninth in program history, the Dufur football team had one final chance to bask in the glory of athletic achievement with a celebration ceremony Thursday afternoon in front of a capacity crowd of friends, elementary, middle and high school kids, as well as parents and community members.
Kelly Foster, Associate Director of the OSAA, presented the players with the trophy, autographed footballs were handed out, coach Jack Henderson and senior players, Ian Cleveland, Curtis Crawford and Hagen Pence, spoke of the magnitude of their achievements and thanked the support of everyone involved through the years.
Before putting the 2017 blue trophy away for the winter, the Ranger athletes bonded with everyone in attendance by shaking hands and sharing smiles with all in their circled path.
While the players make plays and the coaches instruct, Henderson shared his thoughts on how important a role parents play in the program’s development and success.
“It means everything to have all the parental support,” Henderson said. “We are just lucky at this point in time, especially when people are a little bit down on football. These parents want their kids to play Ranger football and they want their kids to be coached. They trust that the coaches have their best interest in mind. It is an amazing setup when everyone comes together to collaborate on a special time for this community and this school.”
The roster is loaded with 12 underclassmen, 11 freshmen, nine juniors and seven seniors, names like Justin Eiesland, Matthew Sipe, Wade Blake, Trevor Phetteplace, Pence, Cleveland and Crawford laid the groundwork for future athletes.
Henderson remembers these veterans as young freshmen experiencing defeat in a semifinal contest against Adrian, and to see them mature into young men and champions is a testament to their work ethic and determination.
Karl Wilson Sr., a 1978 Dufur High School graduate and former football player, says that today’s kids aren’t as willing to put in the time during the offseason, so to see his son Karl Jr., a freshman, getting exposed to this level of commitment is invaluable.
“These kids know that their work in the weight room and in summer workouts are the most important parts of the team’s success,” Karl Sr. said. “They are all willing to put in those extra hours to get better. That work ethic is contagious. They want it. The drive is there. You get one or two kids working out and then you have 10 or 20 more joining in. It is such a great thing to have that here at this school, because it does seem like work ethic is a lost art to a lot of kids today.”
Cynthia Kortge, a 1993 The Dalles High School graduate and mother to all-league receiver Kole, considers every player on the team her son.
There is no animosity or jealousy from the other parents – they all share in each other’s successes and that mentality fosters a productive environment that allows these athletes to achieve success.
“We consider ourselves a football family,” Cynthia said. “We communicate with each other all the time and we all go out of our way to support each other. The support is unbelievable. Whether it comes to who needs help, who needs extra cleats, who needs equipment, to making cookies every week, to just making sure that everybody is supported in their efforts, we are there. We have a come a long way in that regard. I think that support differentiates us from a lot of other communities across the state.”
In his 30 years as Dufur’s football coach, Henderson has racked up a 254-87 overall record, with nine state championships, including three in a row twice, from 1999-2001 and 2015-2017.
Over the course of those 30 years, Henderson has coached the fathers of a few of these athletes.
Ray and Anthony Thomas have spent countless hours sharing the gridiron memories, the bus rides, the former players, the wins, the losses and the many great Jack Henderson anecdotes.
“From the stories my dad has told me, coach Henderson is still the same,” Anthony said. “He has changed a little bit. My dad said that it was a lot rougher for him and that coach was a little harsher, but now that so many years have passed, he’s gotten more mellow. He still gets after us a lot, but for the most part, he’s just the same great coach. That’s what has led to the program’s success.”