It was 1986, and my football team and I were sitting in the Fairplay Elementary School cafeteria when our coach, Russ Hedges, brought two of his friends to talk with us. Their names were Robb Thomas and Erik Wilhelm. The two standout Beaver players talked to us about what it takes to be a college football player, about hard work, and about working when no one is watching or when no one expects much. These were lean years for the Beavers, but Robb and Erik were two bright spots.
That day, I became the Beaver fan I am today. Growing up in Corvallis, I had always liked the Beavers, but when I met these guys, a scene I can still picture in my mind, it was a game-changer.
Fast forward to this last weekend, as my wife’s family got together to celebrate Easter (they celebrate every holiday the Saturday after for logistics reasons) and I was talking to my wife’s cousin Rob who lives in Philomath. He was telling me how Ruth Hamblin and a few other Beaver players had come to guest coach his daughter’s middle school basketball team. He was glowing while talking about how nice they were, how much it meant to the girls, and how many games they went to that year. He also said he was getting women’s basketball season tickets next year for his family of five. (Which, incidentally, costs less than a single seat for football)
While the work on the court by Scott Rueck’s team was amazing, the legacy of the Lady Beavers performance this year captured the minds and hearts of a section of Beaver Nation that has never before been seen. It brought the casual fan into the fold of the fanatical fan, something I witnessed this year at Matt Knight Arena for the Civil War game. The arena had more people than most games I have seen there, men or women’s, and half of them were in orange and black. People were dancing, waving signs and having a great time watching Jamie Weisner hit a three or shut down someone on defense, or watching Deven Hunter make a few great shots down the stretch.
For me, I got to sit there with my six-year old daughter as she watched what she called “Beautiful princesses, not like Sleeping Beauty, more like Astrid.” Astrid is, of course, the young lady viking warrior from How to Train Your Dragon. I was very proud to have her watch this Beaver team and their coaches, working hard, having fun, and being positive. It was something that she will probably remember for a little while, but I will remember for the rest of my life.
The legacy this team leaves will not be one of a successful team that ran into the arguably the biggest dynasty of any sport, but of a team that got thousands of young girls to dream about playing on a big stage, having fun, and being successful. It also will be the thousands of fathers who have found something they can share with their daughters and feel good about character of the people they cheer for. Finally, it awakened a sleeping fraction of fans who love the sport of basketball and enjoy watching it played well. For the athletic department, the legacy will be the forklifting of a sport classified as non-revenue into the the black as a contributor to the overall benefit of all sports at Oregon State.
All of that seems secondary next to the Final Four appearance and countless wins and records. But in 20 years, when hopefully, my 26 year-old daughter asks me if I want to catch a Beaver game, I will remember this year and be thankful of the legacy it made in my life.
Thank you for all you have done, and Go Beavs!