State champions, outstanding all-around athletes mark Athletic Hall of Fame
BY TONY AHERN
The third class of the Madras High School Athletic Hall of Fame features state champions, all-staters and powerful multi-sport standouts. It includes a coach who forged a program that would win four-straight state titles, sandwiched by two runner-up finishes. Plus, a basketball team that won the school's first team sport state championship will be inducted.
The class will be inducted on Friday, Jan. 25, with activities planned before, during and after the boys basketball game against Molalla on that night.
The class of 2019 includes the following:
Joe Piedmont, at 6-4, was a high-scoring post player for Coach Ole Johnson's White Buffalos. He was a four-year starter. As a senior, he helped the Buffalos to a 25-1 record during the 1960-61 season, which culminated in a state title, the first team state title for the school in any sport.
Piedmont led the team in scoring with an average of 14.8 points per game, and in rebounding at just under 10 boards a game. These stats were compiled with Piedmont spending many fourth quarters resting on the bench during blowout victories.
Piedmontcapped the season by being named to the first team of the all-state tournament squad, and also first team all-state for 2A schools. He was offered a books and tuition basketball scholarship to the University of Oregon. However, a serious arm injury during the summer following his senior season ended his athletic career.
Piedmont's father, Joe Piedmont Sr., was the MHS athletic director from 1954 to 1964.
Keller Christensen had the most decorated football career of any MHS athlete. He not only made the varsity squad as a freshman, but earned all-league honors as a running back. He was a first team running back and defense player for three consecutive seasons, earning offensive Player of the Year in the tough Tri-Valley Conference in both his junior and senior seasons.
Christensen is thought to be the career rushing leader at the school, amassing over 4,000 yards. Following his senior year, he played in both the Shrine football game and East-West baseball all-star series.
In basketball, though under six feet tall, Christensen was a stellar rebounder. As a freshman, he was on the 1997 White Buffalos' squad that took second in the state tournament. As a senior, he was the team captain. He was also a leader on the baseball diamond.
Christensen played two years at Saddleback Junior College, earning MVP honor both years. He then transferred to Oregon State, earned a scholarship and was a standout special teams player.
Tosha Wilson was a do-it-all, high-energy, tenacious point guard for the White Buffalos, and one of the best soccer players in the history of the Lady Buffs' program.
Her finest achievement as an MHS athlete was leading the Cinderella White Buffalos to the state basketball title her senior year. That season, Wilson was the Tri-Valley League's Player of the Year, a first team all-state selection and second team all-state tournament. As a junior, Wilson was also first team all-league in basketball, and was honorable mention all-league as a sophomore.
A four-year varsity soccer standout, Wilson led Madras to state playoff appearances her junior and senior seasons, and was named first team all-league and second team all-state her senior year.
Wilson received an athletic scholarship to Corban University in Salem, where she had a stellar basketball career, earning all-league honors her junior and senior seasons, and finishing her career among the top 10 in career scoring, assists, rebounding and steals. She also played soccer for two years at Corban.
Charles Nathan, an undersized but indomitable forward for the White Buffalos basketball squad. He helped the team to the "big school" state basketball tournament in 1954, after surprising the Central Oregon schools in the district tourney. At the state tournament, the Buffs shocked sports fans by winning their first two games, including a victory over Portland's Benson High School. Nelson's rebounding was a key to the Buffs' victories.
Nathan was also an outstanding, four-year varsity football player at MHS, a star on both the offensive and defensive line.
The powerful athlete also played both basketball and football at Willamette University, in 1955 and '56, before being drafted into the military.
Nathan was also a standout player when he toured with the Warm Springs Magpies men's basketball team.
Spud Smith was among the best all-around athletes in MHS history, certainly among its best football players and wrestlers, and was also a three-year varsity baseball player.
With Smith starring at both running back and on defense, the Buffalo football program of the mid-'80s qualified for state twice and missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker a third season. A quick and powerful running back and defensive stalwart, Smith was the MVP of the 1986 East-West Shrine Game, scoring three TDs, with 136 total yards in helping the East to victory.
As a wrestler, Smith was a district champion his junior and senior years. As a sophomore, he finished third in state, then took fourth in state as a junior. As a senior, he went 30-2, losing only to Rick Evans of Burns, once during the season and once in the state finals. Smith beat Evans to win the Greater Oregon title.
Smith was also a standout catcher for the Buffalos.
Bob Nelson was a three-sport high school athlete in Nampa, Idaho, and went to Boise Junior College on a basketball scholarship. After college, he became an industrial arts teacher and coach, coming to MHS in 1964.
In 1966, Nelson started the boys cross country program. It would soon become a powerhouse, finishing either first or second at state six years in a row — the most dominant run of any sport in MHS history.
The Buffs finished second in 1968, then rolled to a championship in 1969. Nelson's teams followed that title with three more in a row. The four-title run would end in 1973, when the Buffs finished second.
He personally designed the iconic course at MHS, which included a run over the rickety bridge over Willow Creek, and could be watched nearly in its entirety from the stadium bleachers.
A big man, Nelson was known for being quiet, slow to respond, owning a calming demeanor. But he had a knack for getting each athlete to perform his best. While standouts like Bill Cram and Dan Miller (each part of three state titles) led the way, it was their team depth that made the Buffs dominant.
Nelson's practices were key to building that depth and team attitude. He was famous for taking his squad 10 miles or so into the country, dropping them off, then saying, "See you back at the school." The team ran as a unit, it was said, because they didn't want to get lost.
1960-'61 Boys Basketball Team - Dominant. There was no better way to describe the Madras High School boys basketball team of 1960-61. The Buffs finished 25-1. Their only loss was to 1A Bend High School, 76-68, in a late-season game played in Bend. Coach Ole Johnson's White Buffalos essentially throttled the rest of their opponents, including 1A teams Crook County and Redmond.
Playing in the 2A division, the Buffs' closest game during the season was a 16-point blowout. Madras had victories of 53, 43 and 40 points during the league season, and regularly won by more than 30 points. Long before a three-point line, the team averaged more than 70 points a game.
With two all-staters — four-year starting post player Joe Piedmont and Gregg Macy — leading the scoring attack, and point guard Gary Moe keying the play-making, the Buffs were a fast-breaking, offensive machine. They beat Mac-Hi in two straight to win the district playoffs, then headed to Coos Bay for state.
At state, the No. 1-ranked Buffs beat Henley 80-72 in the opener, then Sherwood 72-61 in the quarterfinals. Rarely challenged during the season, the Buffs found themselves down by 8 at halftime of the championship game against Coquille. But the Buffalos dominated the second half to win 63-51.
The title was the first team state championship in Madras High School history. The squad's bus was met by a caravan of about 95 vehicles at the Crooked River Gorge to escort them back to Madras.
It was also the last MHS game that Johnson would coach. He left to become the head coach at Wilson High School in Portland after 10 years at the helm of MHS basketball.