It's all downhill for Tucker Scroggins
At 7 years old, Tucker Scroggins was going downhill fast.
A decade later, the Central Catholic High senior will soon embark on a journey he hopes will land him on the United States ski team.
A three-sport athlete who is wrapping up his high school career pitching for the Rams baseball team, Scroggins has been among the faster downhill skiers in his age group, holding his own with competitors who train year-round.
His reward was helping bring a state championship to Central Catholic this winter.
Scroggins led the Rams to the boys team title at the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association championships March 6-8 at Mount Hood Meadows.
Scroggins won the boys slalom by 2.58 seconds after two runs. He also won the boys giant slalom by 1.5 seconds over two runs.
It was his third consecutive state title in the slalom and second consecutive giant slalom state championship.
Scroggins was the overall individual state champion for the third time, and this year he won the Ski-cross competition as well.
The team championship was determined by total time for both races. The Rams finished 13.98 seconds ahead of runner-up Lakeridge.
Bringing a state title to Central Catholic was special, he says, calling the response from the student body during an assembly to recognize the team a proud moment.
"It was super cool. I was just super excited to finally bring something back to the school," Scroggins says.
"It will be a moment he will be able to cherish for a lifetime," says his father, Willy, who is the ski team coach for Central Catholic. "Being able to hoist up a championship trophy in front of your student body is priceless."
As a freshman, Scroggins was a one-man ski team for Central Catholic. A year ago, the Rams took second in state even though they had only three skiers. Two more joined the program this season.
"Representing my school is always a positive," says Scroggins, a Southwest Portland resident who also played football for the Rams. "As the team has grown, I had more fun this year than other years."
Scroggins' commitment to the high school program limited his chance to ski his favorite events: the downhill and super-G. Those races are not part of high school competitions.
"I love being able to go down a hill at 60 to 80 mph with a full head of steam and just be fearless," he says. "I never had that fear factor when I was a little kid. I'd be jumping off cliffs and things like that."
Being a three-sport athlete — basketball is his favorite team sport but he gave that up in elementary school because of conflicts with skiing — put Scroggins at a disadvantage in regional races against peers focused only on skiing.
"Even though I never was doing it all the time, I was still able to compete with the people who are doing it all the time. Because of that I'm excited to see where I can take it next," he says.
Scroggins comes from a skiing family. Willy Scroggins has won multiple adult age-group national championships. Tucker's uncle, Lloyd Scroggins, is an accomplished coach who has worked with Russian skiers and has been the primary coach for Tucker.
Since age 9, Tucker has skied for the Multnomah Athletic Club in regional races staged by FIS, skiing's international governing body.
Among his highlights on the regional circuit was his first Under-19 Western Region Speed Series event when he was a sophomore. Starting 102nd out of 105 participants, Scroggins placed seventh and was only 0.5 seconds behind first place.
This season, Scroggins placed fourth in a Western Region FIS downhill race. He skipped the regional super G race because it conflicted with the high school skiing schedule.
Scroggins approached high school races the same as he does big events on the regional circuit.
"I don't look at it as just a high school race. Every race is the same to me when you step out of that gate," he says.
Until last summer, Tucker Scroggins was focused on playing football in college. Montana State had expressed some interest in the linebacker during his junior season.
But between skiing five days a week on Mount Hood and working a part-time job, he lost almost 30 pounds last summer.
After a move to defensive end, Scroggins became an impact pass rusher in the postseason for the Rams. But he did not receive any interest from college football programs.
Now 6-1 and 195 pounds, 10 more than he weighed at the start of football season, Scroggins is built for the speed races. But it takes more than size and strength to win downhill races.
"You never know how good a person can be (based on their build)," Scroggins says. "It depends on their feel for the snow when they let their skis go. How flexible they are in their hips."
Bravery and straight-line speed are useful, but even the downhill requires more than gusto to succeed.
"He's got a real nice touch for the snow, and he's a good glider. Experience and speed is what's going to carry him further," his father says.
With football off the table, it's time to find out how far Scroggins' speed can take him. After his final high school baseball season and graduation, Scroggins for the first time will turn his full attention to skiing. The plan is to spend time this summer coaching and training at his dad's ski camp on Mount Hood's Palmer Snowfield, then head to South America in September for a couple of months. In the fall, he plans to join one of the elite skiing programs in the intermountain region, perhaps at Sun Valley, Idaho.
"He's always done three sports and never really focused on one," Willy Scroggins says. "He hasn't focused on ski racing as a single sport because he, and we, didn't know where he was going to end up after graduation.
"He always wanted to go play football. That was his mentality, and we kind of held the reins on him as far as competing (in ski racing) all over the country. He could have easily done that, but we kept him in high school racing.
"Next year, we're going to take the training wheels off and see what he can do."
Should he not develop into a U.S. ski team prospect, Scroggins says skiing collegiately is an option.
Scroggins has attended National Performance Series events and has raced and trained with several current U.S. ski team members, including Gresham's Luke Winters.
Soon, Scroggins' focus will turn to seeing how far up the ski racing mountain he can climb.
"I'm excited to see where I go for the next step," he says, "and I'm excited to see how it all works out the next few years."
On the high school slopes
Central Catholic High's first team state championship in skiing since 1952 was a team effort.
At the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association championships March 6-8 at Mt. Hood Meadows, the Central Catholic boys beat runner-up Lakeridge by 13.98 seconds based upon each team's top three finishers over each of two slalom runs and two giant slalom runs.
Senior Tucker Scroggins led the way by winning each event, but the Rams needed at least three finishers in each race to capture the team trophy.
Sophomore Jackson Currier placed fifth in slalom, seventh in giant slalom, fifth overall individually combining the slalom and giant slalom, and placed second to Scroggins in ski-cross.
Freshman Felix McCall placed 12th in the slalom, 10th in the giant slalom, and took eighth place in the combined individual standings.
Sophomore Dylan Dernbach placed 16th in the giant slalom.
Sophomore Christopher Gray also competed at the state championships despite a knee injury.
Lincoln placed sixth among 15 complete teams in the boys standings. Oregon Episcopal School was 10th, Jesuit 11th and Cleveland 15th.
Hood River won the girls state title, with Oregon Episcopal School (fourth place), St. Mary's Academy (fifth) and Jesuit (eighth) among 13 girls teams.
— Paul Danzer