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Track facility improvements are planned as a way to realize Neil Hoffmann's dream.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - A memorial outside Scappose High School honors Neil Hoffmann, a student who died in October 2020.The friends, family and teammates who ran alongside Neil Hoffmann have sought ways to honor his memory since Hoffmann passed away on Oct. 10, 2020.

Hoffmann was a junior at Scappoose High School and a member of the track and field and cross country teams.

In the months since his passing, community members have raised more than $20,000 to fund improvements to the track and facilities at the high school.

"The project is just a realization of a dream Neil had," his aunt Sarah Waud-Elrod said. "Neil had big dreams for Scappoose and his community."

Those who knew Hoffmann said he was passionate not just about running, but about his community.

Hoffmann's mom, Lisa Hoffmann, said that her son would always notice the tracks and seating at other schools when they passed through on family trips. She said Neil was wondering: "Why can't Scappoose have something as nice as this?"

"When you're an athlete, you want to be proud of your school and what you're doing out there," Lisa Hoffmann said.

"We knew Neil's passion for track," Lisa Hoffmann said of herself and her husband and Neil's father, Matt Hoffmann, "and we thought this would be a great way to do a tribute to him and his good character. And all the other kids out there like him. It's not just about him, it's how can we help more kids like him."

Waud-Elrod said a group of school staff, coaches, family members, friends and fellow runners have been working together to develop a clear vision for what honoring Hoffmann's memory will look like.

The vision: "Create a community and school-based complex that provides sport opportunities and safe gathering places for the youth in the community."

The group plans to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to support improvements to track and field amenities and youth programs focused on athletics and social-emotional health. Funds are currently held in a GoFundMe and in an account at Wauna Credit Union under "Neil's Track Fund."

The group is looking into replacing the track and adding covered stands, which would encourage more people to cheer on the athletes rain or shine, and make Scappoose a more desirable location for meets.

Waud-Elrod said there will be a clearer idea of the project plans once the group meets with the school board in mid-April.

Scappoose cross-country coach Kevin Pinkstaff said that Hoffmann's death "hit us all hard, because Neil was so well-liked by everybody."

"Being able to have workouts was therapeutic for us in the aftermath of his death, and I was really proud how the team came together to support each other," Pinkstaff said.

During the first week of practice, the team ran a course through town that spelled out "Neil," Pinkstaff said.

Two members of the cross-country team, Franky Gardner and Brennen Elshaug, trained for a 30-mile Wildwood Trail run in Forest Park — longer than a marathon, and with more challenging terrain — using it as a way to encourage donations to Neil's memorial project.

"I think that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted youth specifically, and just highlighted a need for kids to stay connected and gather as a community," Waud-Elrod said.

Waud-Elrod and other organizers have enlisted the help of Michael Bergmann, a former Nike executive who has coached high school track teams and driven track facility upgrades at Roosevelt High School and in Maupin.

Bergmann, now president of Portland Track and IncubatorU consulting, and Waud-Elrod both said that track teams typically being no-cut is an advantage for the community.

"There's thousands of Neils out there that are good track athletes, but they aspire to be great, and track allows them to dream," Bergmann said.

Bergmann said that for runners in Oregon, "exposure to the best in the sport is just down the freeway." A successful project would honor Hoffmann's passion for the sport and show other athletes the opportunities available with enough talent and hard work.

Pinkstaff, who is also an assistant coach for track, said that the current track is old and worn out.

Hoffmann's parents entrusted Bergmann with Hoffmann's running journal.

Bergmann said he's learned that Hoffmann was helpful and friendly, often one of the first to arrive to practices and last to leave.

"He would have been one of those kids I would have loved on my team," Bergmann said.

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