New Hall of Fame members recall their major influences
Sometimes the best need a little help to reach their best, whether it comes from a family member, a coach, an opposing coach or a caring community. Even a fistfight behind the elementary school can serve up important life lessons.
Those were among the many poignant messages recounted Tuesday by the newest members of the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame. Former Washington State baseball great John Olerud, ex-Lewis-Clark State College baseball coach Ed Cheff, former Creston High and Gonzaga University basketball standout Tammy Tibbles, ex-North Idaho College wrestling coach John Owen and the late Corissa Yasen, a multisport star at Coeur d’Alene High, were inducted during a two-hour ceremony at the Spokane Arena.
Former WSU sports information director Rod Commons and long-time prep and college official Clyde “Chic” Sale were added to the Scroll of Honor.
Tibbles was on the wrong path before basketball, when an assist from older brother Keith changed her life.
“My older brothers were all athletic, but none of us were able to play sports,” she said. “It was against our religion.”
Keith and Tibbles’ eventual first coach convinced her parents to permit her to play basketball.
“What a selfless act,” said Tibbles, thanking her brother, who was in the audience. “He was still a kid in high school, but he told my dad, ‘You need to let her play.’ That saved my life.”
In turn, Tibbles made her brother change the date of his wedding. After attending the 1981 State B championship game, Tibbles informed Keith, who had set a wedding date for March 6, 1982, that she had plans for that day. That was the date of the State B title game.
Creston knocked off league rival Reardan in the 1982 championship game. Months before, Keith wisely changed his wedding date. Creston won another state crown in Tibbles’ senior season. She moved on to Gonzaga and was the school’s all-time leading scorer when she graduated in 1987.
“My life turned around because of the generosity of spirit of these people from Creston. A lot of them are here,” Tibbles said. “This moment is more about them than it is about me.”
Owen offered an entertaining recap of the events that shaped him as a person and coach. The oldest of six brothers, he was the first to wrestle at Missoula County High (later Sentinel). The sport became the family’s passion, with every brother earning state-placing honors and eventually coaching at the high school and/or college level.
“My grade school was a one-room building with one teacher for all eight grades,” Owen said. “The one sport at the school was fistfighting during recess. If you ever beat one of my brothers or me, you’d eventually have to fight all six of us one at a time before you could count it as a win, and my sisters weren’t afraid to jump in.”
Owen’s first coaching job was at South Umpqua High in Oregon. His interview consisted of whipping the former coach on the wrestling mat and then convincing him he could make the program a winner. He joined Les Hogan’s staff at NIC before taking over as head coach, guiding the program to eight national titles in 20 years.
He retired, but not for long, taking coaching jobs at Horizon Middle School, Central Valley and West Valley. He may end up replacing son Tommy, who left to enter college coaching, as the head coach at Central Valley.
“I learned some very valuable lessons behind that one-room schoolhouse,” he said. “Most importantly, that in a fight and in life it’s better to be on top than on the bottom. I’m on top today.”
LCSC won 16 NAIA titles during Cheff’s 34-year career. Fourteen of his players reached the major leagues. Cheff cited the impact of Dick Hannan, the former LCSC athletic director who hired Cheff, and ex-WSU baseball coach Bobo Brayton on his career.
“We’d have 10-12 scrimmages (against WSU) in the fall and we’d play 6-8 times in the spring,” Cheff said. “Every get-together was a clinic.”
Olerud, Baseball America’s player of the year in 1988 as a sophomore, suffered a brain aneurysm prior to his junior season. He was sidelined for half the season, but returned to hit .359.
“I was running in the fieldhouse, trying to get ready for Bobo’s timed mile,” said Olerud, needling his coach. “I can honestly say Bobo just about killed me with that timed mile.”
Olerud won the 1993 American League batting title and two World Series rings.
Yasen won an individual state cross country title, eight individual events at state track meets and helped Coeur d’Alene capture a pair of state basketball championships. At Purdue, Yasen won the 1996 NCAA heptathlon and then joined the basketball team, averaging 11.4 points.
Yasen played for Sacramento in the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season.