An 18-year run
- Devin Higgins
- Forest Grove News-Times - Sports
Ron Thompson was more than a successful softball coach. He was a patient teacher who believed in helping kids fix their own problems.
Seventeen playoff appearances in 18 years as head coach of Forest Grove High School softball.
Five league championships. A trip to the 1992 league title game. A run to the state semifinals in 1995. And never losing to McMinnville.
Ron Thompson's resume already makes him a hometown legend. Now he can add the title of FGHS Hall of Famer to that list as part of this year's class of honorees.
'It was just an honor to hear I was being considered, especially since I'm the first coach of a girls' team to be inducted,' Thompson said.
Although he wasn't born here, Thompson considers himself a lifelong 'Grover'. Moving to the city as a boy in 1949, he attended Forest Grove High School before moving on to Pacific University, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Studies.
That allowed Thompson to go back to work at FGHS as a social studies teacher and eventually take over as coach of the softball team in 1988, but he's quick to attribute his success to those around him.
'I was really lucky to have a great coaching staff,' Thompson said. 'Owen Goans was a great pitching coach. He should be a Hall of Famer someday too. I also had the benefit of former players like Valerie Wells (Takahashi) and Jill Durham who was a great JV coach.'
Thompson also points to making coaching a family affair, having his son Doug join him on the staff as an assistant.
'Rarely do you get an opportunity to coach with your dad and it was great for me,' said Doug Thompson, the current FGHS athletic director. 'The easiest job was being the varsity assistant coach. I didn't have to deal with parents, or teachers or fundraisers and could just coach. I often wondered how he could do that year after year.'
'He's passionate,' said Thompson's successor and current Vikings softball coach Ole Evenson. 'Ron took a lot of time and effort to follow softball and there was nothing but his passion for the kids and the sport to sustain him. That helped make him successful.'
Aside from his staff, Thompson also points to simply outworking opposing teams in innovative ways to have his players ready.
'We played every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so to get ready for the week we practiced every Sunday,' Thompson said. 'It was an optional thing. I didn't make them practice, but the kids understood we played on Mondays so being ready was important.'
'Other coaches got wind of that and started following suit when they saw it worked for us,' Thompson added.
One of his most celebrated achievements was going undefeated against arch-rival McMinnville, a mark which might not be considered all that relevant now, but was an important goal in the early days of the league.
'The three original teams were McMinnville, Newberg and Forest Grove,' Thompson said. 'Considering the long rivalry between Pacific and Linfield in college sports, I think it just developed from there.'
With sustained excellence comes the expectation of making it continue year after year. For both Thompsons, it was something they felt, but it never affected their relationships with their players.
'What made that easier was Ron's ego never got in the way,' Doug said. 'He'd let kids play on All-Star teams during the summer and try different things. As long as it worked, he didn't question it or make them change.'
'There's different ways to do things.' Ron Thompson added. 'I learned baseball from an old-school bunter. If players found ways to do things which worked for them, I was fine with it and made a point to ask them every fall, 'What did you learn?''
Away from the diamond, Evenson said Thompson's role as a Social Studies teacher made his contribution to Forest Grove student-athletes even more valuable.
'Ron was one of my teachers and academics were very important to him. He focused on being a teacher and holding us accountable for being student-athletes, not just athletes.'
Thompson said being in the classroom gave him an edge many contemporary coaches don't have.
'It was an absolute advantage you can't replace. You get to know them. You see who's doing well in class and who's not. As softball coach and seeing them playing other sports, I went to those games to see how they were doing and I knew it was important to them to see me there.'
His father's ability to understand the needs of his players both in the classroom and on the field is something Doug Thompson recognized as special.
'If there was an issue, he'd deal with it and move on, but rather than fix it himself, Ron helped students to help themselves.' Doug said. 'Not everybody has that, but he did.'
When he finally stepped down in 2006, Thompson remained active in the Viking community, attending games and offering advice when asked, especially during their run to the state title in 2007, their first under Evenson.
'It was intimidating because I had Ron's kids and his coaching staff, but he was always approachable and easy to talk to.' Evenson said. 'I talk to Ron all the time and he's just the same way now.'
Looking back on the time he shared with his father, Doug Thompson remembers it for the fun they had together and the joy he showed every season.
'Coaching was something he truly loved to do,' Doug said. 'Eighteen seasons can be a hard run and to still enjoy it was amazing to see.'