The new Pioneer cage boss says Mike Doherty and Brad Smith have been his mentors

by: JOHN DENNY - Oregon City Coach Aaron NewkirkOregon City High School history teacher Aaron Newkirk has been named head coach of the school's boys basketball program.

Newkirk, 36, replaces Eric DeWitz, whose coaching contract was not renewed after the Pioneers went 9-39 over the past two seasons under his tutelege.

Newkirk, who did not coach at Oregon City under DeWitz, was an assistant in Oregon City's boys basketball program under former head coach Mike Doherty for seven seasons. He also headed up Oregon City's youth program in Doherty's last two seasons as head coach.

Newkirk said he did not apply for the coaching position when Doherty left, 'because coaching takes a lot of time and I didn't feel like circumstances were right for my family.'

Newkirk says that now that his children, Alex, 9, and Anna, 6, are enrolled in school, he's got the time to commit to the program as head coach.

After earning his masters degree from George Fox University in 1999, Newkirk's first job out of college was teaching history at the Oregon City High School Moss freshman campus. After four years at Moss, he moved to the high school, where he continues as a U.S. history teacher.

'I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work [heading up the high school boys basketball program],' Newkirk said. 'I already have a great staff pretty much in place.'

Newkirk says that he's hired 1994 Oregon City High School graduate Jeff Mellema and Canby High School graduate Bryce Fisher as varsity assistants.

'Jeff is the Oregon City school record-holder in the high jump [6-8],' Newkirk said.

Mellema was also on Doherty's high school coaching staff at Oregon City during the first five years that Newkirk assisted in the program, Newkirk says.

Newkirk said of his goals as head coach: 'To build a program that the community is proud of, not only in terms of what they see as a product on the court, but also a great product off the court - judging success not only on wins and losses, but also in the kind of kid that graduates from our program.'

Kewkirk said one of his goals will be to develop more continuity between the high school and youth programs. He said his athletes will spend more time in the weight room, especially if they are not participating in other sports during the offseason. And he said his teams will do more traveling, taking part in as many as five tournaments this summer.

Kewkirk says that former Oregon City coach Brad Smith and Doherty have been his mentors.

'I learned my x's and o's from Doherty, and from Brad I learned how to organize a program and how to deal with people,' Newkirk said.

'Newkirk added, 'I talk with Brad maybe three times a week. We've done camps together. Our classrooms were next to each other when he was teaching, and we spent a lot of time talking basketball.'

Newkirk is a graduate of Crater High School, where he competed in basketball, soccer and cross country. He made first-team all-league and was an honorable mention all-state selection in basketball. He also was a two-year starter in basketball at George Fox.

Basketball has been a big part of Newkirk's life since high school. His wife Heidi (Rueck) Newkirk was an All-American at George Fox and her brother, Scott Rueck is women's basketball coach at Oregon State University. Heidi graduated from Glencoe High School in 1991 and her junior year the Crimson Tide defeated Oregon City en route to winning the state championship.

'We expect to be competitive in every game, but we have a lot of work to do,' Newkirk said of next year's Oregon City squad. 'We're stepping into a hornets' nest. Lake Oswego has the player of the year returning, West Linn returns most of its starting lineup and Clackamas has a sophomore class that a lot of people are saying is the best football and basketball class in Oregon.'

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