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Beaverton board discusses naming football stadium for slain soldier

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Jeff Keller thanks community members Friday night for their support after his eldest son, U.S. Army Pfc. Andrew Keller, was killed in action Aug. 15 while serving in Afghanistan. Southridge High School retired Andrew's football jersey No. 13 as a tribute to the former captain and 2007 Most Valuable Player of the Skyhawks football team. In the wake of Pfc. Andrew Keller’s death in the line of duty in Afghanistan last month, the marquee outside his Southridge High School alma mater read, “We Remember Army PFC Andrew Keller — Class of 2008.”

While the message, one of many memorial tributes to the Southridge graduate in recent weeks, was only temporary, there is growing sentiment in the community that the fallen soldier should be recognized at his former school in a more permanent fashion.

Based on an outpouring of public interest — including a popular Facebook page that serves as on online memorial to Keller — the Beaverton School District’s board of directors opened a discussion at its Monday night meeting about naming the Southridge athletic stadium in Keller’s honor. But to rename the facility “Andrew Keller Memorial Field,” the board would have to amend district policy that forbids giving school facilities “separate” names.Pfc. Andrew Keller

Alan Lohner, a friend of the Keller family, took a moment to crystallize the feeling of many community members who would like to see Andrew’s name become part of the local landscape.

“Andrew was shaped and molded by you, our schools, and molded into one of the finest young men our community’s ever known,” he told board members. “Now our community is reaching out and asking for your help. We’re asking that you amend the policy to honor Andrew.”

Noting that district policy includes 14 ways to memorialize a student, teacher or staff member, including a memorial page in the school yearbook, planting a tree, a plaque on athletic bleachers and a living memorial scholarship, board members struggled to balance the emotion of the recent tragedy with the need to maintain thoughtful, big-picture policy.

“The loss of Andrew’s life is truly tragic,” said board chairwoman LeeAnn Larsen. “I can’t begin to understand the grief his friends and family are experiencing. We are all mommies and daddies at heart, and we grieve with you as a community for your terrible loss.

“I think we need to take a step back from emotion,” she added, “and take a look at the policy that needs to govern the present as well as future policies. In light of those things, we should take the time to examine the pros and cons of the policy.”

Noting the 24-year-old policy was readopted in July, board member Tom Quillin said the issue raises the question of “where should the decision be made, at the board or in the (school) building? Where does the board want to apply its authority proactively?”

Since the 22-year-old’s untimely death on Aug. 15, hundreds from the Southridge and Beaverton community have rallied to express their grief and support Keller’s family members. A funeral procession made its way through the city, and the young man’s No. 13 football jersey from his days as a Southridge Skyhawk was retired in a ceremony at Friday night’s home game against Lake Oswego.

Acknowledging the conflicting, not to mention raw, feelings framing the issue, board member Mary VanderWeele admitted it’s difficult to think in terms of policy guidelines with such an outpouring of emotion in the community.

“There’s some unique specialness about this situation,” she said. “We’ve all seen the Facebook page, and the (Keller memorial) video on YouTube. I was at the game on Friday and saw everyone wearing (No. 13) T-shirts.

“We’re at the beginning of this process. There’s a lot we don’t understand,” she added about the policy decision. “We need to be mindful of the fact that we’ve said ‘no’ in the past. We really want to understand the rationale behind the (policy) process in the first place.”

The board, which hadn’t planned on voting on the matter Monday night, agreed to submit its specific questions about the policy to the school district office and revisit the topic in the next month or two.

Policymaking issues aside, it was testimony from Andrew’s father, Jeff Keller, that probably best summed up community sentiment about the situation.

“I’m not Facebook savvy, but I’ve seen our community come together and bond over this,” he said. “It becomes a powerful feeling to know that many people care about you and your family. In certain situations, based on the circumstances, you have an opportunity to create a legacy that will last long past our time.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - The Jackson Armory Honor Guard led by Sgt. Brett Roesch fires a salute in honor of U.S. Army Pfc. Andrew Keller prior to the Friday night football game at his alma mater. Keller was a 2008 Southridge High School graduate.