When Jeff was full of champions
Hall of Fame induction takes Terry Baker down memory lane
It's been, gosh, nearly a half-century now. But the memories of his time at Jefferson High in the late '50s still warm the heart of the first Heisman Trophy winner in the West.
'It was one of the best times of my life,' says Terry Baker, 65, one of 12 people who will be inducted June 29 in Orlando, Fla., in the National High School Hall of Fame. 'If college was good to me, high school was great.'
Baker graduated from Jefferson in 1959. His was the biggest name in the halcyon years of the school that dominated the Portland Interscholastic League of that era.
'Jeff was known as the School of Champions,' reflects Baker, a Portland lawyer who quarterbacked Oregon State to the 1962 Liberty Bowl in football and the 1963 Final Four in basketball as a senior. 'We won the state football championship my last two years and in baseball my senior year, and we won the city basketball title my senior year. I think I had eight or 10 teammates who played major-college football. We even had the Rose Festival queen my senior year. We had everything. It was an amazing time at an amazing school.'
The product of a low-income, single-parent household, Baker earned nine letters in high school - four in baseball, three in basketball and two in football. Basketball was his first love; football was his meal ticket. He might not have become a quarterback but by a twist of fate.
'I was starting at defensive back but not playing offense as we began my junior season,' Baker says. 'In those days, we played a PIL jamboree that started a season. We'd play one quarter one night, then finish the final three quarters the next. Our starting quarterback, Dick Peterson, sprained his ankle in the first quarter, so our coach (Tom DeSylvia) moved me to quarterback the next night. Dick never played another down at quarterback. When he got back, he took my spot in the defensive backfield.'
The Democrats, who opened 1957 with a 56-0 win over Madison, had plenty of talent around Baker. The starting backfield one year included Mel Renfro, who wound up in the NFL Hall of Fame after a stellar career with the Dallas Cowboys and joined the high school hall in 1995; Raye Renfro, Mel's older brother; and Mickey Hergert, who later starred in both football and baseball at Lewis and Clark. Baker engineered the offense that led Jeff to a 23-0 record his last two years, throwing for 1,261 yards and running for 438 more as a senior.
It's all in the hands
A 6-3 guard who also played the pivot in basketball, Baker averaged 20 points as a junior and 18.8 points as a senior. In baseball, he was a pitcher and left fielder who hit .438 as a senior and pitched the Democrats to the state championship in that sport, too. He was a first-team all-state choice in all three sports.
Part of the Baker lore is his remarkable ambidexterity. A left-handed quarterback in football who shot jump shots and free throws with the left hand, he was a right-handed baseball pitcher - the result of using the hand-me-down right-handed glove of his older brother, Gary, a third baseman with whom he played two years on the Jeff varsity.
'I don't consider myself truly ambidextrous,' Baker says. 'I can do equally well with either hand, but I do it one way or the other. I kick right-footed. I bowl right-handed. When (Oregon football coach) Len Casanova was recruiting me, it was amazing how he and I were almost identical in what we did with each limb.'
Baker laughs and adds, 'I can't tell you how many people have told me they saw me pitch both ends of a doubleheader at Jeff - one game left-handed, the next game right-handed. But I never pitched a game left-handed.'
If he'd originally planned to play college football, 'I probably would have gone to Oregon,' Baker says. 'But when it came to basketball, Oregon State owned the state in those days, and I wanted to take engineering.'
Baker didn't play football as a freshman at Oregon State, but then-coach Tommy Prothro talked him into turning out for the football team the following spring. By the time Baker was a junior, Prothro had junked his single-wing offense and gone to a T formation that was better suited toward Baker's talents.
Hooray for high school
There were plenty of personal accolades, but Baker's fondest high school memory was 'just that whole senior year, winning championships in everything. Really, the whole thing at Jeff was a wonderful experience.'
The High School Hall of Fame, located in Indianapolis, has 315 members in the categories of athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and fine arts. Others with Oregon ties who have been inducted as athletes are Danny Ainge (North Eugene High), Steve Prefontaine (Marshfield), Mel Renfro (Jefferson), Bill Walton, Ralph Miller and Terry Dischinger. As an administrator, former Portland Interscholastic League Athletic Director Paul McCall was a member of the hall's first class (1982).
Last year, Baker was approached about entering the High School Hall of Fame but couldn't attend the banquet, so his induction was postponed. This year, he'll be in Orlando for the ceremony.
'I'm looking forward to it,' he says. 'There have been an awful lot of good high school athletes in this country over the years. It's a nice lifetime achievement.'