Corbett's back-to-back champs are flying high
It was more than 20 years ago that the Corbett High boys basketball team caught the community by storm with a run of back-to-back state titles that made the Cardinals' gym the place to be on a winter night.
"It seems like it was yesterday, but it's been a long time — we had a great group of parents and our community was really supportive," assistant coach Scott Field said.
"The biggest thing I remember is how every game was standing-room only in the Corbett gym — it was loud, pure energy," Eric Windust said.
"When I see the guys it's like no time has gone by — those bonds don't dissipate," Jon Franz said.
Those bonds started early.
"We grew up together," Don Carter said. "We did kindergarten together, our first sleep-overs, baby-sitting all of that."
And they won together — a lot.
The guys moved up to the varsity level during their junior season in 1994, and new boys head coach Roy Altman knew he had something special on his hands.
"We had watched the boys as they came up, and we knew they were good," Altman said. "I remember our first day at practice thinking 'Okay, let's just not screw this up'."
With an influx of talent from the junior class, Altman shook up the lineup a bit. Previous point guard Ryan Giusto was moved to small forward — directing the offense was no longer his job, the Cardinals wanted him to fill up the bucket.
By the end of the season, he was voted the league's Most Valuable Player.
But it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, Corbett did suffer a loss to bitter rival Portland Christian early in the league schedule. That sparked a change in the practice routine.
"We placed garbage cans around the gym and did lots of running," Altman laughs. "We got into much better shape, and they next time we played PC, we won by 16."
Altman remembers another league showdown early in the season where another 2A powerhouse Portland Adventist was putting it on the Cardinals jumping out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter.
"I take a timeout, and they are just raining 3s on us," Altman said. "But we came out and started playing better and ended up winning by 16 or 17 — that was the game where I said 'maybe we're not so bad'."
Not so bad would be an understatement.
The Cardinals found their stride and never looked back, claiming the league title and blowing past everyone in the playoffs. Corbett opened with an 80-58 win over Westside Christian, then took out Crow 65-38.
That set up a semifinal game against Yoncalla that was more of the same.
The Cardinals went up by 20 late in the game when Altman emptied his bench and the lead only grew more. Bill Schimel, the team's sixth man, knocked down a couple 3-pointers, and Todd Mickalson, a defensive end in football, got into the action by sinking one from 7-8 feet behind the arc.
"We were just out there having some fun," Mickalson said.
When it was all done, Corbett had won 74-47.
"We get back to the locker room and coaches from Gaston and Willamina walk in," Altman said. "They tell us that they'd trade some of their starters to get our backups."
"I remember that it took all of us — we played a team game," Carter said. "It wasn't just the starting five, the guys on our bench could have started for any other team in the state."
Still, the state title game awaited.
It would also be a lopsided affair most of the way before Colton hit some late buckets to make it somewhat close. Still, Corbett hoisted the trophy with a 68-60 victory.
"The first year was a whirlwind, it was almost too easy, we blew so many teams out," Franz said.
The championship team had only two seniors — Giusto and 6-foot-7 Jason Fontes — who saw limited action in the tournament after injuring his ankle.
"We spent a lot of time shooting from the outside, so I'd stay in close and get a rebound every so often," Fontes laughs. "We lived for those games — heck, a bunch of us are still playing together on Sundays."
More than half the team still lives in Corbett or close enough to make it in for what is affectionately called the Corbett NBA — a 12-week adult league that goes twice a year and acts as a fundraiser for the high school program.
During the team's award dinner, one of the dads printed up shirts that read 'Back-to-Back' state champs — the 1994 trophy had yet to be placed into the case, and expectations were starting for the next season.
"It was a lot tougher with a target on our back — at our league meetings we had coaches calling us the preseason state champs — everybody was playing that card," Altman said. "I told our AD to schedule the toughest preseason he could find. We went up to a tough tournament in St. Helens, we played defending 3A champ Creswell and Castle Rock, which was coming off a state final. And Don went down with a stress fracture, so we were without our big guy most of the preseason."
The 1995 campaign had some bumps in the road and during one stretch a return to the playoffs was in question.
"There was a point in the middle of that second season where we had to win out to make it happen, and we managed to pull out some close games," Field said.
The playoffs started with a game at Sheridan.
"We had so much more talent, but we're down two or three points with about three minutes to go, and they had the ball," Franz said. "I remember thinking to myself 'This is out of our hands' — it flashed through my mind 'We're going to lose, you've got to be kidding me'."
As it turned out, the Cardinals were able to force some late turnovers that led to some transition buckets and the lead.
But the game wasn't a done deal. Corbett still needed to sink some free throws down the stretch.
"I'm at the line, and I knew I needed to make at least one of them — I was so nervous," Franz said.
Both ended up going in, and teammates would hit a few more to close out the 55-50 victory — it would prove to be their toughest challenge of the postseason.
"I remember everyone was talking about it on the streets and coming to the games," Schimel said. "We knew everyone was behind us. We traveled well and would pack out other team's gyms - that was always fun."
The Cardinals followed with a 24-point win at Western Mennonite to officially punch a return ticket to the 2A state tournament.
"Roy did a great job getting the kids calmed down, and once we got back to the tournament, it felt like we were where we belonged," Field said.
"Coming to Pendleton as defending champs was so cool," Franz said. "We were like celebrities, people would point at you — everyone knew where we were from."
The Cardinals rolled over Chiloquin 67-46 then took out Salem Academy 56-43 in the semifinals. That set the stage for a championship game against league foe Vernonia. The Cardinals emerged with a convincing 58-47 win.
"It was exhaustion but complete exuberance after the game," Mickalson said. "We were able to just hang out at the hotel and enjoy the accomplishment. We came home and there was a banner hanging on the bridge at the Corbett exit — that was special."
Carter blocked 17 shots during the tournament — a state record that still stands.
"I was a traditional back-to-the-basket post player," Carter said. "I wanted to control the glass and change shots — a big guy clogging up the middle."
He missed only one shot in the championship game, as Vernonia could do nothing to stop him near the basket.
"They used to vote for MVP before the title game, and that was unfair to Don — he had his best games in the finals both years," Altman said.
Carter would go onto play at the University of Montana.
Their former coach remembers one thing above the rest when it comes to the two-time champs.
"They thought that any time they walked into the gym, they were going to win, and most of the time they did," Altman said.
Where are they Now?
• Jason Fontes is a project manager for Skyline Sheet Metal — working on various projects downtown — including the face-lift project of the Stott Center at Portland State.
"The economy is booming and we're busier than we've ever been," Fontes said.
He is celebrating 20 years of marriage with his wife Diana, while raising sons Drew, 17, and Aiden, 15.
• Don Carter is in his 13th year as a world history teacher at Reynolds High School along with being head coach for the Corbett boys team.
"We're trying to bring that tradition back — that's what keeps me up at night," Carter said. "I'm not here short term. I live across the street, and my name is literally on the wall in this gym. This is more than just coaching."
He has been married to Hillary for the past 16 years, and the couple is raising 13-year-old daughter Emma and 10-year-old son Cody.
• Jon Franz is the head bartender at McMenamin's in Eugene across from Hayward Field.
"It gets pretty crazy on track days and can be an exciting spot to work," Franz said. "It's exciting being around the sports stuff and we get former Ducks walking in all the time, Ashton Eaton, Joey Harrington, Mike Bellotti, a lot of Oregon sports personalities."
He is married to Andrea (Powell) and the couple has a Yorkshire dog named Belle.
His father Larry is a former basketball standout at Portland State University, who still takes on his boys in a shooting game called '1-2-3' at family gatherings.
"It's similar to horse, but at a quicker pace," Jon Franz said. "I remember being 12 years old in the back yard and having some great battles. My dad would be throwing in all these hook shots — that has always been his thing. Dad wouldn't go in until he had a win under his belt, there were times we had to turn the lights on at night."
A game broke out at a recent get-together at Troutdale Park, and it took a half-court shot by Jon to collect the win.
• Eric Windust is the owner of Windust Construction, working largely on residential and remodeling projects.
"I had summer jobs all through high school, and that where I started framing houses," Windust said. "There's a lot of pride in owning your own business. Every project has it's own special parts — you are tackling a new set of problems every day."
He has been married 10 years to his wife Brianne (King) with two children 7-year-old Cruz and 5-year-old Mila.
"We are big time into the outdoors — snowboarding and skiing at Mt. Hood — we try to make it up there at least 10 times each year," Windust said.
• Todd Mickalson is a general foreman with the 'On' Electric Group. He also serves on the school board and is President of Corbett Youth Football and an assistant coach with the linemen for the high school team.
"Lessons we learned from those '94 and '95 seasons of being together — those are stories I still share with our young teams today," Mickalson said.
Mickalson has been married to wife Jamie for past 12 years and is raising two sons 15-year-old Kaine and 6-year-old Kale.
• Andy Field is a track inspector with Burlington Northern Railroad, raising son Austin, 7, and daughter Amelia, 4.
"I went to Alaska for a job opportunity, and on the flight home, I was got into a discussion with a guy and within a week we both ended up getting hired by different railroad companies," Field said. "It's different everyday, and I work with good people, and there's a stability to it."
• Bill Schimel is a Portland Fire Fighter out of Station 1 downtown near the waterfront. He is married to Kari (Steele), and the couple is raising four kids Sydney (13), Ally (11), Lilly (10) and Cash (5).
"One of our volunteer coaches, Charlie, was a firefighter and that got me started — helping people is the best part of my job," Schimel said.
• Scott Field continues to work as the Sales Manager with John Holmlund nursery in Boring — a job he has held for the past 45 years.
"I'm working for really good people," Field said. "That is what allowed me to be involved in coaching all those years."
Scott is married to his wife Glennda for the past 45 years. The couple has four children Wade living in St. George, Utah, Andy in Portland, Jenna in Seattle and Mike in Modesto, Calif.
• Roy Altman retired from the school in 2010 and lives in Redmond with his wife Janet.
"We wanted to move somewhere that the sun shines a bit more," Altman said. "We enjoy hiking, golf and hosting friends. It's 108 steps to Dry Canyon, and I can walk down early in the morning and see deer, rabbits, maybe an eagle."
The couple have two grown children Brian and Jennifer.
This Where Are They Now? story appears in our Friday, Aug. 11, print edition.