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Coach Norman draws up a winner in Estacada

Adjusting to an expanded offense took time, but a late-season surge put the Rangers in the playoff hunt

THE OUTLOOK: DAVID BALL - Estacada basketball coach Kelly Norman keeps an eye on the action from the sideline. Kelly Norman wasn't expecting to coach this season, but there he found himself standing clipboard in hand outside the locker room door at Scappoose High School. Tip off was 30 minutes away, and he was about to shake hands with his team for the first time.

“My mom asked me if I was going to get back to coaching, and I said no. My wife asked me if I was going to get back to coaching, and I said no. Three weeks later, I'm coaching,” Norman laughs.

Norman took the reins of the Estacada High basketball team a month into the season — a position that opened when the Rangers' season got off on the wrong foot.

Estacada dropped a 12-point decision to Elmira in its league opener on a Friday night.

New coach Terry Smith-Harris didn't like losing, and it showed at practice the next day. The players were pushed through an intense collection of running drills — a punishment for not putting up enough points the night before. According to parents on the team, a verbal tirade followed.

Monday morning the coach was dismissed.

The Rangers' court leader Doug Kirchhofer puts it politely when he says 'It wasn't the right chemistry.”

The hunt for a qualified coach partway through the season seemed a daunting one.

Estacada High principal Ryan Carpenter made a quick call to a long-time family friend. His father Scott hired Norman as an assistant when he was coaching the Gresham High boys team in the late 1980s. Norman is a mainstay in Gresham sports, coaching more than 25 years across the football, basketball and baseball teams. Scott is the godfather to Norman's children.

The family connections run deep.

Norman didn't jump in his car and sign a contract that day, but he did agree to come watch the Rangers' next game. He sat in the bleachers alongside his wife Carrie, the two were married in the fall, and was flooded with feelings that hadn't been stirred since he last coached six years ago.

“I just felt this energy come through me, and in my gut it just felt right,” Norman said. “Watching the kids, you could see that they played hard. I didn't know any of their names, but I just embraced it and jumped in with both feet.”

And that's how he ended up standing outside that locker room in Scappoose a few weeks before Christmas ready to meet his newest team.

“All that I asked is that they played with energy and that they should feel free to shoot the basketball,” Norman said. “We went into that one looking to control the one thing that we could — how hard we played.”

The Rangers stayed within a bucket most of the way before giving way to the Indians in a 58-52 loss. Scappoose is No. 6 in the 4A rankings heading into the final week of the regular season.

“He drew up some basic plays on the whiteboard and told us to go out there and try to score points,” Rangers' forward Skyler Smith said. “It was a scramble, but we were neck and neck halfway through the fourth quarter.”

Still, growing pains were in full force, as the team lost its first six games before getting an early present with a 43-30 win at Douglas three days before Christmas.

“When I first took over, we didn't have many practices. Now, we're getting on the same page and coming together,” Norman said. “We are just learning the offense and how to trust each other.”

The Rangers showed signs of just that in a lopsided 38-point win over Corbett, but narrow losses to Gladstone and Crook County had the team flickering like a faulty light bulb. Estacada hit the halfway point in Tri-Valley play with a 1-4 record — tied on the bottom of the standings.

The coach and the players refused to give up.

Norman has brought a broader level of strategy to practices, challenging his team with a variety of game plans and a deep playbook.

“He has all kinds of plays with three or four options off our basic offense, so we're always able to change things up depending on what defense we see,” Smith said. “It's been good, he's stretching our brain a lot.”

“Before it was more about physical fitness and activity. Now, we're running through plays and watching film, getting prepared for other teams,” Kirchhofer said. “Every game he has something new for us, sometimes he's drawing it up in the locker room before the game.”

Things were starting to click and it showed on the scoreboard with back-to-back wins against Madras and Corbett.

But the Rangers had yet to break through against the Tri-Valley's top teams.

Estacada passed that challenge last week with home wins over Molalla and Gladstone, who started the week tied for first place.

The team has had six leading scorers over the course of the season.

“We aren't depending on any one person, and you like to have that as a coach,” Norman said. “But to achieve that you need players who can do a lot of different things, and we have that.”

The four-game win streak put Estacada into position for a 'winner advances' game at Crook County in its season finale Tuesday. The Rangers took the game to double overtime before falling 43-37. A missed free throw at the end of the first overtime kept the Rangers out of the playoffs.

Norman, a health teacher at Gordon Russell Middle School in Gresham, has already agreed to return to the Rangers' bench next year.

“Coach Norman has brought a lot of excitement, and he stays focused on the positive,” Kirchhofer said. “He will talk to you, but you don't leave with your head down. You want to try and reach the goals he has set for you.”

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