by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - In this 2009 photo, Mike Lopez Jr., is joined by (from left) sister Susan Lopez Henri, mother Katherine and father Mike Lopez Sr.Catching up on assorted items as we start a new sporting year ...

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A memorial service for Mike Lopez Jr. — the former Aloha High and Oregon State football star — is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at Aloha High School. Lopez Jr., 49, died Jan. 2 after a 16-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.)

• So sorry to hear of the passing Wednesday of Mike Lopez Jr., the former Oregon State safety and son of Portland-area coaching legend Mike Lopez.

Lopez Jr., 49, had waged a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for 16 years. He lived for many years using a respirator so he could watch his daughters — Megan, 20, a sophomore at Oregon State, and Molly, 15, a sophomore at Wilsonville High — grow up.

“That’s pretty much the reason Mike fought so hard to stay alive,” said his father, head football coach at Benson and Aloha for many years and still involved in coaching the Warrior program.

I twice wrote columns on Lopez Jr. for the Tribune — in 2001 and ‘09. Though he was bedridden and unable to talk, he was able to communicate through eye-blinking and lip-reading by family members and a professional caregiver.

It was a horribly difficult way to live, but Lopez Jr. did it with grace and a remarkably positive attitude. He established the Mike Lopez Jr. Foundation and for the past six years has run an annual golf tournament, with proceeds directed toward ALS research and financial aid to ALS patients.

The senior Lopez said the family has received condolences from hundreds of friends of Mike Jr. and the family.

“People have been extraordinary,” Lopez says. “It’s been wonderful.”

Nobody was more proud of Mike Jr. and the way he handled his disease than his father.

“A dear friend of ours said it best,” Lopez says. “Courage, overcoming adversity, perserverence — all of those things apply. But the thing that really applies is just that Mike was special.”

I’ll be the first to second that.

• The Winterhawks have sent a letter to the Western Hockey League indicating a formal request for an appeal of the sanctions — a $200,000 fine, the loss of nine draft picks and the season-long suspension of general manager-coach Mike Johnston — for violations related to player benefits the league handed down last month.

Incredibly, the WHL has no appeal process in place. The Winterhawks are hoping to plead their case at the league’s board of governors meeting next month in Las Vegas.

As of Friday, the league hadn’t responded nor provided a written explanation to the Portland club specifying what the violations are. Cory Flett, the WHL’s director of communications, did not return multiple phone calls from the Tribune asking for comment — just as he did last month when asked for clarification of the Hawks’ sanctions.

The WHL is operating as if it were the Wizard of Oz, exerting its authority while ignoring media requests for explanation. I’m guessing if a legitimate appeal is not offered the Hawks, legal action will follow.

• “Fox Sports Radio PDX,” a short-lived attempt at local sports talk programming on KPOJ (620 AM), is history. The three-hour week-day show (9 a.m. to noon), which lasted six weeks and was hosted by Scott Lynn and Ron Callan, has been replaced by a new national show hosted by self-proclaimed funny guy Jay Mohr.

Word was hardly out about the new show when KPOJ pulled the plug. It would have been nice to give it a chance to catch on. Mohr’s self-serving act is hardly an upgrade.

KPOJ has also moved the week-night show “Beaver Nation,” also hosted by either Lynn or Callan, from 6-7 p.m. to 7-8 p.m.

• I like Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, and would personally root for him to be the next UO head coach should Chip Kelly bolt for the NFL. But if I were the Ducks, I’d at least take a run at Chris Petersen from Boise State.

Sure, it worked splendidly when Oregon promoted Kelly from O-coordinator and gently nudged Mike Bellotti upstairs to the athletic director post four years ago. And I’m not saying Helfrich, though only 39, wouldn’t be a fine head coach.

But Petersen is a proven commodity with an Oregon pedigree. That would be a home-run hire.

• USA Today’s report that Oregon has already decided on Helfrich should Kelly leave — despite the state’s diversity law requiring public universities to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching positions — brings to mind how the Ducks seem to pay lip service only to such state regulations.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what purpose the diversity law really serves. Sure, it gets a minority candidate an interview. But what good does it do if the interview isn’t authentic?

Plus, in this day and age, if all qualifications are equal and with the number of minority athletes in most programs, what university wouldn’t hire a black coach?

• The fourth of nine meetings of the OSAA’s Classification and Districting Committee in regard to a potential reclassification of the state’s schools is set for Jan. 28 at the OSAA office in Wilsonville.

There are three proposed changes to the current 6-class set-up — 1) six classifications, but with no hybrid leagues; 2) five classifications and 3) five classifications, but six for football only.

Each meeting offers opportunity for anyone — affiliated with a school or not — to provide written or live testimony to the committee. After the final meeting only Sept. 23, the committee will forward its proposal to the OSAA Executive Board, which in turn will either accept it or make changes and then forward to the OSAA Delegate Assembly (represented by a member of each league in all the classifications) for a final vote.

It’s a complicated, lengthy process but one I hope reaps changes that need to be made.

I’d toss the five-classifications-except-football draft — too complicated. That leaves draft one — six, but better than what we have now — and draft two, five.

Under the latter proposal, 5A (the highest classification) would be schools with an enrollment of 1,180 or higher and 4A from 580-1,179.

The six 5A leagues would have no fewer than eight members apiece. The only major problems I see are: Hermiston with the east Portland schools in the Mt. Hood Conference, and Bend and Summit with West Albany and Salem schools in the Central Valley Conference. The travel involved is long and particularly dangerous in the wintertime.

Hermiston’s enrollment is on the bubble between 5A and 4A, so move the Bulldogs down to the lower classification. I’m not sure what you do with Bend and Summit, though they are in the lower end of enrollment for 5A as well. I’d rather see them in the 4A Intermountain with Central Oregon rivals Mountain View, Ridgeview and Redmond — or perhaps in a separate five-team league. Under draft two, Ontario is placed in the 3A Greater Oregon League despite an enrollment that is on the lower end of 4A figures because of geographic location. That makes sense for Bend and Summit, too.

The only thing for sure is, not everybody will be happy with the plan the OSAA implements. That’s the nature of the beast.

• In his 17th NBA season, Jermaine O’Neal — still only 34 years old, but hobbled by leg injuries over the last few years — is having a resurgence as a reserve center in Phoenix.

The one-time Trail Blazer is averaging 7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17 minutes a game with the Suns while shooting .497 from the field, a testament to non-surgical Orthokine treatments he had on his knees last summer in Germany.

“I’m feeling great,” O’Neal says. “It’s unbelievable. I think it’s going to put four to five more years on my career.”

O’Neal and his wife, Mesha — a native of Vancouver, Wash. — live in Dallas in the offseason, but still consider Portland a second home.

“We come up to visit the in-laws every summer,” O’Neal says. “I’ve always kept in touch with the city.”

Their daughter, Asjia, is now 15 and a 6-foot, 160-pound top volleyball player. Their son, Jermaine Jr., is 6, “and he’s going to be an athlete, too,” O’Neal says proudly.

O’Neal says he pulls for the Blazers and thinks they are on the right track.

“Portland is one of the teams I keep up with, because basically I’m from there,” he says. “The Blazers been struck with such bad luck in recent years with (Brandon) Roy and (Greg) Oden — you feel bad for them. This is one of the rare communities in sports where they have such unqualified love for the team ... you want to see them succeed.

“I like the potential with the leadership of (LaMarcus) Aldridge and all their young guys. They have a team now they can build on and do some great things.”

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