With photographs of Gary Cox projected on the auditorium wall above and behind her, Kathi Sollars shared an emotion-filled speech that illustrated the importance that Philomath High athletics held in his 30-year run as a teacher, coach and athletic director.
A collection of photos from the PHS Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction ceremony on Saturday night in the high school auditorium.
The 300 people in Philomath High’s auditorium on Saturday night quieted as her words and the images above came together. Completing the visual was the “Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior” T-shirt that Sollars wore to the event. Her sister, Christina Rosborough, was also on the stage and took the microphone to express her appreciation.
Cox is their dad and the two women were in town with their mother and other family members to celebrate his induction as part of the PHS Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.
“My dad was an incredible human being and he deserves this recognition,” Sollars said, that T-shirt she was wearing belonging to him. “He was a Warrior — once a Warrior, always a Warrior.”
Once the two daughters left the stage and were back at their table, they hugged their mother, Diana Cox, in a moment that revealed the importance of what the evening meant to them all.
Before his passing last summer, Cox had been working with Steve Bennett to create a PHS Hall of Fame that in the words of its committee “was established to honor distinguished staff and alumni who are acclaimed through their outstanding accomplishments.”
“This happened because Gary wanted it to happen,” Bennett said. “He was passionate about it. He put a committee together and the wheels started turning.”
Bennett said a PHS Hall of Fame had always been a wishful thought through the years but then the idea took hold.
“I would guess it was probably 2019 when we started brainstorming it on a more serious level with a developmental kind of process,” Bennett said.
The project hit the pause button after Cox died at age 77 on July 3, 2021. Before his passing, Bennett said that he “made it clear that he wanted to see it go on. … His vision, his determination was so strong, that it pushed us to this point.”
Cox was an obvious choice to honor with the first class with his contributions to PHS through his career in education. He was honored with all kinds of awards in teaching, coaching and AD duties, including induction into the Oregon Athletic Directors Hall of Fame in 2012.
Along with Cox, others individuals inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame were Shirley (Lagestee) Huyett, Trisha (Stevens) Lamb, Terry Boss, Kevin Boss and Woody Bennett. Three teams were also inducted — the 1986 and 1987 girls basketball teams and the 1988 football team.
“We were extremely happy with how it turned out,” Bennett said of the event. “I think we’re really proud of all of the positive feedback we got and how meaningful it was to many people. … And then, people had a good time, you know, they enjoyed it. It was a nice evening for people, both for those being honored and just people there to watch.”
The presentation on Cox got the evening program started. Lamb then introduced Huyett, who was inducted with a background that included exceptional seasons in track and field and swimming. Huyett, who was Shirley Lagestee in high school, grew up in Blodgett and graduated with the Class of 1971, also played on the first-ever PHS girls basketball team when she was a senior.
Lamb, who was Trisha Stevens in high school, competed with the Warriors from 1983-87 where she excelled in basketball, volleyball and track before taking her athletic talents to Stanford. Her name remains all over the record books but looking back on those accomplishments, she said, “Records are meant to be broken. … It’s the people you do it with that matter.”
Lamb’s message included mention of the values and “sense of self” instilled in her during those school years in Philomath.
The program then went back to Huyett, who talked about the 1986 and 1987 state championship basketball teams.
“Beating teams twice our size at that time and being No. 1 all year and having a target on our back was a tough thing,” Huyett said, later adding, “Even if we hadn’t won a state championship, I still would’ve loved coaching every one of those games.”
Several members of those squads were on hand for the event and reunited on stage.
PHS boys basketball coach Blake Ecker introduced Terry Boss, who was most known for his skills on the pitch as a soccer player. A graduate with the Class of 2000, Boss went on to play collegiately and professionally and through his remarks continued with a theme that had formed during the evening — the bonds that are formed during the high school years.
Said Boss, “I’m so happy to have lived in a community that values relationships.”
He’s now the head coach of the Oregon State men’s soccer team.
His younger brother, Kevin Boss, followed with an induction speech of his own. Boss was most known for football, although he was also on the 2002 state champion basketball team. Earning his PHS diploma in 2002, he went on to play college and pro football, the highlight of his career coming in February 2008 when his team, the New York Giants, won the Super Bowl.
Now running Boss Sports Performance in Bend, Boss told the audience, “It’s not about me, it’s about the people that got me to this point and helped me along the way.”
The final individual for induction was Woody Bennett, who led the football program from 1985-94, a run that included the state title in 1988. Bennett provided a recap of that magical season from the 90-0 win over Junction City to the 28-21 state championship victory over Dallas — both at Parker Stadium.
The 1988 state champions then took the stage as the third team to be recognized. Nearly two-thirds of the football program’s players were able to be in attendance.
Steve Bennett said the inaugural class of inductees just scratches the surface on the school’s athletic accomplishments. As such, it was not easy narrowing down the list to the first nine individuals and teams to be honored.
“There’s a big backlog of quality teams and individuals that deserve to be inducted,” Bennett said. “So, there’s just no way, probably even in the first five or six banquets, that we’ll get anywhere near all of the deserving individuals.”
Part of what the committee considered came down to tying teams, players and coaches together. For example, Lamb was inducted as an individual athlete but also with the 1986 and 1987 girls basketball teams that won state titles. The coach of that team, Huyett, fit nicely into that grouping as well.
“There’s a lot of logic in not having someone like Trisha come back from Idaho three times — once for a coach, once for herself, once for a team — so we were trying to group that together.”
Woody Bennett was inducted as an individual on the same evening as the team he coached, the 1988 state football champions, was honored. Also, it was decided to induct brothers Terry and Kevin Boss in the same year.
Steve Bennett said the committee won’t always use that model to determine the lineup of inductees, although it could continue to be a factor when warranted.
The PHS Hall of Fame has a website set up where the public can nominate individuals and teams to be considered for the honor.
Other members of the committee include Marcia Gilson, John Hanson, Paula May, Shelley Niemann, Jackie Olsen, Terry Stephenson and Kay Yechout.
Asked if the event will be an annual occurrence, Bennett said the committee will consider that question in the future.
“I think we’re pretty set on doing it next year and then we’ll look to see whether we want to start to go to an every-other-year or two years on and then take a break for a year,” Bennett said. “But like I said, we’re so backlogged and we need to get some of these people recognized.”
Overall, Bennett said it was a lot of work but a rewarding experience.
“I think the committee is tired but energized by how well it was received,” he said. “We’ve already met and recapped and are already making plans for next year.”