It was an evening to recognize athletes for their achievements.
But the Southern Oregon Sports Commission awards banquet was also a chance to shine light on a couple who has provided numerous opportunities for the athletes, their peers and other generations across the Rogue Valley.
Sherm and Wanda Olsrud, who started Sherm’s Thunderbird Markets and Food 4 Less, were celebrated as the SOSC’s sports advocate honorees at the fifth annual event Thursday at the Santo Community Center.
The program also featured the announcement of the commission’s male and female athletes of the year for 2018 and the presentation of spirit of competition and officiating awards to Wendy Werthaiser and Jerry Eklund, respectively.
The Mail Tribune’s top 10 stories of last year were presented, and former Medford tennis star Jonathan Stark served as the keynote speaker.
Crater wrestler Logan Meek was chosen male athlete of the year, and St. Mary’s soccer and track standouts Meghan Michels and Maddie Wheelock were co-winners of the female athlete award.
The Olsruds, who in December participated in the dedication of the Olsrud Family Community Playground at Bear Creek Park, were hailed in a nearly eight-minute video for their philanthropy. They’ve made contributions to, among other things, the Medford School District, Kids Unlimited, Harry & David Field and the Jackson County Fairgrounds.
The Olsruds couldn’t attend, but their son, Steve, represented them.
“They have always thought the future of the community is the kids,” said Steve. “The kids of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. They have just really been proud of the community, and the community has been good for our family. They just want to say thank you.”
During the video, a number of people spoke glowingly of the Olsruds’ generosity.
Tom Cole, of Kids Unlimited, told of the vision the Olsruds had 15 years ago in building that facility. A basketball court is named for them, and they would go to games, sit on the concourse and watch kids play.
“They changed the game of basketball and the landscape of basketball in our valley for kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity to play,” said Cole.
“What truly separates them from so many other people,” he added, “is that they really lead from the heart, and that’s an amazing quality.”
Dennis Murphy, former athletic director and boys basketball coach at South Medford, remembered soliciting funds to install artificial turf at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Olsruds came through with a large donation, but they nixed the idea of having their company logo on the scoreboard.
“‘No,’” Murphy recalled them saying. “‘We don’t need that. This isn’t about us. It’s about kids.’”
Medford baseball contributor Don Schneider, noting the Olsruds’ role in funding the Harry & David Field press box, said, “They always seem to be able to step up to the plate and deliver for the youth of this city.”
The community park is a prime example, said Medford Parks and Recreation Director Rich Rosenthal. The Olsruds helped build a playground 30 years ago at Bear Creek Park — across from their house — and were back at it last year for the new version.
“There they were, once again, at the fore, on site,” said Rosenthal. “They came to visit and took a lead role.”
Helen Funk, of the Jackson County Fairgrounds, couldn’t thank the family enough.
“The kids have always been at the root of every single thing that they’ve ever done,” she said. “You can look across this community, everywhere you see that they have touched has impacted children ... children for generations and generations.”
“I’m not convinced there are many Sherm and Wandas around the world anymore,” said Murphy. “I’m just not. And when you throw in that it’s never about their recognition, it’s not at all, it’s about, ‘We want to do this because it’s the right thing to do, and we have the ability to do it.’ That’s wonderful.”
Before the Olsruds were feted, other awards were presented.
Last winter, Meek became only the second Crater wrestler to win three state championships, recording a 13-4 major decision at 160 pounds over Putnam’s Giovanni Hernandez.
He won his final 101 prep matches, going 42-0 as a senior and 131-7 in his career.
Meek, a senior who is now wrestling for Oregon State, was a three-time Oregon triple-crown winner, twice the 5A state wrestler of the year and placed second last summer in the Junior National Freestyle Championships.
He thanked his family and friends for their support.
The other male finalists were Ashland distance runner EJ Holland, Crater baseball player Larson Kindreich, Montana football player Dante Olson and Central Point boxer Mike Wilson.
Similarly, Michels and Wheelock thanked their support system, including teammates in attendance.
“You guys are like a second family to us, honestly,” said Wheelock, “and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish nearly as much without you by our side.”
Separating the two senior Crusaders was difficult, hence the co-award.
Presenter Matt Sayre acknowledged that, at least, “they have different hair color.”
Each was first-team all-state in soccer and scored 31 goals — figures that could have been much higher if St. Mary’s coach Dave Potter didn’t ease up in lopsided wins.
Michels and Wheelock shared the 3A District 5 MVP award and, in track, each ran on two state-champion relay teams. Michels added a runner-up placing in the 400 meters.
The other female finalists were Southern Oregon University softball player Harlee Donovan, North Medford wrestler Kyleigh Lopez, Cascade Christian volleyball player Caroline McMahon and BMX rider Sierra Samhammer.
Werthaiser, a 49-year-old Ashland middle school teacher, is an accomplished cyclist despite being visually impaired with a degenerative disease called Cone-Rod Dystrophy.
She races on a tandem bike with her pilot, Jill Williams, and is aiming to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
She drew laughter when she said, “How many of you out there are athletes? I think a lot of you are raising your hands.”
Werthaiser told of the encouragement she’s received.
“For someone like me with a disability,” she said, “it’s so important to have someone around me encouraging me and cajoling me and supporting me.
“I have begun to learn more and more in the valley, you have so many more people that have different kinds of struggles and live with different types of disabilities and are getting more involved in adaptive sports. I really encourage you to get involved and support anyone who has any type of hurdle to get over.”
Eklund was the inaugural recipient of the official award. He’s in multiple halls of fames and will be starting his 50th year as an official when baseball begins.
“It’s quite humbling,” he said. Taking note of a photo on a screen behind him, he added, “It looks like a coach is yelling at me.”
He remembered his first refereeing job, making $1.65 an hour working youth flag football games.
“It struck me, this is what I wanted to do,” he said.
The Rogue Valley has been an easy place to work, said Eklund.
“Most of the fans are there for the kids,” he said. “You’re always going to get some guy out there yelling; that’s expected and accepted and you just go with the flow. But the coaches do a great job of mentoring their student athletes on proper etiqutte and not to argue with officials. That creates a better atmosphere for the officials.”
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com