Abby Reuler Tolchin, Cleveland, 2002

Abby Reuler TolchinAbby Reuler Tolchin

Abby Reuler Tolchin, Cleveland, 2002

January 2024 ~

Abby Reuler Tolchin (Cleveland, 2002) is the embodiment of what sport at its best is all about and what the PIL Hall of Fame is dedicated to celebrating.

She’s humble about her athletic achievements and was surprised, though no less honored, by her induction into the Hall. Few athletes are able to compete beyond high school, other than recreationally, and Tolchin is no exception. That is just fine with her. The memories of and lessons learned from her participation in sports will last a lifetime, Tolchin says.

“I didn’t have a decorated career beyond high school,” she says. “But I still feel that athletics are a big part of who I am. I just loved the games, the friendships, the competition and the mental aspects of the games.”

It’s not as if Tolchin has given up sports altogether, now 20-plus years removed from her high school playing days. Far from it. Her two sons, in fifth grade and pre-Kindergarten, and second-grade daughter all play multiple sports. So, there’s that. And she’s still kicking soccer balls around occasionally and every now and then and playing tennis on occasion.

But she spends more time watching than participating whether the kids are playing baseball or basketball or soccer, the No. 1 sport in Tolchin’s Eastmoreland home, which is less than a mile from where she grew up “tagging along” with her older siblings Ben and Sarah.

“Whatever they were getting up to is what I wanted to get up to,” she says. “And they were into sports, so that was a natural path.”

Even back then soccer was Tolchin’s favorite sport, but she would play whatever game was on the seasonal menu.

“Sports teams were where all my friends were, and we just had a blast,” she says. “We’d go from soccer in the fall to basketball in the winter, and I was playing tennis pretty early on, too.”

Indeed, Tolchin says she hung out at Eastmoreland Racquet Club so much, playing tennis or taking lessons or swimming, that “it kind of felt like home.”

But soccer was her priority.

“I guess I would say I was a natural athlete,” she says. “I was a little on the chubbier side, but somehow kept up pretty well. And I was strong, so I used that to my advantage once I realized I could. I don’t remember much about winning or losing back then. I just remember having a blast.”

Leading up to her freshman year, as she prepared for the school’s soccer team tryouts, Tolchin was disappointed to learn that the lifelong best friend, Sarah, the girl she’d played alongside during all the fun and games of her childhood, would be going to Central Catholic instead of attending Cleveland with her. But Tolchin’s outlook brightened considerably on the way to her first tryout prior to the start of the school year.

“It was a bit of bummer thinking my best friend, who I’d played every single sport together with since Kindergarten, wouldn’t be going to Cleveland with me. But going to that first tryout, whoever was driving me—it must have been one of my parents—pulled over at Sarah’s house and she ran out and hollered, ‘I’m going to Cleveland!’ That was amazing. We were so excited we could continue together. I think about five freshmen made the team that year, and that was really cool.”

Prior to high school, Tolchin had been playing forward, but the Cleveland coach had another position in mind — the same one her sister Sarah vacated when she graduated the previous spring.

"My coach told me, ‘I don’t think you’re a forward. I think you’re a sweeper,’ which is the farthest-back defender. So, I wound up just replacing my sister. I even took her number 17. I never had a very accurate shot as a forward, but I was sort of like a brick wall as sweeper. That’s where I was able to use my size to my advantage.”

Tolchin lettered in soccer all four years, making 1st Team All-PIL as a sophomore, the same year Cleveland won the PIL championship.

“That championship was one of the highlights of my high school career,” she says. “Lincoln, Grant and Wilson were always our toughest opponents. That year we beat Lincoln, then beat Wilson and then played Grant in our last game to determine the league winner. Lincoln didn’t like us, so their entire team showed up for that game to root against us. One of our forwards scored a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game, and that was all the scoring. After that it was just a total battle to the bitter end.”

Among Tolchin’s Cleveland memories, that soccer season stands out, she says, “not necessarily because of that title, but because that team was really something special. We stuck together in and out of school all season. So, to win with that team felt like magic.”

Tolchin was captain of that squad, an honor she was given her junior and senior years as well.

While she played two years of basketball at Cleveland, Tolchin enjoyed her most success in soccer and tennis. “I really liked basketball, but offensively I wasn’t awesome,” she says. “But I was a great defender and passer. And, I think what I lacked in skill I sort of made up for by having really good instincts. No matter what sport I was playing, I could always figure out what to do with the ball.”

After their second basketball season, Tolchin and Sarah, her teammate, best friend and doubles partner, decided to give up the sport in order to spend more time preparing for tennis in the spring. The extra work worked. Tolchin earned four letters tennis, won the PIL doubles championship as a senior, advanced to state twice and played on four straight PIL champion teams.

Besides her success in sports, Tolchin served as co-editor of the school newspaper, was class vice president her sophomore and senior years and was named to the National Honor Society.

She was inducted into the Cleveland Hall of Fame in 2016, two years before she entered the PIL Hall, an honor she says she “couldn’t believe. To be inducted alongside people who had gone on to be NCAA athletes and coaches, people who had done incredible things, was just an honor.

“I had really good role models in my brother and sister and parents (Dr. Jim and Ellen Rueler),” Tolchin adds. “My leadership qualities definitely came from my parents. That’s something that runs through our whole family. All five of us thrive on teams and as team players. I think we just give everything our all, especially things we’re passionate about. Sports was really that for me. My whole heart was in it, and I think my teammates and coaches felt that.”

Though Tolchin says she continued to play a lot of soccer (with an emphasis on the words “a lot”) after high school, her competitive days ended once she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I still loved the sport but knew what a huge commitment it would be to try to play in college. And I didn’t want to sacrifice the other parts of my life.”

While in high school, Tolchin had worked as a counselor at a day camp for children with autism, an experience that, she says, “opened my eyes to autism and what it was like to work in the field.”

In college, she provided support for a fellow student with autism, which also influenced her decision to pursue a teaching degree and a career in special education. After graduating, she taught for a year in Phoenix, where her sister was living, before moving to San Diego, where she taught, earned a master’s degree and met a husband.

“That’s another reason why sports, and soccer specifically, are so great,” she says. “Within my first month in San Diego, I met my future husband, Jeremy. We both played sweeper on a coed soccer team. The rest is history.”

The Tolchins moved back to Portland in 2014. Since then she has worked for the Hillsboro School District, teaching special education for 18- to 21-year-olds with developmental disabilities and their families, assisting them in their transition to adulthood.

“I love connecting with students and families and being a part of their support system,” she says. “I also love connecting with the community and building those natural supports for individuals with disabilities. Seeing how much students grow in just a few years is incredibly rewarding.”

In addition to spending time on the sidelines of her kids games (“which is a ton of fun!”), Tolchin likes to go with her family to Thorns games and other local sporting events, run with her dog, Reggie, and catch up with friends. That includes her best friend, teammate and doubles partner, Sarah, who, like Tolchin, is back in the old stomping grounds, like they’ve never left.

Do you know Abby Rueler Tolchin? If you’d like to reconnect, she can be reached at areuler@gmail.com

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