August 2022 ~
Blair Pomeroy (Benson, 1970) always had a lot of athletic ability.
When he was sixth-grader in the mid-1960s at Woodstock Elementary School, he found out just how much.
In those days, spurred by John F. Kennedy’s call for better youth physical fitness, school children around the country went through what was known as the Presidential Fitness Test. They did various activities, including the standing broad jump, pull-ups, sit-ups, running and throwing.
The scores came back, and Woodstock principal Nate Jones called Pomeroy into his office. Blair had posted the highest score in the state.
“Nate looked at me and said, ‘It’s apparent that you’ve got some jumping, running and other skills. If you look around at different sports, you could find something that would get you to college.’”
This was a new concept for Pomeroy. He wasn’t a bad student, but he wasn’t outstanding, either – he had yet to really apply himself – and his parents did not go to college.
The next morning, over breakfast, Blair told his mom and dad, “I’m going to college.”
“That would be good,” they said.
“And I’m going to get an athletic scholarship,” he said.
“That would be good,” they said.
Pomeroy’s father used to catch him doing things like jumping off the roof of their house. He had energy to burn.
But when it came to organized sports, the youngster’s knowledge and experience was next to nothing.
He began looking for that one sport that could get him to college. At Woodstock, he competed in the long jump, high jump and sprints. But that was about all he did athletically until graduating from eighth grade and moving on to Benson High.
He turned out for Benson’s freshman football team in the fall of 1966. “Didn’t even know the names of the positions,” he says.
Football was OK, but not it for him.
Basketball wasn’t his thing at all. “Never cared to play it. Never owned a basketball,” he says.
In the winter, he tried wrestling. He lost only one match, by one point on a late reversal to an opponent who would go on to win two state championships. He clearly had potential on the mat. But he didn’t enjoy wrestling.
“Running the stairs and doing all the conditioning – I loved that,” he says. “But I was the type that would rather come up and shake your hand and say, ‘Let’s collaborate on something that’s best for both of us,’ and in wrestling it felt like you had to be mean to someone you didn’t even know.”
Spring sprung, and he went out for track. One day at practice, legendary Benson basketball coach Dick Gray, who was helping coach the field events, suggested Pomeroy try the pole vault.
It took a clearance of 7 feet, 6 inches to qualify for the freshman city meet. Pomeroy went over to the pole vault pit and took a look. The bar was set at 7-6.
“Raise it a foot,” he said.
He knew nothing of pole vault technique, other than that he was supposed to plant his left foot and the pole, and go up.
“I popped right over the bar,” he says. It was a snap for him.
“I was running at a quick enough speed and had the upper body strength to pull myself up,” he says.
The next day, he cleared 9-6, and by the end of the season he had set the city record by making 12-6. He won the pole vault, long jump and high jump at the 1967 PIL freshman championships.
Gray soon realized Pomeroy was good enough that he needed a stronger pole. So the coach used money the school had made selling ice cream bars to get one for him.
“Dick took me down to around 3rd and Burnside to a place called Blue Ribbon Sports, where I met Phil Knight,” Pomeroy says. “I shook his hand, and he ordered us a pole.”
As Pomeroy progressed as a Benson vaulter, more poles were needed.
“Dick would send notes to my classes on many Wednesdays to get me out of class,” Pomeroy says. “He and I would go to Carnation, where he would pick up the ice cream bars that the Key Club would sell for 10 cents on Wednesday. For three years, all the profits earned went to buy new poles from Phil Knight.
“One time, Dick and I went to Phil’s on a Thursday and bought two poles for $102 each. Phil was very excited, shook our hands and remarked, ‘because you bought the poles today, I can make payroll tomorrow.’ I don’t think he was kidding.”
Pomeroy says Knight also gave him two pair of new jumping shoes that had come off of University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron.
“They weren’t yet named Nikes,” Pomeroy says, adding that “the shoes weren’t that good. They fell apart very quickly.”
Pomeroy started to compete in AAU track meets around the state.
As a sophomore, he was asked to be a 135-pound pulling guard in football. That wasn’t the most satisfying assignment.
Meanwhile, some Tech juniors and seniors told him that in the winter he could go out for the Benson rally squad. Because he could do front flips, backflips and other stunts, he would fit in nicely.
Pomeroy also was told that Benson paid for the squad to have pizza before games. While Benson was an all-boys school, girls from Girls Polytechnic High School joined the guys on the rally squad. And, during the course of a season, the boys would get to meet “the best-looking girls on the rally squads at other schools.”
Armed with this information, he decided to be on the rally instead of the wrestling team, much to the dismay of the Benson wrestling coaches.
“I had a lot of fun,” he says of being a cheerleader. “From a social standpoint, it was great. I could have been under some guy’s armpit on the wrestling mat.”
His junior year, Benson started a winter season gymnastics team. Pomeroy figured doing gymnastics would help him with the pole vault more than returning to the rally squad.
He was a natural on the rings. He won city, and placed third in the state as a senior.
In the pole vault, he won the PIL title as a senior, finished second in the state, set a school record that still stands by clearing 14-4 and was team MVP before graduating in 1970.
He wanted to go to college, but he had an average SAT score, and his only scholarship offer came from Mt. Hood Community College. He joined the Saints, and that worked out all right. He won the league championship, improved to 15-4 in the pole vault and earned a two-year degree in political science.
He landed hard near the end of his sophomore season, though, and was so banged up he thought his pole vaulting days were over.
But soon he got a call from Gray, who at Benson had helped guide him into the right classes for college. Gray told Pomeroy that the University of Hawaii – where his son, Gary Gray, was going to play basketball – would be adding a track team and needed athletes. Dick Gray obviously had been talking to the incoming Hawaii track coach. “Hawaii is offering you a two-year full ride,” Gray said.
One week later, Pomeroy was on a plane to Hawaii. Gary Gray would be one of his seven roommates.
Pomeroy raised his pole vault best to 16-3 in college, then finished school at Oregon. He got degrees in political science and history.
Soon after leaving Eugene, he landed a job in 1975 at Hewlett-Packard as an accountant.
“I was their third employee,” he says.
Over 38 “great” years with H-P, his Benson education came in handy.
“At Benson, you had to pick a vocational focus for your junior/senior years as a major. I picked the architectural drawing and building construction track,” Pomeroy says. “The overall rotation through the different shop classes for electricity, machining, auto mechanics, photography, printing, sheet metal/welding, etc., were very valuable to me. These rotations gave me technical insight as a base that has been beneficial.”
He served in various management roles with Hewlett-Packard and ended up as a senior technology architect before retiring in 2012.
In 2017, he was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame.
“I received a call out of the blue, 45 years after high school, informing me that I had been selected,” he says. “I felt honored to be recognized by the PIL Hall of Fame. My two youngest sons and my wife attended the (induction) ceremony with me. They were very impressed.”
Pomeroy still lives in Corvallis. He has three children (all boys) and two grandchildren (one boy, one girl).
He’s been a Boy Scout leader for more than 33 years. All three sons earned their Eagle ranking.
In his spare time, he makes bows and arrows for archery and builds wooden boats.
Looking back, he gives credit to the special teachers and coaches he had, especially the late Dick Gray and Mona Riggs, his fifth-grade teacher at Woodstock who became a lifelong friend as well.
“That woman changed my life in so many ways as a 10-year-old boy,” he says.
Riggs was a no-nonsense taskmaster who also took personal interest in her students’ lives and success. Through her insistence and persistence – which were legendary in the Woodstock area — he learned to read quite well, and he acquired valuable knowledge through reading.
“I remember her telling the class, ‘You are going to read a book every week,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” Pomeroy says, recalling the start of that school year.
At the time, Pomeroy was more likely to get booted to a chair in the hallway during math class, and would rather go play in the park or on the playground than focus mentally on pages of a book.
Sure enough, at the end of the first week, Riggs announced that “the following kids (Pomeroy being one of them) will not leave at the bell. You will sit and read a book and write a report.”
At Benson, and even after graduating from high school, Gray was “like a second father to me,” Pomeroy says.
Gray, named to the PIL Hall of Fame in 1989, had starred at Roosevelt High (Class of 1945) and Oregon State, especially in football. He won five basketball state titles at Benson and at one point was the all-time winningest basketball coach in Oregon history. But he and Pomeroy – never a basketball player – became very close.
“Dick and I just hit it off from the beginning. He was a very gentle man, and his coaching style for me was always helpful,” Pomeroy says,. “He even built a pole vaulting pit in his backyard.
“My father told me years later that many times a young man needs to seek out mentors other than the father to make his way in the world. He said that when I met Dick Gray he knew that I had picked a very valuable mentor. I agree.”
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)