December 2020 ~
After an extraordinarily decorated career coaching track and field at Benson High School, Leon McKenzie (Benson ’71) says it’s not the state championship trophies or records that he’s proudest of achieving.
“I feel really good to have won those (11 state) titles and had all those individual champions — it was beyond my wildest dreams,” says McKenzie, who stepped down not long ago after nearly four decades in charge of the Tech program. “But both I and John Mays, who coached with me for like 40 years, always said we were more in the human development business than what we call the coaching business.
“The kids come back and say, ‘It wasn’t just track, Mr. McKenzie.’ What better than to have had a powerful influence on the kids we served, and then to have them tell you that.” McKenzie played football, basketball, baseball and track at Benson. He led the PIL in rushing and won a state title in basketball before going on to play football for Oregon State.
He and wife Grace recently went through two weeks of quarantine after being struck by COVID-19. “It felt like the flu at first, and I was dizzy,” McKenzie says. “Then we got really weak, and then we developed a cough.” A daughter and two sons also had to recover from the virus.
McKenzie was planning to spend one year assisting the new Benson head track and field coach, Jay Miles (Benson ’90), who ran for him on a state title team. But with so many pandemic-related uncertainties, “I don’t quite know what I’m doing or what’s coming down for this year.”
McKenzie intends to stay with the 55-year-old Albina Roadrunners club that has helped countless youngsters get into track. “We had 60-some kids last year,” McKenzie says. “I’ll continue to work with the little kids in the community but less and less while we bring on more younger coaches.
“The way I coach is all-in, for eight to 10 months, and that doesn’t leave much for anything else. So i’ve got to pull away and play more golf, travel more and do more of the other things I enjoy.”