Odis Arvitt (Cleveland, 1963)

Odis AvrittOdis Avritt

Odis Arvitt (Cleveland, 1963)

May 2023 ~

A person can find almost anything on the World Wide Web these days. Photos of dogs, cats and grandchildren. Close-ups of half-eaten cheeseburgers. Tips for cleaning potatoes in a dishwasher (don’t laugh, it worked). Selfies. Lots of selfies. So…many…selfies.

And, if a person digs deep enough, they can find Odis Avritt (Cleveland 1963) claiming his 15 seconds of fame in a home video promoting his “famous” chili during a Linfield College tailgate party.

So what if the video has only been viewed by 106 people (107 now). And who cares if it’s only eight seconds long, meaning Odis left seven seconds of stardom on the table. Presumably next to the cheese and onions.

If Odis and his chili needed some fame they got a small dose of it then, and he’s about to get served up some more. But odds are Odis doesn’t need any more of it. He isn’t the kind of guy who sought any in the first place, though he definitely got his share of acclaim. At Cleveland. At Linfield College. In his long and successful career in sales and marketing.

Odis competed in four sports in high school, though he gave up baseball after one year and didn’t wrestle for much longer. “It didn’t work for me; I don’t know what it was,” says Odis, before proceeding to give us a pretty good idea what it was. “My coach, Don York, would always match me with the best wrestler on the team. This guy was a senior and I was a sophomore and he always tied me up in knots. I didn’t like that.”

What Odis gained from giving up baseball and wrestling was a greater focus on his two best sports, football and track and field. He responded by excelling in both.

But before he did, he was a kid who grew up playing sports in the streets of S.E. Portland’s Hosford Abernethy neighborhood. After his father died when Odis was very young, he was raised by his mother, Elizabeth Washington, whose own story is worthy of being told. Odis provides a brief excerpt from it:

“She was a very interesting woman. She started out in nursing, at the bottom rung of the profession. She wound up getting her LPN (licensed practical nurse certification) from Clark College in Vancouver, then her RN. Years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the U of O Nursing School. She wound up working 35 years as a nurse and was the first woman of color to be appointed chairperson of the Oregon State Nurses Association.”

Even with the steady and positive presence of his mother, who is “still doing well” at age 95, Odis says he missed out on the benefits of having a father in his life. “Without having a father involved, attending my games and things like that, I just went out and played,” he says. “I didn’t really know anything about the things I could do to improve.”

Odis was fortunate to have some good friends to help fill that void, including classmate and fellow PIL Hall of Fame inductee, Dennis Patera, and his older brother, Norm. “I’d work out with Norm at the Cleveland track, and others would come over and we’d play flag football,” Odis says. “He was very much a mentor who encouraged me to keep playing. It was pretty important to have a person do that for me.”

By the time Odis was a sophomore at Cleveland, he was already making a name for himself in football and track. He’d started running track to help improve his speed for football and ultimately became one of the top sprinters in the PIL.

While the Cleveland football team had “a tough time” during his tenure, Odis had no trouble making enough of an impression on his own, as a running back, linebacker and cornerback, to be named 1st Team All-City and 2nd Team All-State in 1962. He also earned a spot on the 1963 Metro Shrine football team.

In one memorable game that Odis considers his best high school performance, he ran for one score and returned an interception for a second in Cleveland’s upset win over Madison.

Odis had long dreamed of playing football at the University of Oregon and was disappointed the Ducks never called while he was racking up high school honors. Washington, Washington State, Idaho and other schools did, but the interest wasn’t mutual. “I wanted to play winning football since I hadn’t done it since grade school,” Odis says.

One Saturday in 1962 Odis found himself in front of a TV watching an NAIA bowl game pitting Linfield against Pittsburg State. By game’s end, he’d become intrigued by the notion of being a Wildcat and reached out to one of Cleveland’s assistant coaches to learn more about the private school with the long history of winning football. After hearing his coach sing Linfield’s praises, Odis learned Wildcat coach Paul Durham, coincidentally, was going to be speaking at Cleveland’s senior year sports banquet (Odis wouldn’t learn until many years later that Durham had taught at Cleveland before taking the Linfield job).

The two were introduced at the banquet and by fall Odis was competing for the Wildcats in football and, the next spring, running track where, as a freshman, he would set the 100-yard school record of 9.7 seconds. “My teammate broke it a year later,” he says, just a touch ruefully.

In football, Odis excelled as a running back and catching passes out of the backfield. His honors included 1st Team All-Conference, All-Northwest and All-West Coast teams and honorable mention Little All-American. He was inducted into the Linfield Hall of Fame as a member of the second Wildcat team to compete for a national championship.

As a senior, Odis won the Wildcat’s Most Inspirational Player award, an early indication of the leadership skills that would help him achieve great success in the business world. After serving as an Army clerk in Viet Nam, landed a sales and marketing job with a paper distribution company before moving onto jobs with Weyerhaeuser, Kimberly-Clark and Grays Harbor paper companies. While at Weyerhaeuser, he earned one company-wide Salesman of the Year award and was Mill Representative of the Year multiple times.

“All through school, chemistry was the worst subject I could think of,” he says. “I never thought I’d be working in a related business.”

By the time Odis retired in 2018, he had left the paper business but, from the sounds of his retirement schedule, he forgot to leave the working world. He moved back to a neighborhood in the Cleveland High district and for more than 20 years has been active in the school’s alumni association, serving two terms as president, taking charge of a golf tournament and helping lead fund-raising efforts among his many contributions.

Odis and his wife share children from previous marriages. That includes a son who followed him onto the Linfield gridiron.

“The most fun I ever had at Linfield was going back to watch my son play,” he says. “That was in the early 2000s and was the impetus that brought a bunch of my former teammates together again to tailgate and watch the team play.”

Odis is also an avid golfer and serves on the PIL Hall of Fame Selection Committee, helping pick men and women who, like him, have distinguished themselves in high school athletics and, often, beyond.

“Being inducted was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me,” says the 2008 inductee. “I never really thought something like that would happen. My wife and mom and kids all attended the ceremony with me. It was great to be back in contact with athletes I’d grown up with or who competed before me — people I might only have had a little knowledge of before. So to be able to meet them and, in some instances, develop lasting relationships with them has been great.”

No doubt those people would say the same thing about Odis. Especially if they’re fans of chili.

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