Robert (Bob) Waggener (Roosevelt, 1966)

Robert WaggenerRobert Waggener

Robert (Bob) Waggener (Roosevelt, 1966)

April 2023 ~

Bob Waggener (Roosevelt, 1966) thought he was hearing bells, but those couldn’t be bells, could they? This wasn’t a Saturday afternoon in Santa’s Village at the Lloyd Center Meier & Frank. This was basketball practice on the Roosevelt High gym hardwood, home to a symphony of squeaking sneakers and bouncing balls and blown whistles and the hoarse hollers of coaches.

But Waggener knew he wasn’t hearing things. Those were bells, damn it, or he wasn’t the holder of Roosevelt’s all-time, single-game scoring record. And he knew for certain he was that because he was there that lights-out night in 1966 when he lit up Washington for 40 points.

Those were bells all right and now Waggener was tracing their origin back to teammate Dave Johnson’s shorts and suddenly everything was becoming clear as a…bell.

“I had been playing basketball with Dave since fourth grade, and he was just a character. He taught a bunch of us how to swear. None of us really knew how before, but we got really good at it by fifth grade,” Waggener says with a laugh.

Johnson had a wicked sense of humor which, Waggener was about to learn, clearly ran in the family.

“We’re out there running layup drills and, every time Johnson runs by, we’re hearing jingle bells,” Waggener remembers. “Finally, Coach Bergstrom stops practice and confronts Dave. Dave says, ‘Coach, my aunt gave me a jockstrap she’d sewn some bells on. I’m going to wear it in the next game.’ He thought it would be a distraction to the other team. Knowing Dave, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still wearing it today.” (Johnson, a fellow PIL Hall of Fame inductee, was unavailable to confirm or deny Waggener’s suspicion.)

Like any 70-something, Waggener has an almost endless list of memories to reflect on and a large share of his involve sports. They start with his childhood days growing up on “The Bluff” in north Portland and continue to those the active retiree and avid waterskier is still making today.

Robert (Bob) Waggener (Roosevelt, 1966) - Water Skiing

Robert (Bob) Waggener (Roosevelt, 1966) – Water Skiing in 2015

“I played a lot of sports as a kid, but basketball was just my game and I got pretty good at it,” Waggener says. “When I got to high school, the football coach wanted me to play. But after I got my bell rung a couple times, I realized it was a sport that could end my basketball career real quick.”

In his early days playing the game. Waggener says he was the “kind of kid who wants to take every shot.” And why not, considering he was also the kind of kid who was making most of them. By the time he was playing at Roosevelt, the skinny 6’3” shooting forward was on his way to being the team’s top scorer and, by his senior year, among the PIL’s top three or four.

His average got a significant boost courtesy of that record-setting game in ’66. Waggener had been scoring about 19 points a game his senior year but was experiencing a mini-shooting slump leading up to the faceoff with a Washington team featuring 2008 PIL Hall of Fame inductees Willie and Charlie Stoudamire.

“Coach Bergstrom came up to me before the game and said, ‘One of the Stoudamires is going to be guarding you. This would be a good time to come out of your slump,’” Waggener says.

He did with a vengeance.

“I remember that game like it was yesterday. The first half was like a normal game. I scored 12 points; nothing special. But in the second half, I scored 28, which is pretty hard to do with eight-minute quarters and before the three-point line. If you were going to score 40, you could hardly miss.”

Prior to 1966, only one PIL player had ever hit the 40 mark. That was Swede Halbrook (Lincoln, 1952), who set the PIL record of 51 in ’51, before starring at Oregon State and in the NBA and entering the PIL Hall of Fame in 1992. The year Waggener scored 40, three other PIL players did the same.

That feat and his other high school accomplishments, including All-PIL and All-State honors, were enough to catch the eye of coaches at Portland State and the University of Oregon, but Waggener had other ideas. He enrolled at PSU and attended a few basketball activities but before long found himself at the Air Force recruiting office.

“I didn’t have a lot of direction about what I should be doing,” he remembers. “The Viet Nam war was under way, and I knew didn’t want to go into the Army. My dad was a retired Air Force major, and I thought I’d rather go where he went. A buddy’s father had also been in the Air Force, so we went down and asked if they had any open slots. That was on a Tuesday, and the guy we talked to said, ‘Can you leave for basic training on Saturday?’”

After his stint in the Air Force, Waggener returned to PSU, graduating in 1971 and starting his job search right in the middle of a recession. He bounced around odd jobs before responding to a classified ad for an insurance underwriter. He had no idea what one of those was but had a friend in the business who did.

“He told me a few key things to mention during the interview,” Waggener recalls. “I go to the interview and the guy asks me why I was there. I told him I’d always wanted to be an underwriter, and the guys says, ‘Huh?’ I started rattling off some of the things my friend told me to say and a few days later they call and say they wanted me to come to work for them. I was shocked.”

It wouldn’t be long before Waggener learned it wasn’t his B.S. degree, or B.S. skills, that landed him the job.

“Turns out the guy who hired me was also running a basketball team, and had read on my resume that I’d played,” Waggener says. “He told me, ‘That’s why I hired you.’”

Regardless of the suspect hiring motives, Waggener took to insurance the same way he had basketball. He worked his tail off and, after three years, was invited to join a new agency a co-worker was starting. Suddenly he was knocking on doors trying to get unsuspecting residents to buy insurance from a 27-year-old stranger.

“I didn’t have much credibility, but I stuck to it,” he says.

Waggener wound up sticking with it for 40 years before selling his own company and retiring to a life of leisure – or at least his definition of one considering he was still participating in competitive sports. Prior to college, Waggener got involved in competitive waterskiing and continued that for 45 years. He only recently gave up tournament skiing and still holds a top-10 national ranking in his age group.

Waggener also played city league and AAU basketball for 40 years, competing with and against ex-college players, the occasional ex-Blazer and, on one memorable occasion, the Harlem Clowns, a comedy basketball team in the mold of the Harlem Globetrotters.

“When they came to town, our AAU got asked to play them,” Waggener says. “We got together and figured, if we played the way they expected us to play, we were going to make fools of ourselves. So, we decided we’d try to beat them. We went out there and played straight up, which they weren’t too happy about. They were really good and were still able to pull off most of their tricks while still beating us.”

You can’t win them all, but Waggener has won his share, and he counts his induction into the PIL Hall of Fame as one of most prized honors. “That was incredible,” he says. “Dave Johnson was the one who called to tell me I was getting inducted, and that was really, really cool. I can’t really describe it, but I was very happy. It’s one of the greatest honors I have ever received.”

He says he was especially grateful that his wife, Catherine Holland, a retired Wells Fargo executive, and son, Scott, an All-State punter and All-City basketball player while at Central Catholic, were able to attend the induction ceremony with him.

Waggener says he owes a lot of his success to the accomplishments he achieved and lessons he learned through sports. Indeed, he points out, “My PIL honors got me my first insurance job which led to me running and being able to sell a successful company. I’ve always loved playing on a team. I wouldn’t have been successful if I wasn’t a team player. Teamwork is what life’s all about in my opinion.”

~ Profile written by Dick Baltus (Wilson, 1973)

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