Vern Marshall, Jr. (Benson, 1976)

Vern Marshall, Jr.Vern Marshall, Jr.

Vern Marshall, Jr. (Benson, 1976)

June 2023 ~

If the PIL had a Hall of Fame honoring achievements in modesty, Vern Marshall Jr. would have to make room in his Arizona home for another plaque to hang next to the one recognizing his athletic accomplishments.

The 1976 Benson High graduate excelled in football, basketball and baseball, earning nine letters and All-PIL honors in addition to playing on two state championship teams. Yet, when it comes to talking about those accomplishments, he deflects praise as if they were incoming passes and he was still the scrappy, defensive-minded guard on the Techster hoops team.

Of his accomplishments in general, Vern says he “played on a lot of good teams with a lot of great athletes and I was average at best. They carried me so much I’m sure they’re all dealing with sore lower backs now.”

Benson High School, Senior year. Vern's future wife is in the bleachers behind his bat.

Benson High School, Senior year. Vern’s future wife is in the bleachers behind his bat.

On the Benson hoopsters beating North Eugene, legendary Coach Barney Holland and future NBA player Danny Ainge for the state championship his sophomore year, Vern says he was “just lucky to make the team. I got a lot of splinters that year.”

And on his induction in 2016 into the PIL Hall of Fame, Vern says he feels “blessed and fortunate” before adding, “A lot of guys had to do with that. I benefited from being surrounded by great teammates and having some really great role models that I learned a lot of life lessons from. That all factored into me getting into the hall of fame.”

So, if it’s bragging you’re looking for from Vern Marshall Jr, you’re going to have to ask him about his wife of 40 years, Gay, or their two adult children. But this is Vern’s story, and it starts with him growing up in North Portland and playing one sport or another “from when the sun rose till the sun went down.”

His love of sports surprised no one. He was heavily influenced by his father, Vern Sr., a former three-sport star at Linfield College who, according to the school’s sports hall of fame website, “was perhaps the first Linfield athlete to play on Northwest Conference championship teams in football, basketball and baseball.”

Vern Sr. would go on to become a teacher at schools in and around Portland, a ubiquitous high school and college official and, from 1976-88, an NFL back judge and line judge.

“Dad was my role model, a strong influence in my life,” Vern Jr. explains. “I watched a lot of the games he officiated and just gravitated toward sports.”

In eighth grade Vern played on a Pop Warner football team that was undefeated and unscored on, and all these years later he still wonders how that team would have fared had all the players gone to Benson with him.

Once he arrived there, Vern was shocked to learn how large the school was and how many other aspiring athletes he would be competing against for spots on his teams of choice. He thought he might have a leg up, though, when he received a letter from football coach Mike Lopez welcoming him to Benson and later got a “personal” invitation to show up for practice.

“I was in PE class with about 100 classmates, and he walked over and said ‘I’m Coach Mike Lopez. I want to see you on the football field Monday.’ I was flattered, then I turn up and there were like 125 other guys out there. I was standing next to one guy, and he said, ‘I can’t believe it. Coach Lopez knew my name, and he personally invited me here.’ It took a little wind out of my sail knowing I wasn’t all that special for getting my own invitation.”

Vern wound up being special enough to earn three football letters and, by the time he was a senior, be a 1st Team All-PIL defensive back and a member of a PIL championship team.

Benson would win PIL basketball championships during Vern’s sophomore and junior years and that state championship when he was a sophomore. That team was led by Mark Hoisington, who would go on to star at the University of Southern California.

That Vern would become a 2nd Team All-PIL outfielder on league and state championship baseball teams may never have happened were it not for a little deceit early in his high school career. “I was a middle infielder at the time, but we had some holes in the outfield, so Coach Bill Ranta asked me if I had ever played there. I may have told him a little story that I had when I hadn’t really. But I just wanted to get in the lineup.”

By his sophomore year, Vern was a starting outfielder and Benson’s leadoff hitter. “I wasn’t a power hitter, but I made good contact; I think I only struck out once all year,” he says.

Vern never struck out in the classroom either. As a sophomore he earned the Multnomah Athletic Club’s Scholar Athlete Award. He also served a term as Benson’s student body president.

Vern left competitive sports behind him after playing a year of baseball at Portland State but only the part where he competed in them. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he went to work as a teacher, starting at Harriett Tubman Middle School. He was able to retire in 2013 after working five years as a P.E. teacher and another 26 as an assistant principal in three middle schools.

Through all those years, and now well into his retirement, Vern has never strayed too far for too long from the same gridirons and hardwood floors he used to patrol in his younger days. With his dad a former NFL official and such a large influence in his life, how could he? Vern Jr. began officiating football and basketball about the same time he graduated from PSU and a few years before Vern Sr. closed out his NFL career and confined his officiating to high school and college games. Eventually, father and son would work the occasional game together.

Vern Senior (right) and Vern Junior, Lincoln High School, 2001

Vern Senior (right) and Vern Junior, Lincoln High School, 2001

“I learned a lot from dad. Being able to work games with him was a lot of fun,” says Vern Jr., who got a whiff of the big league himself when he served as a short-term replacement for striking NFL officials. In 2001, knowing a strike was looming, Vern applied for a fill-in position and before long was on the receiving end of a call from the league’s vice president of officials Mike Pereira, a name most NFL fans will recognize as the longtime rules analyst for Fox Sports.

“He was really nice to me,” Vern remembers. “He said, ‘I’ll keep you in mind’ and probably two to three days later he called again and said, ‘We’re going to San Francisco.’”

After Vern participated in a clinic held for other replacement official prospects, Pereira told him he’d see him in Seattle the next weekend when the Seahawks faced New Orleans. His introduction to NFL officiating including an impromptu sideline meeting with Hawks Coach Mike Holmgren, who had a beef about a late-hit call Vern made on one of his defenders.

“He asked me, ‘What’d you see on that play?”, Vern recalls. “I said, ‘The defender made contact on the receiver two yards out of bounds.’ Holmgren said, ‘That’s not what we saw.’ Pereira walked up to me and said, ‘Welcome to the NFL, Vern.’”

Holmgren’s opinion about the call notwithstanding, Vern earned a perfect 10 out of 10 on the accuracy of his calls that game and was awarded a game ball along with the rest of the officiating crew. In addition to the $2,000 he earned for working the game, Vern and his crew mates earned a $500 bonus, which he and his colleagues all donated to a fund supporting 911 first responders.

"Papa & Nana" with grandchildren Brooke and Jayde

“Papa & Nana” with grandchildren Brooke and Jayde

Vern’s stint in the NFL was of many highlights of a career that has seen him officiate the 1985 state high school basketball tournament and 1987 state championship football game and more games than he can count. That may be because he’s still counting them more than a decade after he entered the “world of the retired guy” – or at least his unique definition of it.

“It’s tough being retired,” he says. “There are no days off.”

Vern and Gay, whom he has known since 7th grade, now live in north Phoenix where, in the six months leading up to this writing, he had officiated nearly 240 football and basketball games.

“We have about 100 fewer officials than we need,” he says. “I’m working about every night except Sunday.”

Marshall Family. Left to right: Jayde, Virginie, Nick, Brooke, Vern, Gay, Jenny and Austin

Marshall Family. Left to right: Jayde, Virginie, Nick, Brooke, Vern, Gay, Jenny and Austin

While it’s tempting to close Vern’s story by praising his willingness to step in and devote much of his retirement time to filling an important need, it should be clear by now where that kind of comment would wind up – somewhere up in the grandstands with the rest of the praise sent his way. Instead, there’s no better way to close than with another of Vern’s own descriptions of his accomplishments.

“I was just along for the ride.”

Know Vern? He can be reached at vsmarshall10@gmail.com


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