(Originally written on February 25, 2008)
During the course of our lifetimes, most of us have encountered people who leave indelible marks upon our lives – marks that begin small but gradually deepen until we suddenly realize how important they have become to us. Tom Page has left such a mark on countless families in the West Lane area over the years. He filled the scrapbooks of hundreds of teenagers during the almost 21 years he covered high school athletics for the West Lane News and Tri-County News. He not only wrote about the “stars” of each game, but the supporting cast, as well, and he became an icon whose footprints can never be filled. As Mike Thoele, current owner/publisher of both newspapers, said “There will never be another Tom Page!” During those 21 years, Tom wrote much about others for the readers of our local newspapers, but little has been written about Tom himself or his contribution to the communities he served.
When asked to choose what came first – his love for sports or his love for writing, Tom didn’t hesitate. “Sports!” was his immediate answer. During his childhood, his family regularly attended University of Oregon football, basketball and baseball games. As a young boy, he and his friends became members of the Knothole Club where they rooted for the “Green and Yellow” from the end zones at Hayward Field. They shagged foul balls at baseball games and could usually be found at Mac Court watching UO basketball games and 4A tournaments.
Tom was an observer, never a player, during school. “I was one of those kids who was always the last one chosen for a team. If there were an odd number of us, I would be designated the referee.”
After graduating from South Eugene High School, Tom enrolled at his beloved University of Oregon and in 1969, earned a B.S. in Business Administration. With diploma in hand, he began to wonder what in the world he was going to do with it. He decided that advertising might be a good career to get into, but he would need to continue his education if he was to succeed. Unfortunately, about that time, the UO closed the enrollment in its School of Journalism, so he began work on a master’s degree at Portland State University.
While at Portland State, as part of his studies, Tom was required to take a reporting class that immediately caught his interest. Soon he joined the school newspaper and began covering women’s sports. He later returned to the University of Oregon where he completed his master’s degree in journalism in 1971. Unfortunately, there were more diplomas in hand than jobs available locally, so Tom took a position at a newspaper in Lakewood, Washington.
His beginning assignment in Lakewood was to cover news and to help with sports. Soon, when an opening became available in the sports department, he was covering all of the athletics in eight suburban high schools in the Tacoma area, Pacific Lutheran University, Pierce County recreation programs, Fort Lewis Army and McChord Air Force bases, and the meetings for two city councils, multiple school boards and the county commission. It was a Herculean task that called for diplomacy and tact. The military families in the area were transient and were hard to connect with and the rivalries and jealousies between schools sometimes involved coaches measuring the number of inches he wrote about their program, comparing them to those he wrote about their rivals. The pressures finally took their toll. After seven years, Tom reached his burn-out point and headed home to Oregon.
Upon arriving back home, he took a job with Fred Meyer in Springfield where he worked in the paint department. Four years later, while reading the soap opera previews in the West Lane News, he noticed an opening for a sports writer. He sent in his resume and one day while he was at work at Fred Meyer, he looked up to see Joe Cannon, owner and publisher of the West Lane News, standing before him. Joe said that the editor was going on vacation and he wanted Tom to fill in for him so that Joe could see him in action. A few months later, he was offered a job as freelance sports writer at $40 per week – his almost 21-year reign began in January 1983.
Tom’s assignments included coverage of athletics at Elmira, Crow and Triangle Lake high schools for the West Lane News and at Junction City, Harrisburg, Monroe and later Christ Center high schools for its sister-publication, the Tri-County News. He was the photographer, as well. He attended each game respectfully dressed in a sports jacket, tie and slacks. During the cold months, he wore, wrapped around his neck, a long scarf bearing the school colors of the team he was covering at the time. These scarves became his trademark and when asked about where he got them, he proudly declared, “My mother knitted them for me.” On the occasions when two of “his teams” were playing each other, he wore both scarves at once. When Crow played Harrisburg or Monroe, Tom carefully wrote two stories – one for the West Lane News, slanting it towards Crow and another similar story written from the Harrisburg/Monroe angle for the Tri-County News. The same occurred when Elmira and Junction City met in the 3A ranks. When Triangle Lake and Monroe, for instance, played other teams in different locations, the logistics became more difficult – but Tom proved up to the challenge. He simply went to the first game for the first half wearing the proper scarf and jumped in his car and headed to the other game for its 2nd half, changing scarves before he arrived. Each week, he spent a good deal of time figuring out the strategies that would get him to as many games as possible and he logged hundreds of miles in his faithful car.
When one of “his” basketball teams went to the state tournament in Pendleton, as they frequently did, he was sometimes unable to take the time off from his job at Fred Meyer to attend. Instead, he borrowed a videotape from the coach so he could write his articles. Tom always made sure that he was “there” for his teams whether it be in person or electronically.
Some of his teams struggled. Elmira was in the beginning stages of an eventual 36-game losing streak in football when Tom came on board. He covered the last 27 of those games until they had their first win. Junction City had a 22-game losing streak. “It was difficult to write positive stories during those times, but I knew that I needed to. It was a challenge to stay upbeat. As a writer, you have to do the best that you can and hope that it comes across to the readers.” At one point, a member of one struggling team exclaimed, “Hey! You made it sound as though we were good!”
Tom enjoyed challenging some of the tall post players from the girls’ basketball teams to one-on-one exhibition scrimmages. At Elmira, these events were referred to as the“Tom Page Challenges” and were held in conjunction with its winter sports “desserts.” Crow and Monroe girls participated at their respective schools, too. He won some and lost some and once went on a 10-game losing streak.
Tom had a very strict credo: “I tried to include a picture of every team in action every week and feature as many of the players as possible.” He not only wrote about the high scorers in each game, but about the key rebound or good pass that a non-starter made. Whether a team won or lost, he always strove to present it and its players in a positive light.
When asked what his favorite sport was, Tom was quick to respond, “Football.” He qualified it by saying that from a reporter’s standpoint, the once-a-week games and shorter seasons allowed him to be more creative in his coverage than the more frequent and longer basketball seasons. He also loves the excitement of the game and the color of bands and cheerleaders. Track runs a close second on his favorites list. He grew up with it and respects the fact that the participants are competing against their own abilities and constantly are trying to improve their own personal bests.
Tom’s personal life revolves around his mother. They travel to most of the University of Oregon bowl games and, being huge fans of the U.S. Navy football team, they have attended six of the last seven Army-Navy football games. “The pageantry and patriotism of the pre-game entrance of the West Point and Naval Academy cadets into the stadium is better than the actual game,” according to Tom. While traveling, Tom and his mother hunt out every college bookstore they can find where they search for pennants to add to Tom’s collection of college pennants. He has collected 180 of them so far.
Tom has never married. “Besides my mother, the athletes, their parents, the coaches and my readers in the West Lane community are my family.” Tom lives in a house in the University district that he inherited from his grandmother in 1979. “If my grandmother could visit me today, she would feel right at home. It hasn’t changed much over the years. I’m still using her rotary-dial phone and I’ve never owned a computer.”
Even though he is no longer writing for the West Lane News or Tri-County News, he still attends games whenever possible and the love and feeling for family still remains. But, towards the end, his job became “a monster that devoured me.” People were wanting more coverage of the Territorial Sports Program (TSP) and junior varsity games. He had to cut back his days at Fred Meyer and negotiate vacations in order to try and cover everything he felt he needed to do.
Following a game in 2001, Tom drove himself to the hospital where he was admitted with a heart condition that required immediate by-pass surgery. Since then, he works out four days a week at a fitness center and has brought his weight and his health back in line. He turned in his resignation to the newspapers in July 2003.
“I loved my job, but after almost 21 years, I was tired. I felt the quality of my work slipping a little and mentally, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to get out.”
Tom’s dedication and the care he took to portray each athlete in a positive light did not go unnoticed. Although his by-line quietly slipped away from the pages of the West Lane News and the Tri-County News, he hasn’t slipped from the hearts of his readers. He sold a lot of newspapers in those 21 years. Parents and grandparents of every athlete eagerly awaited each issue where they knew there would be a memory waiting to be clipped and pasted into the pages of their scrapbooks. He deserves recognition for the very special service that he gave to his “community family” over the years.
As our interview wound its way to the end, I asked Tom one final question: “Do you plan to take on another sportswriting job?” His response was immediate, “No. I wouldn’t want to start all over in a new place with new schools. There is only one coverage area I’d consider writing for again. That’s where I already have family. It’s a special community with special people.”
ADDENDUM: Tom is once again the local sports reporter… this time with the Fern Ridge Review in Veneta. He’s still covering Crow High School sports as well as other teams in the area.