Smythe highlights new HOF class

Tom Smythe (middle) stands with McNary athletic director Scott Gragg (left) and principal Erik Jespersen after being entered into McNary’s athletic Hall of Fame (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For the second time this year, McNary High School inducted new members into their prestigious athletic Hall of Fame, led by one of the best football coaches in state history, Tom Smythe.

Smythe, along with Luke Atwood, Niki Hayhurst Volz and the 2001 state champion football team were all honored in a ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Quality Inn & Suites.

In 34 years of coaching high school football in Oregon, Smythe won 278 games and three state titles in three different decades (1987, 1997, 2001).

Smythe won two of his three state championships with McNary, where he was the head coach from 1995-2006. In his tenure with the Celtics, the 78-year old accrued a record of 105-29 and five conference championships to go along with his two state titles.

Smythe has had many incredible moments over his illustrious career, but one in particular that stands out is the ‘97 state championship game, where the Celtics took down Beaverton by a score of 51-48 — which still holds the record for most combined points in a state championship game. Smythe believes that it was the best state final game ever played.

While he was known as an offensive innovator, what Smythe prided himself most on was making sure that his kids were enjoying playing the game of football.

“When a season was over, I want kids to be able to look me in the eye and say ‘Coach, that was really fun,’” Smythe said. “I think sometimes, coaches tend to take the fun out of the game. And to me, the fun is the most important part of the game.”

Once the ceremony had wrapped up, Smythe grabbed the microphone and gave an emotional tribute to the Celtics faithful.

“Twelve years at McNary. I can hardly put it in perspective without tearing up and crying. I always told my players that it was okay for men to cry. And now I find myself in that same situation, where I can hardly speak,” Smythe said. “I feel so blessed to have coached in Keizer, Oregon for the McNary Celts. What a beautiful time.”

Those in attendance erupted in cheers at the conclusion of Smythe’s speech, with the biggest applause coming from the members of his ‘01 state title team, who he was happy to share the spotlight with.

McNary’s ‘01 football squad — also known as the “Giant Killers” — had one of the most dominating postseason runs in state history, winning each of their playoff games by two touchdowns or more. But it was a loss to South Salem early in the season that lit a fire under this team.

“We used that loss as motivation,” Smythe said. “I’ve had players tell me that if we hadn’t lost to South Salem, we probably wouldn’t have won (the championship).”

The Celtics finished the season with a 13-1 record, which was capped off with a 35-10 victory over Sheldon in the state championship game. Running back Andy Taylor amassed 357 rushing yards for the contest, a state title game record that stands to this day.

“The way that team got better every week was something special,” said Atwood, who was an assistant coach on the ‘01 team.

Before he became an assistant coach, Atwood had an incredible career as a three-sport athlete for the Celts. 

In 1996, Atwood was the quarterback for the McNary football squad, leading the team to a league championship and helping them earn a berth in the state semifinal game. He earned all-state honorable mention status and participated in the East-West Shrine Game for the top players in the state.

On the hardwood, Atwood was a three-year letterman for the Celtics basketball team, earning all-league honors in his senior season and leading McNary to a conference title and a fifth-place finish at the state tournament. 

Atwood also excelled on the diamond as an all-state outfielder for the McNary baseball squad. Because of all of his accomplishments during his senior year, Atwood was named athlete of the year by the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club in 1997. 

Atwood went on to play football and baseball at UC Davis University and Willamette University. He also played professional football in Vienna, Austria for seven years. But even after graduating more than 20 years ago, Atwood still has that McNary pride running deep through his veins. 

“I get really excited about the Keizer community and I can’t stop thinking about ways in which it’s special, because rather than being in a city with different high schools, we got one big school. It’s a one horse town,” Atwood said. “I still got that McNary High School spirit going man.”

Along with Atwood, Volz was also one of the best multiple-sport athletes in McNary history, and is still the only female Celt to receive All-State honors in two different sports (volleyball and soccer). 

Volz led the McNary volleyball team to three Valley League titles during her tenure with the Celts, including a fifth-place finish at the state tournament in 1998.

“That was probably my most memorable sports experience at McNary,” Volz said. “It was such a special time in life.”

Volz was selected as the Valley League player of the year in her senior season, as well as the all-region player of the year in volleyball. 

In softball, Volz experienced similar success, helping the Celts win a conference title in all four years of her career. And in her senior season, Volz took home the same individual accolades as she did during volleyball season, once again winning all-region player of the year and Valley League player of the year. 

Volz also was recognized at the female athlete of the year by the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club in 1999. 

After high school, Volz received a scholarship to play softball at the University of Utah and even got the opportunity to play professionally in Europe for a season. 

“I just feel incredibly thankful and blessed to be provided the opportunity to be considered for the Hall of Fame. To be recognized 20 years later is an incredible honor,” Volz said. “I love the comradery of Keizer. I love that so many people I grew up with, parents and kids alike, still live there. That really speaks a lot about to the Keizer community.”