ELKTON — Ted Grimsrud remembers watching the unbeaten 1964-65 Elkton High School boys basketball team — coached by his father Carl — dominate its opponents en route to winning a second straight Class B state championship in Pendleton.
“That may be the best team they’ve ever had. When I was a fifth-grader I got to sit on the bench (with the team) and that was a thrill,” Ted Grimsrud, a 1972 Elkton graduate, said via phone on Thursday from Harrisonburg, Virginia. “They had no game closer than 10 points.”
Carl Grimsrud, who guided the Elks for 29 seasons from 1947-75 and compiled a record of 479-173 with four state titles (1957, ’64, ’65 and ’69), started the school’s successful tradition on the court. The gym was later named in his honor.
Boys basketball at EHS dates back to 1925, according to Oregon School Activities Association records, when the Elks finished 0-2 under Earl Horsell.
After Carl Grimsrud retired from coaching, the Elks had two losing seasons under Art Derbyshire. But the Elks rebounded with strong 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons under Jerry Winterbotham, winning 40 of 49 games and finishing third and second respectively in the state tournaments.
Bill Gehling took over the program for the 1979-80 season and guided Elkton for 21 years ending in 2000. The Elks captured three state crowns (1986, ’91 and ’97) during his reign. Gehling went 313-165 at Elkton.
Gary Trout, a 1985 EHS graduate, assisted Gehling for 10 years and has been the head coach in two stints. Trout ran the program from 2001-03, then stepped away for three seasons as Jeremiah Wilgus and Peter LeMay were head coaches during that time.
Trout returned for the 2006-07 season and has guided the program since, producing a 209-207 record through 17 years. Elkton’s best state tournament finish under him was fourth place in 2012.
The Elks are hoping to have an abbreviated season in 2021, depending on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Trout expects his squad to be much improved after finishing 5-19 overall last year.
All told, Elkton has more state titles in boys basketball (seven) than any other Class 1A school. Powers (six) is second.
“There’s a lot of history. Elkton has always been known as a basketball town,” said Dan Burke, a starter for the 1991 state championship team. “The support from the community was tremendous.”
“I had a great experience (with basketball),” said Seth Williamson, a 2000 EHS graduate who started as a freshman on the ’97 title squad. “I look at those years as fond memories for sure, and hope my own kids can experience something similar.
“There’s nothing like it. Everyone came out for the games — the gym was bursting at the seams. After we won state, the fire department comes out and leads our bus back into town.”
The 53-year-old Trout, who played three years for Gehling, hopes to bring another state championship to the school before he’s done coaching.
“It’s pretty amazing what Carl Grimsrud did in his days,” Trout said. “We were fortunate to have Bill (Gehling) take over the program when he did. He built a good, solid program. I never planned on being a coach, I just fell into it when Bill asked me to help him.
“(Those state championships) are something we’re pretty proud of. When I walk into the gym, I tell the kids you’re not going to see that many boys basketball banners on the wall anywhere else.”
Don Suloff is perhaps the most decorated player in the history of Elkton boys basketball. The 6-foot-4 center, a four-sport standout, led the Elks to back-to-back state basketball crowns in 1964 and ’65.
Suloff went on to play basketball and football at Portland State University.
The Elks didn’t lose a game in either of those seasons, going 25-0. Elkton won 51 straight (a state record at the time) before opening the 1965-66 season with a loss to Sutherlin. Oakland later surpassed that streak with 56 consecutive victories from 1999-2001.
“Those years were special to all of us who were a part of them,” Suloff wrote via email while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. “Special times for a small logging and farming community to be recognized throughout the state.
“Carl Grimsrud was an incredible coach who knew the game better than any subsequent coaches I had (in college) and then on a nationally competitive AAU team. Our team was prepared for defenses and offenses that we never faced, but coach didn’t want to be unprepared.
“He also demanded sportsmanship on our team. Early each year he made it clear that if there were any profanity on the team that he would do it — he was a World War II vet and could do it right!”
Here’s a look back at nearly 70 years of Elkton basketball highlights:
The Elks were primed for a run toward their first state championship after finishing fourth in the 1956 state tournament won by Malin.
Elkton (23-3) lost 79-61 to Knappa in the quarterfinals, but bounced back with wins over Brownsville, 84-67, and Sisters, 64-60, to take the consolation title. Roger Moore was selected to the all-tournament second team.
In the 1957 state tournament in Bend, the undefeated Elks (25-0) handled their competition. They defeated Union 68-43 in the quarterfinals, whipped Jefferson 63-43 in the semifinals and routed Echo 65-40 for the title.
Harold Duncan led Elkton with 75 points and 48 rebounds, receiving first-team all-tournament honors along with Cliff Otto. Dick Johnson, who scored 48 points in the tourney, was selected to the second team.
The 6-1 Duncan — dubbed the “redheaded speedboy” — finished with 24 points in the title game, 11 coming in the third quarter. He averaged over 17 points a game for the season.
“Duncan has been our key player all season and he proved it tonight,” Carl Grimsrud told The Oregonian following the final. “I was worried about every team in the tournament, especially Echo. It’s finally over and we won.”
Suloff called Duncan, who totaled 1,063 points during his time with the program, an inspiration.
“It was the state championship team in 1957 led by Harold Duncan that really kicked off the expectations that lasted through the years,” Suloff wrote. “That team was undefeated and set a bar for later teams to follow.”
After losing to Camas Valley in the 1963 district playoffs and missing the state tournament, the Elks wouldn’t drop a game over the next two seasons.
They headed to the 1964 tournament in Pendleton on a roll and came home with their second state basketball crown.
Elkton downed Chiloquin 75-45 in the quarterfinals, beat Corbett 70-54 in the semifinals and defeated McEwen 56-52 for the championship.
Suloff was unstoppable against Corbett, scoring 17 of his game-high 26 points in the third quarter. He had 57 points in the tourney and made the all-tournament first team.
Gary Brooks, who contributed 46 points, was selected to the second team.
The Elks were able to repeat as state champs in 1965 with another perfect record, with Suloff, Daryl Bullock and Dave Abraham leading the way. Mike House and Rick Taylor were the other starters.
Elkton crushed Alsea 74-41 in the quarterfinals, handled Knappa 68-50 in the semifinals and downed Prairie City 62-45 for the title.
Suloff turned in a monster performance versus Knappa, getting 37 points and 14 rebounds. He led the tournament with 74 points and added 41 boards and was on the all-tournament first team. He averaged 21.7 points for the season and finished his sterling career with 1,107 points.
Bullock, who chipped in 46 points, also was named to the all-tournament first team and Abraham made the second team.
“Both our championship teams were characterized by outstanding teamwork and tough defense,” Suloff wrote. “We were balanced. Some thought our second team could’ve done well (at the 1965 tournament), we had a lot of players who were strong and knew their roles.
“I was very proud of the team. I think we could’ve won the A-2 championship that year.”
Suloff, 73, is retired and living in Madison, Wisconsin, after working for the government for 30 years.
Carl Grimsrud won his final B state championship with the Elks four years later. It wasn’t easy.
Elkton (22-3) got past Mohawk 59-55 in the quarterfinals, defeated Malin 56-48 in the semifinals and topped Elgin 52-49 in the title contest.
Dick Hall, who scored 59 points in the tournament, was selected to the all-tournament first team. Whitney Baker made the second team.
“My dad was a very good coach to play for,” said Ted Grimsrud, who played for the Elks from 1970-72. Now 66, Ted is a retired professor of peace theology at Eastern Mennonite University.
“He was very calm. He would push the players, but you felt he respected you. When we lost it was his fault, but if we won he’d give us the credit.”
Carl Grimsrud only had one losing season at Elkton, going 9-12 in the 1966-67 season. He passed away on Aug. 25, 1984, in Gold Beach at the age of 67.
The Elks, guided by Winterbotham, were the runner-up at the four-team state tournament in Baker City in 1979.
Elkton (20-4) routed Detroit 74-48 in the semifinals, but dropped a 71-58 decision to Powder Valley in the title contest.
Steve Smartt was voted to the all-tournament first team and Greg Clark was a second-team pick.
“Carl Grimsrud had a great tenure (as the Elkton coach),” Gehling said. “He was very successful. It took a little time to rebuild the culture, but once we got going it was fine. We finished 3-17 my first year, then we were able to turn things around.”
Gehling posted his first winning season in 1982, then would proceed to make the Elks a regular at the state tournament. He had 10 seasons of 18 wins or more.
The 1984-85 Elkton team, which included Trout, came within two points of reaching the state championship game. The Elks lost a heartbreaking 65-64 decision to North Clackamas Christian in the semifinals as Trout’s last-second shot curled around the rim and out.
Elkton (22-2) defeated Canyonville Bible Academy 67-64 for third place.
The 1985-86 team ended a 17-year state championship drought, pulling out three close games to win the B tournament in Baker City.
Elkton (18-7) downed Eddyville 58-54 in the quarterfinals, defeated Long Creek 62-56 in the semifinals and rallied past St. Paul 52-47 for the title.
“We won our last 16 games,” Gehling said. “We were struggling early in the season, but the kids started to figure it out. We knew if we were going to be state championship caliber, we had to improve significantly and we did. All the kids were contributing.”
Senior Mike Beckley, the lone returning starter, led the Elks with a 20-point average.
“I don’t think we had that high of expectations going into the season. We played a lot of tough games early, and that tough competition made us better,” Beckley said. “We weren’t one of the best teams, but one of the most coachable. I remember everybody’s dedication.”
The Elks had different leading scorers in each tournament game.
Mark Hash scored 15 against Eddyville after Beckley had to leave the game early after sustaining a gash in his chin while trying to block a shot, requiring some stitches.
Darin Evans came through with 19 points in the Long Creek contest. Beckley starred in the championship game, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. Evans chipped in six points in the fourth. Elkton, which trailed 31-27 after three quarters, converted 14 of 18 free throws in the game.
Beckley was an all-tournament first team selection.
“My family’s been in Elkton forever,” Beckley said. “My grandfather (Henry) and father (John) were big supporters of the basketball program and my father played in the early 50s. I was the first Beckley to be involved in a state championship.”
Now 53, Beckley works for South Coast Lumber Co. in Brookings and has lived there for 25 years.
“Bill Gehling was a great coach, a good person,” Beckley said. “He was way ahead of his time. We played some defenses and offenses that were really unique. You did what he asked for ... he expected a lot, but he showed us the rewards were well worth the effort.”
The 1990-91 team was arguably Gehling’s most talented team. It was certainly his deepest.
“That team was loaded,” Trout said. “We had a big group of seniors and our starting five was really good, but we were pretty balanced.”
“We platooned that year,” Gehling said. “We wanted those (second-string) kids to be able to play. Our practices were intense and competitive.”
The Elks (21-2) won two hard-fought games at the 1A state tournament to give Gehling his second state crown.
Elkton and defending champion Condon squared off in the quarterfinals, with the Elks prevailing 68-64 in double overtime. Elkton downed Pine Eagle 71-60 in the semifinals and edged East Linn Christian 53-50 in the final.
Corey Carroll scored 16 points and Allen Davin added 10, including four free throws in the second overtime, against Condon. Mike McNeil, a 6-8 post, contributed a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
David Cassidy had 20 points and 13 boards in the Pine Eagle game. Brian Compton and Jon Rausch combined for 21 points. Cassidy had 14 points and seven rebounds and Burke scored 13 versus ELC.
Cassidy and Carroll were selected to the all-tournament first team, while McNeil made the second team.
“We had a lot of depth,” Burke said. “We had two different styles (with our lineups). The first group was more traditional, we had good shooters and passers. Our second team was run and gun and they pushed the tempo. It was such a team effort, we had each other’s backs.”
Burke, who turns 48 on Dec. 16 and is the mayor of Elkton and works for a communication company, felt the coaching of Gehling always gave the team an advantage.
“Bill was competitive, he wanted to win,” Burke said, “but it was about mentoring young kids. He’d find a way to motivate you and bring the best out of us.”
The 1996-97 squad took some losses along the way, but got hot at the right time and returned home with state championship No. 7.
The Elks (16-8) beat Culver 72-61 in the quarterfinals, slipped by Christ’s Center 51-50 in the semifinals and knocked off Powers 69-60 for the crown.
Elkton was pleased to get another shot at the Cruisers, who had beaten the Elks twice in league play by scores of 62-53 and 75-74.
Junior Tony McClure led the Elks in the title game, getting a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Tony Saddler had 15 points and nine boards, Wes Cassidy chipped in 13 points and Clint Swearingen added 11 points.
Williamson helped limit Powers post David Lehnherr, who had dominated Elkton in the previous two meetings, to 13 points.
“It was sweet justice playing Powers. It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a row, and at that point everything was clicking for us,” Williamson said. “We definitely peaked at the right time.”
“That team had to come together,” Gehling said. “We got better as we went along.”
The team dedicated the win to Kristen Gehling, Bill’s 20-year-old daughter who had lost her life in a mountain climbing accident the previous summer.
“Clint (Swearingen) shut everyone up in the locker room (after the final) and said to Bill this was for Kristen,” Williamson said. “She was a big part of that program.”
“That championship had some extra meaning,” Gehling confirmed.
McClure, who graduated in 1998, ranks second on the school’s career scoring list with 1,468 points. Williamson, who was a four-year-starter, is third with 1,377 points.
Gehling coached the Elks for three more years before accepting a job in Powers as their superintendent. He coached the Cruisers for two years before concluding his coaching career, leaving him with a record of 335-188.
Now 74, Gehling retired from education in 2005 and has lived in Lakeside, Montana, since 2012.
“It was fun,” Gehling said of his time at Elkton. “I had the good fortune of having a lot of really good players, and had some excellent assistants in Gary and Tom Smartt. It was a great experience for me.”
Williamson, 38, manages Double S Log in Elkton and is a school board member. He was an assistant under Trout at the high school and now coaches at the middle school.
The Elks have gone 23 years since winning a state title in boys basketball, but Trout is hopeful for the future with his current group and a promising group of eighth-graders who Williamson has been coaching.
“This year I’ve got kids who want to play, want to be in the gym,” said Trout, who’s the town’s public works supervisor. “I’m still optimistic we’re going to have a season. I think the kids need to play. but we want to keep them safe, too.”
The 2011-12 team finished 23-5 overall and took fourth in the state tournament with a 55-44 win over Imbler. Noah Miller, EHS’s career scoring leader with 1,516 points, was an all-tournament first team selection.
Miller was named to the all-state first team. Tyler Trout, son of the coach, was a third-team selection.
The 2012-13 squad (20-9) placed fifth in the tourney, losing the third-place game to Hosanna Christian. Tracey Doudna received all-tournament first team honors and Brandon Bowen made the second team.