[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, more than five months later, is about Condon High School. The goal -- to write two per week – was sidetracked for a week by the ice storm that hit greater Portland, but we’re back! While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org]
The town of Condon sits about 160 miles east of Portland, in a part of the state where evergreens give way to sage brush and wheat fields. Agriculture, ranching and wind farming dominate the economy for the 600 or so residents. It’s good, honest work, but the pace of life is slow.
It’s not the kind of place where you’d expect to find a basketball dynasty. Yet, from 1997 through 2002, Condon Lady Blue Devil Basketball dominated the 1A classification like few teams ever have, winning five state titles over a six-year span.
“We were blessed with a run of athletes who loved to compete, were dedicated and had very supportive families,” said Teresa Humphrey, who was the head coach during the storied run. “The athletes just kept coming!”
Humphrey, who grew up in Condon and was a Blue Devil standout on the hardcourt herself in high school, took over the program as head coach in 1994. Her first team had five seniors on it, and they carried Condon to the state tournament. The next year was a building year and the Blue Devils built around four freshmen. The year after that, Condon added three athletic freshmen. Three more ready-to-play freshmen arrived in 1997. That year, with 10 capable underclassmen, the Blue Devils were poised to make their historic run.
“We had the right mix of guards, forwards and posts,” said Humphrey. “Not only were they great athletes, they were great students and great citizens.”
When the girls won state in 1997, it marked the first state team title for Condon in a girls sport in 14 years. The team’s success generated enthusiasm and widespread support throughout the small town and helped fuel the magical run. Between 1997 and 1999, the Blue Devils won 74 times and lost just twice.
“This was a very special group,” Humphrey recalled. “Because of the number of athletes, we could play a fast paced style -- pressing and running -- that just wore other teams down. When someone got tired or was in foul trouble, someone else was always ready to step in and keep it going.”
With so many good players, practice usually was more intense than games.
“There was so much talent!” Humphrey exclaimed. “There was a competition for playing time and choosing starters was a difficult job. It wasn’t always easy because the girls and their parents had to buy in to the team concept. Any of them could have been starters on anyone else’s team. We played in a very good Big Sky League, but oftentimes our practices were more competitive than the games. It was a rare day if we didn’t have blood during a practice from a collision going after the ball or a hard foul.
“One thing I always appreciated about the girls was that they left whatever drama that may have happened during the school day at the door of the gym. When you grow up in a small town, your peers are more like siblings because you spend so much time together and disagreements are bound to happen. But when these girls stepped on the floor, they were a true TEAM. They were unselfish and like it or not, accepted their role on the team. They made each other better on a daily basis.”
By the 2000 season, seven of the cornerstone players had graduated, and were off on the path to becoming doctors, lawyers, military officers, artists, coaches, ranchers, wives and mothers. Younger players, who looked up to those girls, worked hard to keep the success going.
“I truly believe that success breeds success,” Humphrey explained.
Condon was good that year, but not the state favorites. The Blue Devils lost twice during the regular season to state favorite Ione, barely beat South Wasco County at the district tournament to qualify for state and had to eke out a win over Jordan Valley in the quarterfinals. The championship game pitted Condon once more against Ione, its league rival. The game was close the entire way, but Condon managed to pull out the win despite making a busload of mistakes at the end. The fourth consecutive state title marked a milestone for Oregon small schools. No girls basketball team in the entire state, save big school power Oregon City, had ever won four in a row!
Condon went for No. 5 in 2001 and made it to the championship game versus South Wasco County. The game went into overtime before SWC prevailed to snap the Blue Devil streak.
“I reflect on that all too often,” Humphrey said. “It is a bitter pill, so to speak, and I kick myself for coaching decisions I made late in the game. But overall, they just outplayed us.”
The loss served as fuel for the 2002 season. The returning players came back even more determined to win the title and they did. What made Condon’s fifth win over six years so special for Humphrey was that her daughter was a freshman on the team.
Humphrey stressed that the story of Condon’s success wasn’t about her.
“It’s about an immensely talented and amazing group of girls and a basketball loving community,” she stressed. “It’s also about dedicated assistant coaches, like Larry Durfey (who provided a lot of intensity), Ron Kopp (who provided calmness), and Tom LeFor (who provided humor and knew when we needed a good laugh). It’s about good friends, like Laura Harsin (who organized the best pep assemblies ever) and the Hawman family (who put on some amazing team meals). It’s about advice-giving bus drivers, awesome pep bands, packed gyms with loud fans, school pride and friendships.”
School superintendent Michelle Geer played for Humphrey in the years before the championship streak and begged to differ.
“Coach Humphrey had a profound impact on girls’ athletics in this area, but, most importantly, on the girls that played for her,” Geer said. “She not only developed our skills to be competitive and to love the game, but she modeled how to be a courageous leader, have confidence to stand up for what you believe, and to never quit. These traits have impacted us as adults, and many of us would say that having Teresa as a coach impacted our lives more off the court than on.”
Humphrey retired from coaching basketball in 2005, after her daughter graduated, but got talked back into coaching the middle school team. In 2011, she moved up to the high school once again and, three years later, led the Condon / Wheeler co-op to a 30-0 record and another state title.
Humphrey retired again in 2015 and has been coaching in the middle school again. She might be a varsity coach again one day but knows that another dynasty like the one that started in 1997 is not likely again in Condon.
“Most all of the girls on those teams went to school in Condon all 12 years,” she said. “Most all of them had at least one parent that grew up in Condon and graduated from CHS. Many of them also had grandparents who graduated from Condon. Extended families attended games, along with many friends and alumni, especially at tournament time. It was a very special time in Condon Blue Devil basketball and I’m honored to have been a part of it.”