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Tom Melton accepts in induction. (Photo by AJ Mazzolini)
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

PENDLETON — During a tumultuous summer filled with change and uncertainty in Pendleton High School athletics, Friday night was about something different. For one night, Pendleton’s recently filled football coaching vacancy left the lips of the Buckaroo faithful. The healthy workload ahead of the new athletic director could wait for discussion until Saturday.

Friday’s gathering at the Pendleton Convention Center was a time capsule to a different era with one word at its core.

“It’s tradition,” Tom Melton explained. “Being in the Round-Up, those gold helmets. Hopefully those gold helmets will still mean something when I’m dead and gone.”

A crowd of more than 200 welcomed Melton and seven other Pendleton football greats into the Buckaroo Football Hall of Fame on Friday, an evening as filled with celebration as with reminiscence. The inductees into the hall included men with ties to the school and the program ranging from a fullback on the 1945 squad — that would be Don Webb, now a retired Pendleton businessman — to a basketball and track coach lured away from the rivals in 1967 to oversee legendary Pendleton coach Don Requa’s defensive line — Eldon Lilly takes that distinguishment.

As the names were called, Don Hawkins then Kenny Kramer then Don Cessnun, the honored parties took to the microphone to begin their acceptance speeches. The moments were short before the speakers recognized familiar faces in the crowd. Teammates, coaches, old friends and family members helped unearth memories. The men, now seasoned and grey under the experiences of life, became young again, shielded from the abrasiveness of the world by the green and the gold of their high school jerseys.

Lilly recalled driving through downtown Bend in the bus following a victory creating the team’s own parade — circling back twice just for good measure. Kramer remembered his senior season in 1954, the first under Requa, and the fire behind each sharp whistle blow. The 1965 graduate Gary Froberg laughed about his time on the offensive line and his relationship with the backs that depended on him.

The stories crowded their way into every moment of the evening. Even as Dick Jones, Buckaroo Hall of Fame class of 2004, introduced the night’s first inductee Steve Corey, the images from the past were so strong that they burst through the scripted biography and into the room.

Details of Pendleton’s 1962 win against Boise interrupted the scheduled oratory, as did Jones’ sense of humor when he came to a section about Corey’s relay running with the track team.

“Steve never was very fast, but he putted along,” Jones said.

Though Corey produced and enjoyed his share of laughs at the podium following Jones’ dig, one memory stood out to him most. His whole bank of Buckaroo experiences might never have happened if it weren’t for fellow 2012 inductee Cessnun, he said. The future player and coach met while the latter taught and coached at Pendleton’s middle school, a football recruiting ground in which Cessnun was key.

“I was probably not the kind of person who would be playing football,” Corey said. That changed during his 8th-grade year with the coach’s help.

The near 70 years of football tradition on display complemented the Bucks’ next generation. Athletic director Troy Jerome and head football coach Erik Davis, each hired this summer, soaked in the decades of Buckaroo lore.

“I will work tirelessly, day and night, to not only carry on what you guys have done, but create new traditions,” Davis said to the crowd.

“And go Bucks!”

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Contact AJ Mazzolini at ajmazzolini@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0839.

 


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