Columns & Blogs

Remembering Bomber great Fred Milton

Back in the day when Richland boys basketball was king, there was Fred Milton. He was a standout athlete for the Bombers in football, wrestling and track.

Richland High baseball coach Ben Jacobs, who has become the school's de facto sports historian, was a freshman at RHS when Milton was a senior.

"He was an absolute legend here," Jacobs said. "I went to school with his sister Wanda. He came from a great family. What a class act."

And now he's gone.

Milton, Richland High School Class of 1966, passed away last month unexpectedly at the age of 62.

Milton was a standout linebacker, a state runner-up at heavyweight in wrestling and a state champion in the shot put for the Bombers.

He still holds the Richland High track team's shot put record with a toss of 61 feet, 4 1/2 inches, according to Bombers coach Jim Qualheim.

"We haven't had anyone come within five feet since," Qualheim said.

He played football at Wenatchee Valley, where he had what Sports Illustrated called one of the top kicks of the 1966 football season.

The extra-point kick, said SI, bounced off the referee's head, hit a Yakima Valley player in the helmet, and went over the crossbar to complete a 19-19 tie. A month later, the kick was ruled illegal and YVC got the win.

Milton went on to play middle linebacker at Oregon State as part of the 1967 "Giant Killers."

Milton became known nationally in 1969 when he and OSU head coach Dee Andros had a standoff.

During this time, college campuses were rife with protests on the Vietnam War and civil rights. Paul Buker of the Oregonian wrote that Milton grew a goatee and moustache during the offseason after the 1968 season. Andros had a team rule against facial hair.

"Andros ran into Milton on campus during winter term 1969," wrote Buker, "and ordered Milton to shave off his facial hair if he wanted to keep playing."

Milton, who was black, refused.

The Black Student Union organized a walkout. Other groups organized protests. But Andros and Milton refused to budge. It became national news.

Buker reports that the OSU Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities found that Milton's human rights had been violated, and that Andros and his staff were deemed insensitive to the "emerging and cultural values of members of the black community."

Milton's stance helped ease the way for other players at other schools over grooming codes. By the way, Milton and Andros eventually patched their differences up.

Milton went on to finish his college football career at Utah State and played in the Canadian Football League for a while.

More important than athletics, Milton will be remembered in the Portland area for his business leadership, his government service while working with two Portland mayors and as a county commissioner, and his years of community service.

He leaves behind a wife, three kids and a whole lot of admirers in the Portland area and in Richland. A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship at 3917 NE Shaver Street in Portland.

"He was four years older than me," said Qualheim. "We'd run track at Carmichael and the Bombers would be there. He was amazing to watch, and he was always nice to us younger kids. Fred Milton, Ray Stein, those are the guys you never forget."

Beck and his orchestra

I meant to get this in last month. But this was former professional basketball player Byron Beck, at the CBC Follow Your Dreams event, trying to describe the 1963-64 CBC men's basketball team that went 27-0:

"An orchestra was the best way to explain how that 1964 team was. Every member of that orchestra was important. Everyone had their moment. And it was led by Jim Rodgers. Performances often ended in standing ovations and encores. And they got it 27 times that season. So take a bow. You were a classic."

Beck and that team were inducted into the CBC Athletic Hall of Fame that night.

Mid-Columbia Replay

Readers may have noticed the Mid-Columbia Replay we've been running in the scoreboard section. That started Sept. 1 when some of us got to thinking about the old archives in our library and what we could do with them.

The hard part is staying on top of it, but we've gotten a lot of feedback and people like it.

But this was bound to happen sooner or later: On Feb. 4 we ran an item from 1983 in which it said Ronnie Walker hit the game-winning shot to lead the Burbank boys over Connell 61-60 in overtime.

Only Robert Wirtzberger, a long-time area coach, said it was he who hit that shot, off an assist from Eric Lloyd.

We looked at the story again, and the writer back then had it wrong. Wirtzburger said it was the only time he ever hit a game-winning shot in his life, and that's why he remembers it so well. We'll go with Robert on this one.

Then Thursday, I got a voice mail from Tammy Wise of Pasco. It seems her son Scott Wise was mentioned in Sunday's paper when he won a 7-2 decision for Kennewick in a wrestling match against Pasco in 1964.

"I wanted to thank whoever put that into the paper," Tammy said. "Scott just got out the hospital with a broken hip from a fall at his house. What a wonderful thing that this would happen now. It certainly sent him a message of cheer."

And actually, it's been fun for us to do this. It's great to see names from the past pop up now and then.

Mattair back in baseball

Southridge High grad Travis Mattair, you might remember, stepped away from professional baseball last year to give college basketball a shot.

He walked on at Boise State University, where Richland High graduate Leon Rice had been named the new men's basketball coach. When Rice had been an assistant at Gonzaga, he had shown interest in Mattair. But the youngster decided to turn pro in baseball and was drafted by the Phillies.

Rice gave Mattair a shot, but he also told him he probably wouldn't get much playing time as a 21-year-old freshman. So Mattair decided to go back to baseball, and he's back with the Phillies organization.

NOTES: Southridge grad Thomas Henderson is now at Gonzaga University playing infield for the Bulldogs. He was also assigned this week to play summer ball for the Wenatchee AppleSox in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League. Richland High grad Sean Winston was named an AppleSox assistant coach last fall. ... The Walla Walla Sweets have added four Tri-City guys to their roster for the summer. Southridge grad Andrew Mendenhall (now at Oregon) and Richland grad Brett Jacobs (at WSU) are scheduled to play in the outfield, while Richland grad Brian Yardley (at Seattle U) and Kamiakin grad Kody Young (at CBC) will be on the pitching staff. The season begins June 3. ... The Moses Lake Pirates have gone inactive for this season in the WCCBL. ... Here's a date to keep in mind: May 24. That's when WSU is set to play host to rival Washington in a nonconference baseball game at Gesa Stadium in Pasco.