PENDLETON — When Jacob Rickman broke his back playing football as a Pendleton sophomore he could have easily faded from the sports pages and devoted himself to any number of academic pursuits.

Instead the physically gifted Buckaroo turned to competitive swimming and running to get his adrenaline fix, all while taking on a school course load that would drive an average individual to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Few teens in Umatilla County better embody what it means to be a student-athlete than the Pendleton senior, and on Monday at Pendleton High School Auditorium Rickman was honored as the Large School Male Scholar Athlete and Male Athlete of the Year at the 18th Annual Umatilla County Athletic Achievement Awards.

“It just shows that hard work pays off, just working every day of a high school career, working day in and day out in athletics and academics,” Rickman said.

Rickman will finish his high school career with a 4.3 weighted GPA?that puts him sixth in his graduating class. Just in the last year he earned state gold in the 50-yard freestyle swim and 200-yard freestyle relay, bronze in the 100-yard swim, fourth place in the 200-meter dash on the track, and seventh in the 100-meter.

He walked to the stage one more time before the evening was over, this time with his Pendleton swimming teammates as they were named the Male Team of the Year.

Though small in numbers and short on practice time, head coach Donna Collins’ Buckaroos swam to third place at the most recent state swimming championships, held Feb. 15-16 in Gresham.

Evan O’Grady, Nate Rickman and Nick Jennings joined Jacob Rickman on the gold-medal relay team, and O’Grady won silver in the 100, fifth in the 50, and fourth with the 400-yard freestyle relay. Layton Kirsch also swam at state and helped the 200-yard medley relay team to fifth.

“Third at state with only five kids against people like (state champs)?Summit which swim year-round, that’s a big deal for our team,”?Rickman said.

The swim team beat out well-deserving candidates like the state champion Hermiston wrestling team and state runner-up Weston-McEwen baseball team, just to name a few. The win capped a dominant evening for Pendleton athletics in general.

The state-champion girls’ softball team led by head coach Tim Cary was named Female Team of the Year and dance team head coach Debbi Kishpaugh was named Coach of the Year after guiding her team to a sixth-straight state title.

Kishpaugh’s dancers may have been out-voted for Female Team of the Year, but the girls were called on stage to receive a special recognition plaque of their own for “domination of Oregon dance team competitions.”

Small School Male Scholar Athlete was won by Stanfield’s Corey Baros. Large School Female Scholar Athlete went to Mac-Hi’s Cheyenne Kessler and the small school award went to Pilot Rock’s Heather Fitzpatrick. All scholar athlete award winners and nominees received scholarships provided by Calpine.

Hermiston standout runner and soccer player Maggie Coleman was named the Female Athlete of the Year as the only Bulldog honored on the evening, but Hermiston’s Curt Berger threatened to steal the show before a single winner was announced with his keynote speech.

The former Hermiston wrestling and tennis coach and recent National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee engaged the 150-200 people in attendance with fables, memories and even a few jokes all falling under the main topic — Winning Attitude.

Berger let those in the crowd in on a little of the philosophy that went into coaching nine Hermiston teams to state titles, six in wrestling and three in girls’ tennis.

He was brutally honest at times, like when he drew some of his biggest laughs by saying that during his first 10 years at Hermiston he needed to look in the bathroom mirror if he wanted to see what a state champion looked like.

Another crowd-pleaser was his “Just Do It” riff that emphasized action over words.

“Just do it kind of spoke to me,” Rickman said. “You’ve just got to keep going. Injuries — you’ve got to work through them. Bad days — everybody has them. Bad track meets or bad weather conditions — you have to work through it. You just have to make it yourself.”

Even though only a few of the nominees for this year’s awards could leave with trophies, one thing was left certain after listening to their extensive lists of achievements — there are plenty of student-athletes “doing it”?in Umatilla County.


Contact Matt Entrup at or (541) 966-0838.


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