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Track and field: Life comes full oval for former Canby state champion

Twenty years after winning the second state championship in the history of the Canby girls track and field program, Melanie Bemis Schrader has become the head coach of a high school track and field program in Idaho.


by: FILE PHOTO - Melanie Bemis poses with her hardware after winning the girls long jump competition at the OSAA state track and field championships in 1993.When reminded that it’s been 20 years since she won a state title as a member of the Canby girls track and field team, Melanie Bemis Schrader pauses in apparent disbelief.

Even after doing a quick calculation in her head, she still seems to have trouble accepting that fact of chronology.

To her, it just doesn’t seem like so much time has passed.

“It really doesn’t,” she said. “That’s weird.”

Perhaps she’s baffled because so much has happened in her life over the last two decades.

She graduated from Canby High School. She earned a degree at Boise State while competing on the university’s track and field team. She got married. She had two kids. She started teaching.

This past spring, Schrader reached another milestone by becoming the head coach of a high school track and field program in Idaho.

Even 20 years later, athletics remain an important part of her daily routine.

“I just love sports,” she said, “and I wanted to pass on my love of sports to other people and help them develop their skills and reach their dreams.”

'Couldn't sit still'

At least some of Schrader’s knack for sports can be attributed to the environment in which she was raised.

She came into the world with two brothers, and her parents, John and Annette Bemis, gave her three more siblings — all boys — after she was born.

“I just wanted to be doing whatever they were doing,” she said. “They were always outside playing sports, and I just wanted to be playing right there with them. So that’s what I did.”

By the time Schrader turned 10, her interest in athletic activities was unwavering — so much so that, once, she may have unintentionally offended her visiting grandmother.

“She was into crocheting, so she sat me down to try and teach me,” Schrader said. “But my brothers were outside playing games, and I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to be out there playing with them. I think my mom let me go after an hour. I’ve just never been into that kind of stuff.”

If Schrader’s passion for sports came first, then her competitive drive wasn’t far behind. And she had plenty of outlets to develop both.

One of her first formal forays into track and field came when, as an 8-year-old, she competed at the youth-centric Hershey’s Track & Field Games.

Schrader already seemed to appreciate the sport’s individualistic nature. 

“I love track because I’m really competitive and intense, so I could push myself really hard,” she said. “It was all on me. I didn’t have to depend on teammates to get what I wanted out of it.”

'In the zone'

What she got out of track and field in high school was a state title — as a freshman.

At the 1993 large-school OSAA championships, which were held at the University of Oregon in Eugene, a young Melanie Bemis soared 17 feet 2.75 inches to take first place in the girls long jump competition.

Although she defeated South Eugene jumper Laura Twigg by just an inch, she entered the meet with an unusual sense that the gold medal would hang around her neck when it was all over.

“It was the only competition I’ve ever gone to where I just had this gut feeling that I was gonna win,” she said. “Sometimes athletes describe being in the zone, and that was the only competition I’ve ever been in where I was in the zone, exactly how they describe it.”

Schrader ended up with the best distance in a field that included Twigg as well as Pendleton’s Kelly Hunt, Portland-Benson’s Misty Snow, Portland-Parkrose’s Tiffany Duff and Springfield’s Shana Thomas.

Twenty years later, Schrader’s title still stands as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the Canby track and field program.

The Cougars have captured nine state championships in individual events and relays, but they’ve accomplished the feat just three times on the girls side: first by Kit Jerman in the 100-yard dash in 1973, then by Schrader in the 1993 long jump and most recently by the 1,600-meter relay squad of Teri Gent, Brittany Gillespie, Melissa Fowler and McKayla Fricker in 2010.

Indeed, Canby has not won a state track and field title in a non-relay girls event since Schrader’s freshman year.

“Melanie was one of the all-time great athletes to come through Canby — male or female,” longtime Cougars coach Tom Millbrooke said. “With the long jump, she never even really emphasized it. The year she won it, if I remember correctly, she popped a big jump early in the prelims and it seemed like nobody else could rise to the occasion.”

Schrader’s state title is probably her most lasting athletic achievement in high school, but there were certainly others.

After missing much of her sophomore track season with an injury, she placed second in the state in the girls long jump as a junior (17-9.5) and took third in the event as a senior (17-7.25).

Schrader also lettered three times in soccer and twice in basketball, and her athleticism turned heads away from the varsity ranks as well.

“The boys didn’t even want to arm-wrestle her,” Millbrooke said.

As a sophomore, Schrader played a key role in leading the Class of 1996 to a triumph over the seniors in the Powderpuff touch football game that was once an annual tradition at Canby.

“We were up against the only class who had, as sophomores, beat the seniors, so we were very determined to beat them,” she said. “We had awesome coaches and a great team. I don’t remember what the score was, but I think we stomped them. It was a lot of fun.”

Added Millbrooke: “Melanie was basically untouchable. At one point, she had the ball and two of the boy football players ended up flat on their bellies trying to catch her. She ended up high-kneeing into the end zone.”

As strong as a Bronco

In college, what Schrader got out of track and field was variety.

As a four-year member of the program at Boise State, Schrader snagged several competitive accomplishments while developing her power and physical stamina.

She started out as a long jumper, cracking the 18-foot benchmark as a freshman, and also placed seventh in theby: BOISE STATE ATHLETICS - Melanie Bemis Schrader was named an All-America honoree by the National Strength and Conditioning Association during her career at Boise State. heptathlon at the Big West Conference championships that year.

Unable to continue in her state-title event due to tendonitis, though, Schrader began focusing on the 400-meter hurdles. She earned several top-six finishes at league finals over the next three years.

Schrader said her speed didn’t improve much during her time with the Broncos.

“I don’t think I got faster than what I was in high school,” she said, noting the influence of Canby sprints coach Cheryl Garrison. “She probably did more for me as a sprinter than any of my college coaches.”

But while Schrader’s speed stagnated, her strength swelled significantly.

After being nominated by her school’s strength and conditioning coach, she was selected as an All-American by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Pound for pound, I was probably one of the strongest athletes in the country,” she said.

Her time at Boise State was momentous away from sports, too. She studied biology and secondary education, earning a degree in 2000 that forged a path to her career as a teacher.

Academically, she said, she was ready for the coursework because of her experiences at Canby.

“I had really great teachers who pushed me hard and prepared me for college,” she said.

Schrader also met her husband-to-be, Sam Schrader, while at Boise State. She crossed paths with him because a few of her roommates were trying to set him up with another one of her roommates.

“I didn’t quite work out the way they planned,” Schrader said.

But it seemed to work out well for Schrader. She and Sam were married Dec. 28, 1999, and she is now a mother to an 11-year-old son, Davey, and an 8-year-old daughter, Alex.

'More and more responsibility'

After college, Schrader wasted little time delving into her teaching and coaching careers.

She stepped into the classroom as a biology and chemistry instructor in Idaho, and she became the jumps coach for the track and field team at Eagle High School. Her jumpers helped the boys to two state championships at the girls to one state title in her two years at Eagle.

Schrader also assisted at West Middle School in Nampa, Idaho, by: FILE PHOTO - Canby High alumna Melanie Bemis Schrader (right), who won a state title in the girls long jump in 1993, now lives in Idaho with her husband, Sam, 11-year-old son, Davey, and 8-year-old daughter, Alex.before moving to the Sun Valley area in 2007.

That’s when she took an assistant coaching job at Wood River High School under J.C. Nemecek.

“After the first year, he knew he wanted me to be his replacement,” Schrader said. “He’d been slowly giving me more and more responsibility.”

Schrader had prepared for that responsibility by serving as a YMCA summer youth coach in the Wood River Valley as well as coaching in the Girls on the Run development program in Idaho.

She’s now certified as a coach through the national governing body for track and field, and she recently started an online graduate program to teach gifted, talented and creative students.

This past season featured a power transfer at Wood River. Nemecek officially handed over the reins to Schrader, who became the girls head coach alongside boys head coach Heather Miller.

With help from volunteer assistants, Schrader instructed boys and girls in sprints, hurdles and jumps at the school, which holds a Class 4A designation in a state with five athletic classes.

“It was nice that I didn’t have to be the head coach by myself,” she said. “It was a good year. It’s a small program, but the kids had fun.”

Schrader said several of her Canby mentors are reflected in her coaching philosophy, including Millbrooke, Garrison and Kim McKie.

She’s also learned from Nemecek and Randy Huntington, an Oregon Ducks alumnus and longtime coach who helped elite Olympian athletes Mike Powell and Willie Banks set world records in the long jump and triple jump, respectively.

A legacy beyond ribbons 

Twenty years after winning her only high school state title, Schrader is asked if she still has the medal to prove it.

She responds in the affirmative.

“I have a box full of them,” she said. “I’ve saved every ribbon I ever got. I have them all.”

Now that she’s coaching, though, her legacy in track and field won’t be confined to that box.

She’ll try to impart wisdom to athletes as they navigate through high school. She’ll strive to instill in them a sense of commitment. And she’ll work to help them succeed in sports and beyond.

Ian Keys is evidence of her impact. A sprinter at Wood River, he won Idaho state titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as a senior this past season following three years under Schrader’s guidance.

A few months ago, he signed to continue running in college.

He’ll attend Boise State.



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