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Mac Wilkins answers Olympic call ... (and other notes)

About sports other than football before we turn much of our attention to the gridiron with the start of the college season next week ...

• Hate to lose the great Mac Wilkins, who worked miracles during his eight years at Concordia University and will now be enlisted to do the same as throws coach at the USA Track & Field Performance Training Center at Chula Vista, Calif.

Wilkins' hiring means the U.S. Olympic Program is finally getting serious about developing throwers on the international level. Since Wilkins -- who won Olympic gold in the discus in 1976 and silver in '84 -- left the scene, the U.S. has done well in the shot put, claiming three golds, five silvers and two bronze. But the Americans have been blanked in the hammer, javelin and discus since the '88 Games.

"They have had throws coaches there before, but it was always like a guy who was a javelin and pole vault coach," says Wilkins, 62, who begins his new job on Sept 1. "They have had three or four throwers (at the center) before. A couple would work with the (USOC) coach and a couple would be by themselves. They have always been underfunded and they've never been able to say, 'You're going to be a full-time throws coach, and we'll pay you enough to live here.'

"This is the first time they are approaching it on a more professional level. I'll have 13 throwers there in all four events, and most of them will live at the training center."

Wilkins hopes to attract more good athletes who are inclined to try other sports.

"In Russia, young kids grow up and learn how to throw the hammer correctly," the Beaverton High and University of Oregon grad says. "In Germany, it's the shot and discus. In Finland, a million kids know how to throw the javelin with great technique. In the U.S., kids know how to pitch and hit baseballs, throw the football and hit tennis and golf balls, but the cultural knowledge (of the throwing events) isn't there. This new position will give me a better platform to address that."

When Wilkins came to Concordia in 2005, the Cavaliers didn't have a track or a facility for the throwers. Wilkins fundraised and, in 2008, saw construction of the Concordia Throws Center near the Portland International Airport that remains unique in the country. It helped him attract throwers he was able to develop to become better than those at most Division I schools. In his eight years, Cavalier throwers won 24 NAIA national individual titles and 94 All-America awards.

"That's one measure (of success)," Wilkins says. "There are a lot of ways to measure it. Not everybody is going to the Olympics. Not everybody is going to throw 200 feet in the discus or 60 feet in the shot. When you talk to recruits, they all want to go to the Olympics. That's subterfuge. The real agenda (for me) is getting hooked on learning and developing your passion, and you get to a point where you are compelled to share this joy with other people."

Wilkins spent time in San Jose and Bellevue, Wash., before moving back to Oregon 15 years ago. He is a Portland guy who tried hard to recruit financial help to establish a national throwers' training center here. Even with both Nike and Adidas America in town, he was unable to make it happen.

"What I'm going to try to do (in Chula Vista) could be done in Portland," he says. "We'd need an indoor facility in the winter months. We could have an Oregon Project kind of thing.

"You have all the pieces to the puzzle here except the money. I wasn't able to put together the support or sponsorship to make that happen. I'm not faulting anybody but myself. Maybe I should have been more aggressive about it. Or maybe it was never meant to be."

Wilkins isn't leaving the cupboard bare.

"The Concordia crew for next season is going to be the strongest one ever," he says. "There's a possibility they could win six of eight throwing events" at the NAIA championships.

Wilkins' successor is Jarred Rome, 36, a former Boise State discus standout who competed at the 2004 and '12 Olympics and at four world championships and was the 2009 U.S. champion.

"Jarred's a good guy who has a lot of energy," Wilkins says. "A lot of what he does is similar to what I was doing. He wants to promote the throwing events. He was selected because he views this as an entrepreneurial endeavor. That's what the Throws Center is about."

Wilkins is proud Concordia has about 90 members on its track and field team, including about 20 throwers. And he is proud of the Throws Center that will always attract athletes. He has mixed emotions about leaving.

"It's a small school and the scope is limited," he says. "I enjoyed my time there, but it didn't work out to be the perfect fit for me."

• It's great to have Mike Johnston back in the coaching box for the Winterhawks, who have opened training camp and begin defense of their Western Hockey League championship against Prince George Sept. 20 at the Rose Garden.

"It's nice to be back," says Johnston, who sat out most of last season due to an undeserved WHL suspension for player personnel violations. "So far, it's been mostly observing players and allowing the scouts to run the bench. As a staff, we're trying to focus on evaluating who is going to stick with us."

Johnston has added a pair of overage players who will help immediately -- Shane McColgan, a forward acquired from Saskatoon, and defenseman Garrett Haar out of Medicine Hat. The Portland coach has been impressed with a pair of 16-year-olds he thinks could stick with the Hawks -- defenseman Keoni Texeira and forward Ethan Price.

• You might have seen the item in the news section of last week's Portland Tribune.

In a media session, Charlie Hales noted the recent interest in attracting an NHL team to Portland, said he holds hope that such a team would make a permanent home in Memorial Coliseum.

I've not seen such sports naiveté from a Portland mayor since a few years ago when Tom Potter was asked about an exhibition game between the Seattle Mariners and Portland Beavers to be staged in town later that day.

"Oh, where's it being played?" Potter asked.

The NHL's interest in Portland is primarily for two reasons: It's an underserved market with only one team in the major four pro sports, and the Moda Center is an NHL-ready arena.

The Winterhawks and Portland City Council -- of which Hales is a member -- remain in negotiations for a deal that will renovate the ancient Coliseum and turn it into a facility that seats about 8,000. To suggest an arena that small could house an NHL team means someone important hasn't been paying attention.

Representatives of the Hawks, the Trail Blazers, the Portland mayor's office and the Portland Development Commission will meet sometime in early September to discuss negotiations to renovate the Coliseum that have taken far too long.

The Hawks want to contribute $10 million to the project, hoping the PDC will cover the rest of the $32 million price tag that could at least bring the facility into the 21st century.

Good thing: The Hawks play their first dozen home games at Moda Center. Bad thing: They'll play all but six of their remaining 24 home dates at the Coliseum.

• Gov. John Kitzhaber's veto of the legislative bill that would have allowed tribal nicknames at certain Oregon high schools is political correctness at its most blatant.

In May 2012, I wrote a long piece detailing the debate that has waged for years between a vocal minority who want the Native American nicknames abolished and those who want communities and their tribes to make that decision.

In 2007, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education recommended schools eliminate Native American mascots by 2009. After listening to testimony from both sides this year, both the Senate and House voted to allow local communities and tribes to work out the issue. Kitzhaber vetoed the bill, citing a need to "ensure that discriminatory practices do not occur in school programs or interscholastic activities."

Among those quoted in my article last year was Jim Smith, a Native American who then served as principal at Banks High and is now associate principal/athletics at Canby High.

"It seems like another government entity coming in and telling Indians how they're supposed to feel and think about a certain topic," Smith said then about the board's directive. Native American nicknames "bring to light the traditions and values of the chiefs and braves who were part of that culture, whether warring people or not. I'm disappointed as a Native American that another government entity is coming in and telling me how to think."

Not all Native Americans agree with Smith, but judging by national polls conducted in recent years, the majority of them do. Doesn't matter in Oregon, where the vocal minority -- and political correctness -- rules.

• The highlight of Oregon State women's basketball coach Scott Rueck's postseason was a trip to Rwanda on a mission with the Northside Community Church of Newberg.

Rueck, wife Kerry and their two oldest children spent 10 days in the African nation that experienced genocide of nearly 1 million people less than 20 years ago. The Ruecks, who sponsor two Rwandan preschool children, got to meet with them and their parents.

"Cole (age nine) took soccer balls and Kate (age six) took dolls to give as gifts," Scott says. "We sat with them in their dirt houses. It was surreal, like we were in a documentary. The people there are joyful but subdued. It was an educational experience for all of us."

• Gosh, I hate to see Allen Iverson retire. By the way, where was he playing the last few years?

• Sorry, I don't recognize Ichiro Suzuki's 4,000-hit milestone, since nearly 1,300 of them came while playing professionally in Japan. But I'll say this: Ichiro's major-league career has been incredible. Though he was 27 when he came to Seattle in 2001, he now has 2,722 big-league hits, including 200 or more in each of his first 10 seasons with the Mariners.

I never thought it could happen, but Ichiro -- who turns 40 in October -- might make it to the 3,000-hit mark. He's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, another thing I couldn't have imagined when he arrived in Seattle 12 years ago.

• LPGA pros participating in next week's Safeway Classic will help conduct a free junior clinic Monday from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Columbia Edgewater Country Club. Players up to 18 years old are invited to take part in the clinic that has been a staple of Portland's LPGA event for more than 20 years.

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