Costumed, charismatic Sandy High School skiers start season with memorial race for Kelsey Hewitt

Sandy High School's (SHS) Ski Team started its season on Monday, Jan. 2, at Mt. Hood Meadows resort with a non-competitive memorial race. Coach Josh Kanable described the event as being both fun and educational.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROBIN CRESSY - More than 300 skiers showed up for some friendly, non-league competition on Jan. 2 at Mt. Hood Meadows. For 25 years, the memorial race was held in honor of Christine Cato, but this year's memorial race was in memory of Kelsey Hewitt, a young skier who died in a skiing incident involving a tree well in December 2015. She was the daughter of the current coach of the Grant/Cleveland High School Ski Team, a team Kelsey Hewitt started and which has since competed in the Mt. Hood League with SHS for several years.

Kanable cites the remembrance of Hewitt and her unfortunate — but common — accident as a teaching moment for his young skiers and also a way for the team to jump start the season and make sure the team can run an event without a hitch.

"The Sandy High Ski Team was honored to have 15 athletes participate in the memorial race for Kelsey Hewitt," Kanable said in an email last week. "Standing at the top of the ski course in a sea of over 380 high school athletes and coaches from all over Oregon was the perfect way to honor the beautiful life of Kelsey."

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROBIN CRESSY, SHREDHOOD.ORG. - The Sandy High Skiers were a team of Scrabble tiles for the Kelsey Hewitt Memorial Race held Jan. 2 at Mt. Hood Meadows. 

All teams were encouraged to come clad in costumes of their choice to add to the festivity of the event. SHS showed as a wordy opponent, dressing in Scrabble-themed attire that spelled out the name of the event: Kelsey Memorial.

Of his expectations for the season moving forward, Kanable said he believes his team will prove a competitor.

"Even if you have a smaller team, you have to go up against bigger teams," Kanable said, speaking of how SHS compares in size to other Mt. Hood League schools like Gresham-Barlow. "We have kind of a younger team. Each group is going to have to work together to get us to state."

Kanable added that the success of ski teams rests on far more people than many more traditional sports. Volunteers and parents are relied on a lot to get the team through the season. Because of the complexity and size of most race courses, one or two referees, basketball games might have, would not suffice.

"It's one of those high school sports that requires a lot of parent involvement," Kanable said. "On average, a race has to have 20 volunteers ...The coaches and parents of each team pulled off an amazing race by setting up and timing four separate giant slalom courses. The race gave each athlete two runs to showcase their talents and allowed coaches a preview for the 2017 OISRA State Championship competition held at Mt. Hood Meadows."

Last year's state competition took place at Mt. Ashland in Southern Oregon, and the winners received the Bill Healy Trophy. The 2017 state competition is tentatively scheduled for March 1-4, and Kanable and the team hope to make an appearance. The Sandy Ski Team will go to its first competitive event of the season at Mt. Hood Meadows this Saturday, Jan. 14.

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