If you are in a discussion of great Oregon coaches and the name Vic Backlund doesn't come up, something is wrong with the conversation. If you are in a discussion of great high school athletes who then went on and became great college athletes and Backlund's name doesn't come up - ditto. In fact, if you are in a discussion of why high school athletics are important, Vic Backlund should be front and center as an example.
Vic Backlund grew up in Bandon, Oregon. He played high school football, basketball and baseball where he was a standout in each. He lettered eleven times – 4 for basketball, 4 for baseball, and 3 for football. A smallish 9th grader, Vic grew to well over 6' and 175 pounds as a senior. He wasn't just good on the fields and courts. He was also determined to embrace the term “student-athlete” by being great in the classroom as well. He succeeded, maintaining his 4.00 GPA and graduating as Valedictorian in the Bandon High School graduating class of 1954.
Backlund explains one of his prime high school motivators for athletics, “'The Oregonian [Portland newspaper that used to publish statewide], every day motivated me athletically. [They] wrote quite extensively about the top high school players in the Portland school area. I had seen some of those guys play and I figured I could play at their level and perhaps even play better than most.”
From Bandon, despite being recruited as a tight end to Oregon State University and a catcher to Linfield College, Vic headed to Willamette University in Salem. He had the twin goals of continuing to play three sports and also, once again, to excel academically. No surprise, he met those goals. He graduated with a 3.81 grade point average while earning 10 athletic letters: 3 in football, 3 in basketball and 4 in baseball.
During his career with the Bearcats he was recognized as the only Willamette University athlete ever to be named first team all-conference in three sports. Named 1st team All-Northwest Conference for football in his sophomore year (tight end) and again as a senior (fullback); 1st team All-Northwest Conference for basketball as a senior; and 1st team All-Northwest Conference in both his junior and senior years for baseball. He was named to the NAIA District 2 Hall of Fame in 1974 and was inducted as a charter member into the Willamette University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.
Following graduation from Willamette in 1958, Vic signed a contract to play professional baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing his first year in Kokomo, Indiana in the Midwest League. 1959 found him with the Reno Dodgers where he was selected as the North's catcher in the league All-Star game.
Unfortunately, professional baseball ended suddenly, as the military draft was on the horizon. Enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserves, Backlund missed the 1960 baseball season. It was at this point that he decided to start his teaching and coaching career. Professional baseball's loss was Salem-Keizer's gain.
First teaching and coaching at North Salem High School in 1961, Vic was an assistant football and assistant baseball coach. (He was 2020 Beacon honoree Gib Gilmore's JV football and JV baseball coach during Gilmore's sophomore year. Greatness coaching greatness.) He moved to the brand new McNary High School as a social studies teacher and the head baseball coach and an assistant football coach when it was opened in 1965.
Backlund went on to lead McNary's baseball program for 27 years, winning state championships in 1989 and 1992. We also finished state runner-up in baseball in both 1983 and 1984. Vic's baseball teams made it to 14 state playoffs. He was voted the Valley League Baseball Coach of the Year in 1983, 1984, 1987, 1989 and 1992. Upon retirement it was believed that Coach Backlund had accumulated the most career wins ever at the same large high school in Oregon.
Academic success at Willamette University also translated to success as a teacher. Backlund was chosen to teach college prep U.S. History classes at both North and McNary. He ultimately became Salem-Keizer's first Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History teacher, allowing many high school students to earn college credit while still Celtics. He continued teaching AP until retirement in 1998, after 37 years in the classroom. He was honored in 2000 by his alma matar – Willamette University – with its "Distinguished Alumni Citation" for "Achievement in Education."
Retirement from teaching and coaching didn't mean a loss of motivation. Backlund ran for and was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives where he served three terms -from 1999-2005. He chaired the House Education Committee for two terms and also served on the House Judiciary Committee for two terms where he was complimented for bringing a non-lawyer perspective to issues brought before the committee. Primarily through his efforts, the state legislature granted $50,000 to the Oregon Schools Activities Association that was administered through the Oregon High School Coaches Association for the purpose of training and supporting non-high school coaches.
Vic married Karen Enberg, his college “sweetheart” in 1959. They have been married for 62 years. Vic describes Karen as “... a great coach's wife! She was a strong fan and was very supportive of my coaching career. She understood the 'trials and tribulations' that a coach dealt with.” Karen had a career in banking and school teaching at Dallas and North Salem High Schools. She finished her working career with the State of Oregon.
The Backlunds have a daughter (Valerie) and a son (Brett), both McNary graduates.Valerie was a cheerleader and golfer at McNary. In fact, she was the #1 girls golfer for her entire Celtic career. She graduated from McNary near the top of her class academically. She subsequently went on to graduate with academic honors from Pacific Lutheran University and is now employed by Salem Radiology Clinic. She married Sprague grad Todd Ellis, an outstanding baseball player in his own right. Together they have three children.
Son Brett lives in Gilbert, Arizona and is a certified public accountant who owns his own business. Brett's high school athletic experience looks very much like his dad's, although his at McNary. Brett remains one of the few Oregon athletes to have been selected to play in the State-Metro Shrine football game as well as the State-Metro basketball and baseball series. Brett went on to have an outstanding career as a pitcher-3rd baseman at the University of Iowa. In 1992 he was the first Iowa pitcher to be selected as the baseball "Player of the Year" in the Big-10 Conference. After college baseball Brett played professionally for six years. In 1992, in his first professional season, he was chosen as the Pittsburgh Pirates "Minor League Pitcher of the Year."
It's safe to say that both Valerie and Brett followed pretty closely in mom and dad's footsteps.
In the pantheon of Oregon's great coaches, Vic Backlund has to be in any discussion. In the pantheon of McNary greats there can be no discussion. He is at the top of that list. Vic Backlund used high school and college sports as a springboard to lifetime success. More than that, he was a role model who showed his students and student-athletes a path to greatness. He is a Beacon.