Born in rural Iowa, Jerry Lane initially attended a small high school in the town of Winthrop that had two athletic teams for boys - baseball and basketball. As a freshman, he played shooting guard on the hoops team and was the teams’ leading scorer.
Before 10th grade, tragedy struck. Jerry’s parents died just months apart. This catastrophic loss resulted in his move to Oelwein, Iowa where he lived with an aunt. At Oelwein, he participated in three sports - track, football, and wrestling. Lane’s wrestling coach was Cy Bellock, a man – familiar to those in Salem - who was to influence his life for years to come.
Wrestling in Iowa is serious business, extremely popular and extremely competitive. Bellock let Jerry embrace the full experience. He was put into varsity wrestling matches as an inexperienced junior varsity grappler. Seven times during his sophomore year Jerry went on the mat as a varsity wrestler. He did not win a single match. At the district tournament, however, the varsity wrestler expected to compete in Jerry's weight class failed to make weight. So Lane, the inexperienced 0-7 junior varsity wrestler was thrown into the fray. Surprisingly, he took second place, losing 7-6 in the finals. But he qualified for the state championship tournament. Lane went to state and didn’t win a match, but he was hooked. He continued to grow and excel throughout his high school career. As a junior he won the district tournament and as a senior he finished 2nd once again. Each high school year he advanced to the state tournament.
Bellock, who would eventually make his way to the head wrestling coach position at North Salem High School, convinced the sophomore Lane that he had the talent to wrestle in college. He took Jerry to college wrestling meets to watch Cy officiate. It was a time to learn the sport, get a glimpse of a future, and bond with a man who was a coach and “father” all rolled into one. The approach worked.
From Oelwein Jerry moved on to Iowa State Teacher’s College (now Northern Iowa University). Freshmen were not athletically eligible in those days. They could practice every day but couldn't compete. So Lane was forced to concentrate on his studies while accepting the wrestling “grind”. Day after day of bone weary work but no competitive intercollegiate match during which he could measure his progress. It was work well worth it, as Jerry became an accomplished college wrestler. He won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament at 130 pounds. Pictures of Jerry at that time - mostly skin and bones – look decidedly different from the Jerry the people of Salem-Keizer got to know.
Upon his ISTC graduation in 1960, Jerry began his teaching and coaching career in suburban Denver, at Alameda Junior High School. After three years, he moved to Wheat Ridge High in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. At Wheat Ridge, he was the head wrestling coach but, more importantly, it was at Wheat Ridge that he met the other most influential person in his life – his future wife Donna.
Bellock, who by then was the head wrestling coach at North Salem High, encouraged Lane to interview with the Salem School District in 1961, but Lane declined and stayed in Colorado. In 1963, Jerry and Donna visited Oregon to watch the NCAA wrestling tournament, held at Oregon State University. Bellock, knowing that the building of a new high school in Keizer was on the drawing board, had encouraged Lane to interview for a job in the SSD. Bellock believed Lane could be on the short list to be the head wrestling coach when the new school – what is now McNary High – came on line. His old coach and mentor had set up an interview with the SSD and, this time, Jerry couldn’t say no. He was offered a job without even an interview at the high school, and came to North as a teacher and assistant wrestling coach under Bellock.
Bellock knew of what he spoke. Lane coached at North for two years before McNary opened. In 1965 Jerry became a Celtic as both a business teacher and its first head wrestling coach. He was now responsible for building a wrestling program from scratch. And his assistant? Cy Bellock. In many ways he had come full circle.
And the program build commenced.
McNary joined the Valley League and the Valley League was a very competitive wrestling conference that included both Lebanon and Sweet Home. Sweet Home had won the state championship in 1960 and Lebanon in 1963.
Wrestling, by its nature, is a hard, physically exhausting, tough sport. Building a successful program is hard as well. Lane's first year was rough, as one might expect with a new school. While he beat both Salem schools – South and his former school North – McNary finished 5th in the conference. However by year two the Celts were beginning to make a mark. They had their first district champion and runner-up. In '68 McNary qualified three wrestlers to the state tournament and all were placers. Their first district title was 1970. Lane had the Celtic wrestling program firmly on the map.
In 1974 Lane's young, inexperienced, but very talented Celtics went 21-0. Expecting to make a splash at the state tournament, they didn't, although they did have their first state champion. It was in 1975 that the Celtics showed the state the powerhouse that Lane had built when the Celtics, now a year older and a year more mature, won the only state wrestling title held by a Salem (or Salem-Keizer) School District high school. The Celts followed up 1975 with a runner-up finish in '76.
In addition to the state championship and state runner-up finishes, Coach Lane won four district championships. He coached seven state champions including Ron Boucher in '72 who was his first and Howard Harris in '76, who went on to become a four-time All-American and NCAA champion at Oregon State and two-time Olympic gold medalist, as well as 58 district champions, and 37 state placers.
On the international stage, Lane coached the Oregon Cultural Exchange Team that went to South Africa in 1972. He flew because he had to, but it was his first and last time on an airplane. Not a fan of flying.
There were also low moments in Lane’s career as well. The death of a student and the shooting of another touched him deeply. Lane spoke at the funeral of Jerry DuBois, “a neat kid” and a very promising young wrestler, who died on a football practice field as the result of an undiagnosed heart decision. And he is still close friends with Tony Young, a two-time state placer for McNary with whom he frequently attends wrestling events. Tony suffered serious brain damage in the nationally-covered shooting at the Oregon Museum Tavern in 1981. The criminal attack left five people dead and 18 people seriously injured.
In 1976, the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club named Lane their Coach of the Year. And in the year he retired as a coach (1996), he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Lane retired as a teacher in 1994. Together Jerry and Donna, married over 60 years, have two daughters, Laura and Jennifer, and one son, Jordan. They are also extremely proud grandparents of two boys and two girls.
Jerry Lane, as a wrestling coach, accomplished many things in the sport. He won awards and was honored many times, he built a program, and he won matches – many matches. More important though, in the course of his journey as a high school teacher and coach he changed the lives of the young men with whom he came in contact. He taught and modeled for them the values of hard work, integrity, trust, and care for one another. His life has been an example for young people, fellow coaches, colleagues, and others to follow. That's what makes Jerry Lane a Beacon.