Don Kerzel

Don Kerzel has been the face of the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club for a quarter century. On most Friday mornings since the late '90s, he has presented SSBC Athletes of the Week and Senior Athletes of the Year. Thousands of athletes in the Salem-Keizer area have stood next to Don in front of family, friends, teammates, and community members and listened as Don recited the praises of their latest athletic exploits. Over time, as daily newspapers diminished in their importance and recognition of high school sports virtually disappeared, SSBC – and Don Kerzel – have soldiered on.

Don was born and raised in Salem, attending Faye Wright Elementary and Judson Middle School (then “Junior High”), before graduating from Sprague. But Don's affinity for the value of our schools and what they do is deeper. Both of Don's parents - Stan and Dorothy – a lifelong resident of Salem herself - were teachers. In fact, even Dorothy's parents were were S-KSD teachers. To say that Don's Salem roots and his connection to our schools runs deep would be no understatement.

Don's dad Stan was a well known figure in local sports. A graduate of Jefferson High (Portland), he played baseball at Willamette University and then Oregon College of Education. But in Salem-Keizer he was best known as one of the top high school and small college umpires in the mid-valley. Many a day was spent watching his dad arbitrate games between rivals, often listening to fans and coaches be less than positive. But Stan was so well-respected that those very same critics – Jack Riley at Oregon State University, for example – would joke and laugh with him after a game.

Given that background it's probably not surprising that Don developed a love of sports. He played Little League baseball, YMCA basketball, and pickup racquetball. He played baseball and ran track and cross country at Judson for coach Bob Flood. “I ran and jumped at Judson (actually may have played basketball there too). I couldn't out quick anyone so I ran distance and tried to outlast them...” Don then ran cross country and track (distance) at Sprague for long-time coach Tom Adams where he was “never outstanding, but 'good enough'..”

From Sprague Don spent “a few years at OSU - chasing my high school sweetheart and wife-to-be Annie.” Don and Annie – herself a retired elementary school teacher – have been married 37 years and have raised two daughters – Maddie and Sami – both of whom, in turn, participated extensively in school sports.

To no one's surprise Don didn't end his involvement in athletics when his time as a participant ended. Instead, he coached, because, well, someone has to. Don has coached seven years of little league baseball, four years of little league softball, four years of ASA softball, and two years of city league high school basketball. However it is in high school racquetball that Don has truly stood out from the rest. The current head coach of the Sprague racquetball program, he has coached for 17 years, including 14 as the head coach. Don's time as coach included a run of 14 years during which Sprague Racquetball was either the national champion or the national runner-up. In 2016 he earned the Racquetball Developmental Coach of the Year from the United States Olympic Committee. He also got the opportunity to coach both of his daughters.

Don's dad Stan was an SSBC member “as long as I can remember. I can recall going with him to a meeting in 1977 at Sambos on Liberty downtown where the Portland Trail Blazer's athletic trainer Ron Culp spoke.” In 1993, when his job moved from Portland back to Salem, Don began to attend SSBC meetings on a more regular basis. Those meetings were held at Knopp's Golden Pheasant. Don would sit at a table with all of his dad's “old cronies including my two former coaches – Bob Flood and Tom Adams.” In the late '90s Don became the presenter of SSBC's Athlete(s) of the Week. “I'm still unsure how I ended up with the role”, but it's a role he maintains to this day. “I would spend an evening going through a week's worth of Statesman-Journal sports pages, gleaning stats and stories for the athletes before calling the coach at home to see if we could coordinate for Friday. Harv Schubothe was the president at that time, Tom Warren coordinated the weekly win-picks, and Jack Bull was the treasurer. In early 2006 Harv moved to Bandon and left me the keys to the club - and the presidency. By that time Pete Hoffert and Mark Coursey had both stepped up and started helping with the club. Pete, Mark, and I formed the committee that would select the athletes each week, and present at the meetings. Ultimately Jack Bull passed away and Pete took over his role as treasurer.” Don remains the president of SSBC to this day.

“I feel very strongly about the city-wide forum bringing potential competitors together in one room, out of competition, off the floor, out of uniforms, showing their commonality. In a world that seems ever-more divided this cohesion is important to call out. It's okay to want to win on the field, it's okay to fight hard for the victory, but off the court they're still kids. The stories over the years about how athletics kept kids in school, how coaches stepped up as surrogate-parents, and how players overcame incredible challenges have helped me understand how critical athletics are to education.”

Annie has now retired and joins Don who is also now “retired”. Work projects, however, still litter the docket and many ongoing home remodels are taking place. Daughter Sami now lives in Alaska with husband Thomas and daughter Maddie lives in Arizona where she pursues her education/training as a physician's assistant.

Week after week, year after year, Don Kerzel honors kids he doesn't know because he believes recognizing excellence through athletics is important. His efforts through SSBC have given high school sports, and the kids who excel at high school sports, a spotlight. Sometimes the best kid on the team, sometimes a kid that has just “had a moment”. It doesn't matter. The smile on the face of an AOTW is the same. For producing that smile for a quarter of a century, Don Kerzel is a Beacon.

By Bryan Sutherland