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Coaching lifer – Don von Weller marks 50 years in football

James Day

Fifty years. That’s a long time to be out on torn up fields trying to teach kids about football. But that’s what Don von Weller (Silverton High Class of 1969) has been doing since 1973 when he was asked to coach fifth-graders.

And von Weller, 71, a graduate of Western Oregon University (then-Oregon College of Education) who earned his master’s at Lewis & Clark College, has never left the sidelines. Whether it’s youth teams, middle school or his current post with the Silverton High freshman squad, he just keeps on coaching.

In fact, his coaching life has surpassed his professional life in longevity – he retired from the classroom in 2014 after 40 years of teaching history and geography. But he keeps on coaching.

He still remembers his first trip to a Silverton High game. The Foxes were playing Amity. Von Weller, who grew up on a farm in the Evergreen area, was six years old.

“The atmosphere was incredible,” he told Our Town. “To a six-year-old it seemed like the whole town was there. The athletes were incredible. I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of that.”

Don von Weller
Don von Weller

Von Weller describes himself as a below-average athlete and “the skinniest kid on the freshman team.”

But he kept working, and by the time he reached his senior year he was a starting defensive back. Along the way he earned a series of lessons that have helped guide him through his coaching career.

“I learned that if you keep going and keep your head up and keep fighting and keep battling, good things will happen to you. And the coach will find a place for you,” he said.

Von Weller said that his WOU and Lewis & Clark education just “got me started. The real learning came from being a regular every year at U of O and Nike coaching clinics. I always saw more knowledgeable coaches around me and knew I wanted to be a lifelong learner. I can always get better.”

Von Weller took a class on football safety in August and noted with pride that efforts Silverton has made in the past few years to change the way the players tackle has helped reduce head injuries.

John Mannion, who coached the Foxes for seven years from 2010-16, called von Weller a “huge asset to the program. He had a calm, reassuring demeanor and was great for the players, especially the younger ones.”

Mannion noted that the freshman teams “always played well on the field but more importantly the players always came back to play in future years for the Foxes.”

That’s the key, you see. If a person has a good experience playing a sport or participating in an activity such as band or theater, they’ll continue to participate. And your program will have continuity … as well as a greater likelihood of success.

One of Mannion’s traditions at Silverton, which continues even though he has moved on to Mountainside in Beaverton, was to watch video and lift weights at 8:30 on the Saturday mornings after the games. Mannion calls it one of the favorite pieces in the life of a coach.

“Don was always there with me, either congratulating the players after a win or cheering them up after a loss,” Mannion said.

“Our players do have fun,” said von Weller. “High school athletics is such a great thing to be a part of.”

I often gravitate toward von Weller at summer practices or before games because he’ll always have a player to talk up and promote, usually someone who was a freshman for him a year or two ago who was making his presence felt on the varsity.

A few years ago the Foxes were hosting West Albany in the Class 5A quarterfinals. I noticed a player in the defensive backfield that I hadn’t seen before. I sought out von Weller.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “he’s a freshman. They just brought him up for the playoffs.”

That was my introduction to Jordan McCarty, who eventually quarterbacked the Foxes to the 2022 Class 5A championship as well as leading the basketball squad to a runner-up finish.

“There is such a tradition here,” von Weller said. “Our freshmen come in with high expectations.”

And von Weller, who has coached three generations of athletes from multiple families, continues to try to help them fulfill those dreams.

“Football teaches you about adversity, which comes to everyone in life,” he said. “And the best thing of all is seeing young guys have success.”

Von Weller has no timeline for retiring from coaching. Every year there are new skinny freshmen ready to become part of the tradition. And every year there are seniors finishing the journey, athletes that von Weller has worked with and watched throughout their high school careers.

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