WALLA WALLA - The Blue Devil Athletic Hall of Fame welcomes seven new members into its ranks Saturday during the intermission between Wa-Hi's boys and girls basketball games against Chiawana.
The class includes athletes from different sports and different decades, ranging from 1922 to the 2000s, and from golf to football. Inductees include Patrick O'Rourke (1922 grad), David Bateman (1971), Phil Girsberger (1984), Jill (Watkins) Meliah (1996), Jason Grove (1997), Lindsey Morgan (2000) and Thomas Kelati (2001).
Criteria for entrance into the Hall of Fame is stringent.
Only those who are recognized by the Columbia Basin Big Nine - or higher - as exceptional are considered.
Following that hurdle, candidates must have represented Wa-Hi well in their post-secondary education and professions. All candidates must be at least five years past their graduation date.
Each year, a 30-member board considers applicants and votes on who to accept. Members of the board must be Wa-Hi graduates. Board members are responsible for sponsoring athletes and building a case for their induction, at which point the candidate must pass a two-thirds vote to be accepted.
After Saturday's games, a reception for the inductees is scheduled in the recently-renovated Felix Fletcher Team Room. The Fletcher room houses the Hall of Fame trophy case, plaques commemorating past honorees and a conference table, as well as a new flat-screen television.
The Fletcher room commemorates legendary Wa-Hi football coach and athletic director Felix Fletcher. From 1947-70, Fletcher accumulated a 162-45-10 overall record, 94-11-6 in the CBBN. In 1953, '56 and '63 Wa-Hi went undefeated.
Former Wa-Hi Athletic Director Bill Bieloh oversaw the construction of the Fletcher room in 1993. Bieloh and others pushed for the room to be added into the new Blue Devil Gymnasium being constructed and helped raise the $200,000 needed to fund construction from alumni and Fletcher's former players.
"I think tradition is really important to a school, especially in athletics," Bieloh said, "and it's important to maintain those traditions and memories and perpetuate them from year to year so that you have something to build on and the athletes that come in see what this program has been like and the people that went through it so that they kind what to be like those role models."
The renovation of the Fletcher room, which has been underway since fall, includes film study equipment, new carpeting, new chairs and a renovation of the current trophy case.
Bill Fleener, who handles the Hall of Fame's finances, estimated the renovation will end up costing around $25,000. Fleener (a 1969 Wa-Hi grad) said a donor who wished to remain anonymous made an $18,000 donation in hopes that other alumni would match that amount. The renovation and original construction of the Felix Fletcher Team Room were completely funded by donations.
A large plaque commemorating Fletcher sits on the wall opposite the stairway entering the room. On it is inscribed a quote from the widely-respected coach.
"It is not important that a young man like you, but it is extremely important that he not dislike you."
Bieloh said the quote essentially meant coaches should not strive to be liked, rather they should earn their players respect.
Fletcher died shortly after construction of the Fletcher room.
Bieloh coached basketball and baseball at Wa-Hi and was the athletic director from 1974 to 1994. He retired as Director of District Personnel in 2004 and, although he chairs the Hall of Fame board, is not a Wa-Hi graduate and cannot vote on candidates.
Patrick O'Rourke graduated from Wa-Hi in 1922. He played an integral role in the Wa-Hi team that won the state championship in 1920 and played baseball as well. O'Rourke played college football and baseball at St. Mary's College. O'Rourke played professional football for the Memphis Tigers and signed a contract to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds. He died in 1954 at age 53 of tuberculosis. During O'Rourke's time there were no all-conference or all-state teams, so the board used historical information, including mentions by the Union-Bulletin's Vance Orchard as evidence of his athletic excellence.
Bieloh said his son, Jim O'Rourke, will possibly be on hand to accept the award.
A three-sport athlete, David Bateman (1971) played football, basketball and track at Wa-Hi. Bateman earned all Columbia Basin Big Eight honors as a running back on the football team and in the long jump. Bateman was named to the all-state football team as a safety.
He went on to play wide receiver at California where he earned the Golden Bears' Ken Cotton Award as the most courageous football player. Not satisfied with just one sport, Bateman played rugby for Cal as well, and was named the MVP for the U.S. National Rugby Team.
Phil Girsberger (1984) dominated the track. He won the district championship in the 800-meter dash in both 1983 and 1984. In '84, Girsberger set a Washington state record with a 1:52.3. That record stood until it was broken in 1991.
Girsberger went on to run track at Brigham Young University, where he helped the Cougars to two indoor and three outdoor Western Athletic Conference championships competing in the 800 and the 1600. In '85, Girsberger ran a leg of the 4x400 meter championship team at the National Track and Field Championships in Taiwan.
Jill Meliah (then Watkins) graduated in 1996 and is being inducted after earning all-conference honors in volleyball, basketball and softball, and all-state honors in basketball and volleyball while at Wa-Hi. Watkins attended Colorado State and currently is head coach of the Wa-Hi girls basketball team. She was named the CBBN girls basketball Coach of the Year in 2009-10. She also teaches English at Wa-Hi.
Jason Grove, a '97 graduate, played basketball and baseball at Wa-Hi and played baseball at Washington State. Through three years as a Cougar, Grove averaged .349 from the plate and set a Washington State record by hitting three consecutive home runs in the 1999 season opener against New Mexico State. Grove was drafted in the 2000 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. He played in the Yankees' minor league system for four years and finished his career after a stint with team in the Minnesota Twins' system in 2006.
While at Wa-Hi, Grove earned all-conference honors in both basketball and baseball. Grove was awarded all-conference honors for baseball three years in a row.
Lindsay Morgan (2000) represented Wa-Hi on the links, earning all-CBBN and league MVP awards for each year she was at Wa-Hi in girls golf. She won the Washington state women's golf championship tournament in 1999 and 2000. Morgan went on to golf at the University of Washington, where she was named team captain twice and earned an NCAA all-American honorable mention her senior year.
Thomas Kelati (2001) played basketball and ran cross country as a Blue Devil. He won all-CBBN awards in cross country in 1998 and 1999 and in basketball in 2001. He went on to lead the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting in 2002-03 while playing basketball for Washington State. He was named to the first team all-Pac-10 his senior season. After graduating from WSU, Kelati went on to play professional basketbll in Europe.