Home News Local News Supercharged sportsmanship
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
When the Spray boys step onto the basketball court, Jul Donnelly motions the fans to stand, then cups her hands around her mouth and yells, "Clap, clap get up! clap, clap."
After each cheer she grabs her water bottle still partly frozen to wet her throat and sets it down next to a bag stuffed with a red sweater and red hat that match her red Spray Eagles T-shirt.
Then she starts another chant.
Her grandson plays on the team sophomore Wyatt Miller and she's had two granddaughters and one other grandson already go through the basketball program at Spray.
But Donnelly, 74, has a long history with basketball in fact, she's quite the expert in most sports.
She learned about basketball at a young age when her father who played center for Oregon State University at six-feet-two-inches shared his knowledge underneath a basketball hoop secured to their shed.
"My dad wanted an athlete," she said.
By the time she hit seventh grade, Donnelly was also a center at five-feet-nine-inches, and she regularly played one-on-one against her dad.
"He'd knock me end over tea kettle," she said, then entice her to get up and keep playing.
She grew up in the Portland area, where her playmates were "a gang of eight boys."
She admits to being somewhat of a tomboy.
"I didn't want dolls for Christmas I wanted basketballs, footballs and a single-shot .22."
Her sports interests didn't end there at 11 she began swimming at the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC) in Portland. She and her team swam for a total of seven miles each day, and she was nationally ranked in 1944.
"I couldn't go to the Olympics because of the World War in 1944," she said.
Swimming is still her sport of choice.
"I still swim. I don't know how to play in the pool I do laps."
Membership at the MAC also opened the door to the sports of fencing, field hockey, and tennis.
In addition, she did something else that helped her fall into the role of enthusiastic Spray supporter years and years of cheerleading practice.
Donnelly was a cheerleader in grade school, junior high, high school and even one year in college before she quit to focus on a large coursework load.
During those years she mastered backflips, cartwheels, round-offs and other gymnastic feats to wow the crowds.
As Donnelly moved on in life, and graduated from OSU in 1950 with a bachelor's in education, she gravitated toward sports-related activities.
During her more than 30 years of teaching, she instructed physical education and health classes, and volunteered for coaching duties.
She shared her knowledge with girls who had more opportunities in sports than she did when growing up in the 1930s and '40s.
"I was born 10 years too early," she said.
Volleyball was the sole sport for girls, so Donnelly introduced them to basketball and, later, tennis.
She helped start a girls basketball program at the junior high level when teaching in La Grande, where she lived for 20. Prior to that she organized girls basketball games at Imbler High School, playing teams from Cove, Halfway and North Powder.
Though teaching basketball to those new to the game was a bit of a challenge, she fondly remembers her coaching years.
"When we finally broke 20 points, we were elated," she laughs.
Donnelly also knows the game from an official perspective.
"I got into officiating (in the Willamette Valley) and kept my officiating rank for years," she said.
After retiring in 1985 and moved to Spray, she settled into her role as dedicated sports fan, only missing games when she's "too sick to go."
Her sports conduct comes from her years as a basketball player, coach and referee.
"I usually come to the defense of the referees. I've never said anything bad and I usually try to get (the crowd) to be quiet during free throws.
"We try to quiet down the crowd so the kids can concentrate," Donnelly said.
This attitude was apparent during Spray's game Thursday afternoon when others yelled over an official's call, she just reached for her water.
"That's all right, we'll take the foul," she said, watching a Spray player step up to shoot freethrows.
"Sink it, James!" she hollers.
When her team lost by six points, she didn't grumble or mutter.
"Well, I hope they go on and get the championship then," she said of Columbia Christian as she packed up her bag.
Her coaching style didn't include anger, she said, especially not during games.
"I always try to be positive with the kids and encourage them. You don't help your team by yelling at them."
Her coaching instinct lingers along with the need to cheer.
"I'd catch (Wyatt) alone and say, has the coach showed you this move, or this one?' " she said.
He usually says yes, he already knows those moves.
Though she no longer entertains with cartwheels during halftime, Donnelly is still one of the most exuberant fans for the Eagles.
"I tell them, Boy, if I could drop 50 years and 70 pounds, I could show you how to be a cheerleader.'
"I've still got that 19-year-old spirit."