Ore. track coach takes student to prom, loses job

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PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — The daughter-in-law of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman has been dismissed as a volunteer track coach at a small Eastern Oregon high school because she escorted a 17-year-old boy to last month’s prom.

Melissa Bowerman, 41, who had been coaching the Condon/Wheeler track and field team with her 73-year-old husband, Jon Bowerman, was ousted this month in a phone call from the superintendents of the Condon and Fossil school districts.

“There was an investigation done and through that investigation, there were some potential details that arose,” Condon superintendent Jan Zarate told the East Oregonian newspaper of Pendleton (http://is.gd/pBVR6a). “We started an investigation that led to us asking her to un-volunteer.”

Zarate declined to provide details of the investigation.

Melissa Bowerman, whose late father-in-law invented the waffle-soled running shoe and co-founded Nike with Phil Knight, said attending the Condon High School prom with a boy from the track team was an error in judgment. But she said the pair did not have an inappropriate relationship. She said they danced to a few slow songs but mostly played ping pong and foosball.

Melissa Bowerman, who has a son on the track team, said she went to the prom because the boy felt bad that he lacked a date and had been struggling in English class.

“If they go on (academic) probation and suspension, then they can’t go to the track meets,” Melissa Bowerman said. “I said, ‘OK, I will go with you, but we’ve got to talk about English first. You’re going to do better in English.”

Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt, who received a complaint from a chaperone, said he has found no evidence that Melissa Bowerman broke the law.

The boy’s father, meanwhile, said he gave Melissa Bowerman permission to take his son to the dance.

“The first thing I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t a good idea.’ But Melissa has been like a surrogate mom to these kids for years,” Bob Thomas said.

The track and field program has ballooned from six athletes to more than 30 in just four years under the Bowermans’ watch, and the Condon/Wheeler girls team won its first state title Saturday.

As the team prepared to depart for the state track meet last week, Condon athletic director Ron Kopp told the Bowermans that Melissa would not be allowed to ride on the team’s charter bus with the athletes. With the bus only half full, parents have historically accompanied their sons and daughters for the ride.



Jon Bowerman said he might resign because of the situation, and possibly sell his family’s ranch near Fossil.

“The only thing we’ve done wrong is build them a new track and get uniforms and build them a powerhouse program,” he said. “If she doesn’t come back, I’m not coming back.”

Besides co-founding Nike, Bill Bowerman coached track at the University of Oregon from 1949 to 1972, winning four national titles. His relationship with track great Steve Prefontaine has been featured in two films.

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