Ore. track coach takes student to prom, loses job

Associated Press + More

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 the 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 school officials.

"We started an investigation that led to us asking her to un-volunteer," Condon Superintendent Jan Zarate said. He declined to elaborate.

Melissa Bowerman said she went to last month's Condon High School prom with a boy from the track team because the boy felt bad about not having 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," said Melissa Bowerman, who also has a son on the track team. "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."

Melissa Bowerman says attending the prom was an error in judgment, but she maintains she did not have an inappropriate relationship with the teen.

She said the two danced to a few slow songs but mostly played ping pong and foosball at the prom, the East Oregonian newspaper of Pendleton reported (http://is.gd/pBVR6a ).

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.

Melissa Bowerman's late father-in-law is well-known among Oregon sports fans. Besides inventing the waffle-soled running shoe and co-founding Nike with Phil Knight, 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.

The Condon/Wheeler track and field program has ballooned from six athletes to more than 30 in just four years under Melissa and Jon Bowermans' watch, and the 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."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.