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The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, they say. For Jeff and J.J. Stolsig, a father-and-son pair of high school baseball coaches, the apple is falling in the exact same place, as the two make their state finals debuts at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer this Saturday.
Jeff Stolsig will head the first-seeded Warriors of Lebanon High School as they face their Mid-Willamette Conference foe Crescent Valley in the 5A state finals at 10 a.m.
Later that day, his son, J.J. Stolsig, will make his championship debut for the underdog Canby Cougars as they do battle with fellow Three Rivers League opponent West Linn, ranked fourth in the state, in the 6A championship at 5 p.m.
“For J.J. to make it to the championship — very special,” Jeff told the Current. “For us to make it to the championship — very special. For both of us to make it in the same year, I just feel appreciation and gratitude beyond explanation.”
Jeff Stolsig is a legend in his home community, where he graduated from Lebanon High School in 1977 and returned 13 years later to begin a teaching and coaching career that has now spanned more than three decades.
In 32 years, he has coached his beloved Warriors to just shy of 400 wins, with a career record of 397-337, for a winning percentage of .541. He’s received numerous honors and awards, including being named the Section 8 Coach of the Year by the NFHS in 2020.
Asked what led him to coaching, Jeff said that was a “pretty easy question to answer.”
“I believe that I was called by God to do this as my ministry for him,” he told the Current. “I didn’t start coaching until my mid-20s. It was then that the Lord showed me that I could combine my love for this game with my love for teaching young people.
“Coaches and participation in athletics had shaped my early years and I believed that I was called to be that influence on the lives of other young men. Coaching at Lebanon has been an honor. To be able to give back to a community that helped raise me, my wife Lori, and J.J. and Linzi just seemed like the right thing.”
But he had never before reached the finals, and it didn’t look like it was in the cards this year, either, after the Warriors started the season 1-3. They quickly turned things around though, and now Lebanon is heavily favored to win the big game, having swept Crescent Valley during the regular season, 11-4 and 11-8.
“We have a friendly, competitive relationship,” Jeff said. “We always pull for each other. We celebrate each other’s victories and success together. The only time I am comfortable with Canby not winning is when they play the Warriors.
“We are humble when we beat the other and there is not any boasting or anything like that between us. The grandkids, however, always make sure I remember that the Canby Cougars beat the Warriors in football last fall.”
J.J. Stolsig was also a Lebanon High grad, where his coach — of course — was a very familiar face.
“Growing up, I had a lot of fun playing for him,” J.J. told the Current. “We never had any of the father-son battles. I always called him ‘Dad,’ you know? I didn’t call him ‘Coach.'”
He went on to play catcher at Linfield College, where he batted .313 in four seasons with the Wildcats, including a blistering .391 in 2004, and was a first-team all-conference selection his junior and senior seasons.
He would spend seven years working with the baseball and football programs at McKay High School in Salem, including the last two years as head varsity baseball coach.
His father had a major influence on him and his career choices, he said.
“He’s still my best friend,” he said. “We’ve always had a special relationship. I learned a lot from him, and it definitely played a huge role in my decision to go into teaching and coaching.”
But he longed to land a job at another one-high school town like Lebanon, and that dream became a reality in 2012 when he took the helm of the Canby Cougar baseball program, which had only one previous state finals appearance to its name, a loss in the Class A-2 championship in 1960.
After an up-and-down regular season, the 14th-seeded Cougs have caught lightning in a bottle in these playoffs, with a magical Cinderella run that has included three straight road victories over higher-ranked opponents in No. 3 South Medford, No. 6 Mountainside and No. 7 Clackamas.
Before this year, J.J. had coached in only a handful of playoff games during his 10 years at Canby — and had never won a single one. Now, he has four under his belt and is one away from helping bring Canby its first-ever state title in baseball.
“I am extremely proud of J.J. and his squad for having a great season,” Jeff said. “Great playoff run, and I’m sure they are going to represent Canby very well in the final game. Making it this far is icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.
“I have been proud of J.J. and his crew for battling and competing, not only on the field, but battling and competing with the adversity and trials that this life has thrown at them this season.”
Regardless of records or rankings, neither coach ever took it for granted that they would be playing for a state title this year. When it became clear on Tuesday that they both would be, they called and shared a moment.
“It’s never once come up in a conversation where we were like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t that be something?'” J.J. said. “Our goal is always to have the best season we can and help guys get better. But when we talked Tuesday night, it was like, ‘Shoot, this is pretty sweet.’ It’s pretty special, something we’ll remember forever.”
J.J. said he is happy for and proud of his dad and his native city.
“I’m super pumped for him and the whole Lebanon community,” he said. “They’re a tight-knit community like ours. They’re a Canby down by Albany and Corvallis. And my dad, he works his tail off. He just loves working for the kids.
“He doesn’t do this for himself. He knows that he’s in the man-building business and that’s what he’s trying to do: trying to develop these kids for lifelong success.”
When the Lebanon Warriors take the field at 10 a.m. Saturday, coach Jeff Stolsig will have at least one lifelong fan in the stands.
“I’m going to down there and support him, and I’m sure my stomach will be in knots for him and his team,” J.J. said. “We’re both just rooting like heck for each other.”
And when the Cougs do battle later that same day, coach J.J. Stolsig will have a few of his own.
“I will need to return to Lebanon to drop off the kids that ride the mini-bus home with me and then I will certainly return to watch the game with Lori and the rest of my family and my coaching staff,” Jeff said.
“I am so happy for J.J. and his program and the success they have had this season. They do things the right way. It is not by luck or mere circumstances they are in this position. They are seeing the results of hard work and doing things the right way.”
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