By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– I remember seeing River Thompson last year as a Senior with the Oregon School of the Deaf. About my height, five-foot-sixish, maybe closer to five-foot-eight. Red-dyed hair and glasses.
But damn that kid was physical.
Going up against the Washington School of the Deaf in the rivalry game in Salem, Thompson was bumping around, fighting for an advantage on the ball. Similar to how Jenna O’Dery was for the girls’ basketball team with the Panthers this past season.
For Thompson, there was a sense of pride going up against the deaf schools, especially with the Washington School for the Deaf. Playing at a deaf school, it teaches you to be visual the 2020-grad points out. Picking and choosing when to talk, regardless if it’s against a deaf school or a hearing school like everyone in the Casco League at the 1A level as the Panthers lost a close battle on this January 11, 2020 night 57-42 against the Terriers.
“When I play against deaf schools, I’m more physical, I’m more cautious with the shots that I take and I pride myself in how good of defense we play. My team loves physical defense and that’s my style, I’m a three and D type of basketball player,” Thompson said. “Playing against other deaf schools is super fun especially because the deaf world is so small and we typically get along quickly.
“My old school in Utah, Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, is also involved with Western States Basketball Classic and whenever I play them it feels so fun, playing against my former classmates and friends from my old school. I know about 97% of the boy’s team.”
Utah, Washington and Oregon are just three teams that take part in the Western States Basketball Classic every year, joining other deaf schools like Arizona School for the Deaf and Idaho School for the Deaf to play in the annual tournament. The location of the tournament rotates amongst the schools.
For Thompson, sports have been life. Football. Soccer. Basketball. Track and Field as well as Cross Country. He’s done a lot of sports and leaving it all on the field, court and track of play.
Track was his most versatile sport. Having reaching the State Championships in the 100-meter hurdles in Middle School and Thompson was looking for another this past Spring before graduating.
The Oregon School For the Deaf has sent at least one athlete to the Big Show every year since 2016 and Thompson felt like this past Spring, he was ready for it. His versatility, doing the 110-meter, 300-meter hurdles. Doing the 400-meter dash and the 4×400 relay as well.
Pretty much everything except shot put, pole vault and discus. He’s tried High Jump, but couldn’t get the correct form down Thompson said.
At small schools like the Panthers, a OSAA 1A School, more events you do could mean more team points in the meet. For Thompson, he enjoyed the challenges of doing different events as he had high hopes for what could have been.
““I enjoy doing different things. Same events get me bored and I like to learn things. I like to do whatever the team needs me to. Even if I’ve never done the event before,” Thompson said.
“I wanted to leave it on a good note. I felt my senior year was the best shape I’ve been in, I was most motivated. I made state in middle school for hurdles and haven’t since I joined high school. Senior year was my year, and I felt it.”
That was. Until the Coronavirus Pandemic struck. Canceling a good feeling and made it a big ‘what if’. Thompson felt down as many Seniors did as their High School careers drew to a close, but it also helped him reflect on his time in the Purple uniform he’s been donning since the seventh-grade.
“It helped me appreciate hard work,” Thompson starts. “I never really understood what it’s like to work hard, but I set goals for myself that led to PR’s all the time. I felt very appreciative about my success, I just wish I could’ve left more on my name.
“All the failures have made me realize my loyalty to the deaf community and the deaf school. I couldn’t leave if I wanted too.”
As he’s trying to figure out his next move a year-out from High School, he reflects on one moment that he’ll also remember from playing with the Oregon School for the Deaf. When he and his Panther teammates nearly ruined Brooks Willamette Valley Christian’s first game on their new court his Senior year on December 12, 2019 in the 50-48 defeat to the Spartans.
Sharing moments like that with his brethren moving into this next chapter of his life.
“My favorite memory was the feeling of being around all my brothers. All the traveling to other states and all the hard work we put in,” Thompson said.