A quarter century has passed since Pete Whisler helped usher in the glory days of Mazama baseball.
From 1994 to 1998, Whisler went 115-17 as the Vikings' coach, leading them to the big-school state title in 1996. He followed that title by guiding a Klamath Falls-based American Legion team to a state championship the ensuing summer.
“We had a lot of pitching then,” said Whisler, the 4A coach of the year in 1996. “We ran through some talent those few years.”
Now Whisler, 60, has come full circle. He is back in charge at 4A Mazama after spending the last five seasons assisting at Henley. It is his first high school head coaching job since a six-year run at Klamath Union ended in 2013.
“This particular time in my life, I just figured it was the right thing for me to do,” said Whisler, who has coached the area's Legion team – the Klamath Falls Falcons – for most of the last three decades. “I feel good with the decision I made. We'll see.”
After Whisler left Mazama to coach South Medford in 1999, the Vikings continued to have success under coach Jeff Sturgeon, winning 3A titles in 2000 and 2003. But they did not post a winning record in their last nine seasons under Sturgeon, who was succeeded in 2017 by Josh Moore.
Mazama went 37-33 in the last three seasons under Moore, a member of the 1996 title team. In 2019, Mazama finished 14-11, its most wins in 12 years, and placed third in the Skyline Conference.
“They had some decent clubs,” Whisler said.
Can Whisler help the Vikings reconnect to their storied past?
“We hope so. That's what we do it for,” he said. “You've got to get kids to believe no matter who you play, you can win. You've got to get them in the mentality that you've got to beat everybody the same. It doesn't matter if you play North Valley or North Medford, you've got to get them to compete at a lever where everything matters.”
Whisler is a household name in Klamath County baseball. As a standout shortstop, he helped lead Klamath Union to the big-school state title in 1979, pulling out a 4-3 win in the final over a Corvallis team that featured future MLB all-star Harold Reynolds.
Whisler began his college career at San Diego State and transferred to Canada College, a junior college in Redwood City, Calif., before signing a pro contract with the Cleveland Indians. He played one season at single-A Waterloo, hitting .231 in 66 games in 1980.
He assisted in college programs at Western Oregon, Willamette and Oregon Tech, where he also served two seasons (1989-90) as head coach before the Owls dropped baseball. He coached at Mazama and South Medford (1999-2001), then went back for a second stint as Oregon Tech's coach (2002-07) when the school reinstated the sport.
Whisler went 79-79 in six seasons at Klamath Union (2008-13), where he coached his sons, Jake and Joe, both of whom went on to play at Western Oregon. Jake now is an assistant coach at Umpqua Community College.
Whisler assisted Sturgeon at Mazama in 2014 before joining the staff at Henley.
As a Legion coach, he is well connected with players from schools in the Klamath County School District, where he runs the GED program at Falcon Heights Academy, an alternative school.
“We've done some things over the last couple summers. We've competed better at the Legion level, and we're going to continue to do so,” he said. “There is some good young talent at Mazama right now. A lot of young kids. And hopefully, we can teach them to play the right way, respect the game.”
Whisler is still working on putting together his coaching staff. He said one likely addition will be Chris Niebergall, his old college roommate at Western Oregon.
As for Whisler, he will stick with the same style he used when he first took over the Vikings in 1994.
“I'm pretty much the same, pretty much old school,” he said. “I know kids have changed over the years, and parents have changed. Just the dynamics have changed over the years. But my style is not going to change any. I'll still do it the way I do it.
“It may last for a year, it may last for a couple. Who knows? We'll see.”