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'Spalding Strong' immortalizes former North Bend QB swept away at sea

Ian Spalding was known as a mentor and leader to just about everyone he came across and the legacy he leaves behind will be felt at North Bend High School and beyond.

Posted: Mar 6, 2021 12:15 AM
Updated: Mar 6, 2021 12:53 AM

Coos Bay, Ore. -- You'd be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't inspired by Ian Spalding. 

"I think he was a role model type of leader that if you were around him enough then you were kinda gonna have to feel like you should being what he's doing because that's the right thing to be doing," said Brad Horning, Ian's high school baseball coach at North Bend.

"He was always encouraging, that's the kind of leader he was," Gary Prince, Ian's high school football coach, explained. "He was positive demanding I guess you wanna call it right."

Those that knew Spalding spoke often about his leadership qualities, most of which were on display from an early age. As he stepped into the role of catcher and quarterback, Ian embraced the role of mentor and captain.

"He was actually that definition [of a] leader," said Thurston senior Jacob Newell, who played offseason 7-on-7 football with Ian. "He just picked everyone up. It was truly amazing. He had a gift really."

"They talked about it quite at his memorial quite a bit to be a servant leader," Price said. "That truly is who Ian was."

"He could've been arrogant and cocky and things like that," Horning followed up. "Could've been the bully figured in your school. But that was not him. That was not him."

As a teenager, Spalding often spoke to his own mentors about someday being a coach. His unexpected passing, in which he fell from the rocks near Norton Gulch in Coos Bay and was swept out to sea, came right as he was finding his stride with his new 7 on 7 team. While search teams combed the Oregon coast for any sign of him, his MVP teammates came together in Eugene to say a prayer for their friend. After three days in June, the search was called off. 

One month later, MVP was competing in the Pylon National 7 on 7 tournament in Las Vegas. And while players say they never explicitly told one another they would be competing in Ian's memory, they knew it. MVP made it to the final facing one of the top teams in the nation, HEIR, whose roster was filled with five star recruits. Under usual circumstances, it would be a foregon conclusion that HEIR would win the title. But something extraordinary happened.

"They had a third and five and the top rated wide receiver in the country drops a wide open hitch," remembers Matt Quinn, one of the founders and head coaches of MVP 7 on 7. "I guarantee you that kid makes that catch 999 times out of 1000. And he was in the slot, and it was right in front of our right outside linebacker. And that was Ian's spot when he played defense for us."

"It was like a ghost," Newell recalled. "It was like holy smokes that was Ian playing defense for us. It should've been a touchdown. It was the spirit of God right there."

"We as coaches, we've talked about it and we're like you cannot tell me in any way shape or form, Ian did not pop that thing out."

Over the summer, a small memorial service was held on Vic Adams Field in North Bend and the words 'Spalding Strong' became immortalized as not just a way to remember a young man that embodied the spirit of Coos Bay like others before, but as a rallying cry to live life in the moment and for the people around you.

"To me it just means to care," said Horning when asked what 'Spalding Strong' means to him. "Because I think that's the thing he did more than most people, which is care. He cared about himself, he cared about his family, he cared about his teammates. He was very respected by his opponents and his opponents coaches and he just cared greatly."

"There's this symbol of family in my mind," Prince concluded. "You've got Mike, Carly and Emma, you also have his grandparents, aunts, uncles and his cousins. But Spalding Strong, that family I think is much bigger than the immediate family. You had his teachers, you had his coaches, his teammates. You had young kids in the hallways at the middle school and the elementary school. It means a lot. It means all of us being a small part of Ian's life was meaningful. I think that's what Spalding Strong means."

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