When opportunity knocked, they answered. Their athletic prowess overshadowed that of their peers. And their accomplishments have stood the test of time.
As a result, five men and one woman were inducted into the Washington State University Athletic Hall of Fame in March. Drew Bledsoe, John Chaplin, Jason Hanson, John Olerud, Bob Robertson, and Sarah Silvernail join 99 athletes, coaches, and administrators enshrined since the hall was created in 1978.
Here’s what Cougar colleagues have to say about the new honorees:
“When I made up the lineup, I always put Ole [John Olerud] in the third spot—where you want your best all-around player—and filled in around him,” former baseball coach Bobo Brayton says of his first baseman/pitcher. As a sophomore in 1988, Ole set school single-season records for home runs (23), batting average (.464), and pitching (15-0).
“He led the world in everything,” says Brayton. On the rare occasion when Ole faltered a little on the mound, Bobo would visit the big lefthander with words of advice: “Remember you are John Olerud. There’s no one better.” He was named national College Player of the Year in 1988.
After his junior year, Olerud signed with Toronto in 1989 and went directly to the major leagues. He helped the Blue Jays win back-to-back World Series and won the 1993 American League batting title (.363). After two years with the New York Mets, he returned to his native Seattle and the Mariners, where he was a member of the 2001 All-Star team. His father, John Olerud, an All-America catcher in 1965, was inducted into the WSU hall of fame in 1986.
Cougar football coach Mike Price calls former quarterback Drew Bledsoe and kicker Jason Hanson “the best players at their positions WSU has ever had.”
Bledsoe earned All-America honors after arriving from Walla Walla and directing WSU to a 1992 Copper Bowl victory. He finished his three-year collegiate career with 7,373 passing yards, 532 completions in 979 attempts, and 46 touchdown passes. Drafted by the New England Patriots in 1993, he became at 22 the youngest quarterback in NFL history to play in the Pro Bowl.
“Drew’s the total package. He always has been. He always will be,” says Price, in reference to Bledsoe’s athletic ability, character, leadership, and deportment on and off the field. “The same could be said about Jason Hanson.”
Hanson, who comes from Spokane, was a three-time All-America selection as a punter/kicker and three-time Academic All-America between 1988 and 1991. He made 63 of 96 field goals attempts, including 19 of 30 from 50-59 yards at WSU. His 62-yard field goal against UNLV is the longest in NCAA history without a kicking tee.
“When he’s hot, no one can kick better or farther,” Price says.
Drafted by Detroit in 1992, Hanson led the Lions in scoring nine consecutive years into 2001.
John Chaplin came to WSU from Los Angeles and set world indoor records in the 220- (22.1) and 330- (33.4) yard dashes. The 1963 team captain returned to the University in 1968 as cross country coach and added head-track-and-field-coach duties in 1973. The Cougars went undefeated in dual meets nine seasons en route to a 202-17 record during his 21-year tenure. WSU won four Pac-10 outdoor championships, was NCAA runner-up four times outdoors, and claimed the 1977 NCAA indoor championship. Chaplin’s athletes earned 105 All-America certificates and 61 conference titles.
“John Chaplin put Washington State track and field on the map,” says current coach Rick Sloan. In 2000, Chaplin coached the USA men’s track and field team in the Olympics in Sydney.
Sarah Silvernail, the fifth woman to be selected to the hall of fame, had “the greatest impact on the volleyball program of any player we’ve ever had,” coach Cindy Fredrick says of the two-time All-America. The 1996 Pac-10 Player of the Year “completely dominated teams. She could take over a match.”
Silvernail’s WSU records for career kills (1,848), single-season kills (649), and most kills in a match (39) still stand.
The Fife High School graduate was a member of the 1997 USA National Team. She played with Chicago in the U.S. Professional Volleyball league and recently played professionally in Switzerland.
Last fall Bob Robertson completed his 35th season as play-by-play announcer of WSU football games. He began broadcasting Cougar sports in 1964. After a three-year absence, he returned permanently in 1972 as “voice of the Cougars” in football. He also broadcast men’s basketball until 1993.
“There isn’t much Bob hasn’t seen in Cougar football or, for that matter, basketball,” says sports information director Rod Commons. “He’s the consummate professional in doing his homework and the way he treats people.”
A product of Western Washington University, Robertson has broadcast Notre Dame football and basketball (1972-82), Pacific Coast League baseball (1984-98), North American Soccer League action (1972-82), and Spokane Indian baseball (1999-present). He has been voted Sportscaster of the Year in Washington 15 times.