Whitman Inducts First Five into Athletics Hall of Fame
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Five former Whitman College athletes, two of whom later served as long-time coaches at the college, have been elected as the first class of inductees in the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame.
The inaugural class includes Jerome "Jerry" Hillis, a two-way football star from the late 1950s who three times earned national honors from the Associated Press, and Susan Hubbard Sakimoto, a three-sport athlete who sparked Whitman to a 1988 conference title in women's basketball.
Rounding out the first class of inductees are Raymond V. Borleske and William Martin, two exceptional athletes who competed prior to World War I, and Robert Graham, a world-class sprinter whose bid for a berth at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was derailed by injury.
Of the five, only Sakimoto and Hillis are still living. Hillis is a senior partner in a prominent Seattle, Wash., law firm. Sakimoto, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, lives in Greenbelt, Md.
The Whitman Hall of Fame's Executive Board, comprised of former student-athletes and coaches, selected the first class of inductees, based on nominations submitted during the past year.
Among criteria for induction, primary emphasis is given to contributions to Whitman athletics. Other points of consideration may include contribution to the college as a whole and achievements after graduation.
Whitman, a private, independent liberal arts and sciences college of about 1,400 students, sponsors a total of 16 men's and women's varsity teams. A founding member of the Northwest Conference, Whitman competes as a member of NCAA Division III.
For profiles on the first five members of Whitman's Athletics Hall of Fame, check the links below:
Raymond V. Borleske
Raymond Vincent Borleske, who starred at Whitman from 1906 to 1910, is regarded as possibly the best athlete to ever grace the playing fields of the college. As a running back, fierce defender and kicker in football, Borleske was a fixture on all-Northwest Conference teams. As a baseball player, he pitched, caught and played third base. Later in life, in a Whitman coaching career that spanned more than three decades, Borleske led his alma mater to a total of 17 conference championships in football, baseball and basketball.
As an athlete, Borleske left his biggest mark in football, where he served as Whitman's captain in his final two seasons. Boosted by lavish praise from opposing coaches, Borleske became the first athlete from the western U.S. to receive Honorable Mention All-America recognition from Walter Camp's Spaulding Football Guide. Bill Martin, also a member of Whitman's Athletic Hall of Fame, played alongside Borleske before transferring to Notre Dame, where he competed against more highly publicized athletes, including the legendary Jim Thorpe. "Thorpe is generally considered the greatest back of all time," Martin said, "but there wasn't a thing he could do that (Borleske) couldn't do as well or better." In his final football game, against Washington State, Borleske returned a fumble 85 yards for Whitman's only score, knocking down five would-be tacklers in the process.
Borleske also captained the baseball teams in his junior and senior seasons, leading Whitman to back-to-back second-place finishes in Northwest collegiate baseball. As a junior in a twinbill against Washington State, Borleske tripled home two runs to spark one triumph and then pitched Whitman to victory in the nightcap. He finished that season as the winning pitcher in one of the games against Idaho, striking out 12 while giving up just three hits. As a senior, Borleske twirled a two-hitter in his final game, pitching Whitman to a 6-1 victory over Washington State.
A graduate of Spokane, Wash., High School, Borleske was a natural leader at Whitman, both on the field and off. He served as president of the junior class and then held the same position with the associated student government in his final year. For most of his college career, Borleske also worked as an assistant instructor in mathematics at Whitman's academy, or preparatory school.
After completing his law degree at the University of Oregon Law School, Borleske answered a call from Whitman President Stephen Penrose and returned to campus in 1915 as football, baseball and basketball coach. He led his alma mater to conference football titles in 1921, 1928, 1930 and 1931, but he enjoyed his greatest coaching success in baseball. Borleske directed Whitman to 10 Northwest Conference baseball crowns, amassing an impressive won-loss record of 530-368. His basketball teams also savored a strong run, winning seven conference titles in one 12-year span.
After retiring from coaching in 1947, Borleske served two terms as mayor of Walla Walla, finding time to coach an American Legion baseball team during his second term. Borleske Stadium is named in his honor, as well as the Borleske Trophy awarded annually to the top male athlete at Whitman. Borleske is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame and was the first inductee to the Washington Sports Hall of Fame. Borleske died on Jan. 2, 1957, six days before his 70th birthday.
Robert "Bob" Graham
Robert "Bob" Graham, a 1936 graduate, was a world-class sprinter who starred on the Whitman track teams, specializing in the 100-yard and 220-yard events. Bidding for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in 1936, Graham qualified for the national finals in New York by placing second in the Far West tryouts. The winner of that particular race, who broke the existing Olympic record, was Mack Robinson, older brother of the Jackie Robinson, who later broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Because of a leg injury, Graham was unable to run in the national finals, missing a chance to join legendary sprinter Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics.
While at Whitman, Graham dominated the sprint events, winning conference titles in the 100- and 220-yard events in 1934, 1935 and 1936. He remains the Whitman school record holder in both the 100-yard dash (9.6 seconds) and 220-yard sprint (21.2 seconds).
Nicknamed "Bullet Bob" and the "Flying Phantom" by local news media, Graham led Whitman to the conference title in 1934 and 1935 (Linfield edged Whitman by two points in 1936). As a sophomore and junior, Graham also anchored Whitman's winning mile relay team at the conference championships. As a senior, he nearly gave Whitman a third straight conference crown in the mile relay, running his leg in in 47.9 seconds and failing by inches to close a gap that was nearly 40 yards when he took the baton.
A native of Payette, Idaho, and graduate of Ontario (Ore.) High School, Graham graduated magna cum laude from Whitman, where he also earned Phi Beta Kappa honors and served president of the junior class as well as the associated student government. He completed his law degree at New York's Columbia University Law School. A partner in one of Seattle's largest law firms, Graham was active in civic affairs, serving as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Seattle Rotary Club.
In 1978, Graham traveled to Vienna, Austria, with then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to represent the U.S. in troop reduction talks between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations. Graham died in Seattle on Jan. 5, 1990, at the age of 74. He was serving at the time as chair of the Whitman Board of Overseers.
Jerome "Jerry" Hillis
At a time when football coaches were beginning to limit athletes to playing either on offense or defense, Jerry Hillis excelled on both sides of the line of scrimmage. A linebacker on defense and end on offense, Hillis was a four-year starter from 1957 through 1960, when he earned a host of regional and national honors. In his final three seasons, Hillis received Honorable Mention Little All-America recognition from the Associated Press, as well as All-Northwest and All-Northwest Conference honors. As a junior and senior, when he served as the Whitman captain, Hillis was the only athlete named to the all-conference team on both offense and defense. As a senior, he was one of only two Northwest players named by the Associated Press to its All-West Coast Small College First Team.
By late in his sophomore season, when Whitman coach Robert Thomsen switched to playing two distinct sets of athletes, one on offense and one on defense, Hillis was the lone exception who continued to play both ways. As one newspaper columnist noted, Hillis was "great on offense, but astounding on defense." Game statistics often showed Hillis with as many as two dozen tackles. Following one game, a newspaper reporter simply credited him with making "virtually every other tackle."
While his defensive play was routinely described as spectacular and sensational, Hillis was also a potent weapon on offense. In his final two seasons, playing at a time when the passing attack was subordinate to the ground game, he nonetheless caught 50 passes for over 600 yards. He ranked among the conference leaders in pass receptions in both years. During his junior season, when Whitman posted a 5-3 record, Hillis keyed one victory with eight catches, one for a 24-yard touchdown. As a senior, when Whitman struggled with injuries and illness, the 6-foot, 195-pound Hillis continued to put his versatility to good use. He made four fumble recoveries in one game, caught six passes in another, and substituted at running back in a third, rushing 26 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Hillis, who also lettered twice in track and field as a quarter miler, capped his athletic career by winning the first Northwest Conference Student Athlete Trophy. He was one of four athletes from around the conference nominated for the award, which recognized academic achievement and campus activities as well as athletic accomplishments. A political science major, Hillis served as president of the Whitman Political Union, competed in varsity debate, and was a member of a Pi Kappa Delta, a national forensics honorary. He twice received the Royal F. Niles Trophy as Whitman's most outstanding and inspirational football player, and was a co-winner of the Borleske Trophy, given to the most outstanding senior athlete.
Following his graduation, Hillis remained at Whitman for two years, revitalizing the Alumni Office as its director. He also served as an assistant football coach for one season. A graduate of Edmonds (Wash.) High School, Hillis returned to the Seattle area to enroll at the University of Washington Law School, where he completed his law degree in 1966. As a senior partner in his own law firm, he quickly became a nationally recognized authority on land use, environmental and real estate law. He served on the Washington State Land Planning Commission and chaired the King County Planning Committee.
Hillis has remained a staunch supporter of Whitman throughout his adult life. He served on the Board of Trustees for 20 years, including one stint as its chair. He became the first person in college history to have served as alumni director and on all three of the college governing boards. Hillis is the father of three children, two of whom are Whitman graduates.
Charles William "Bill" Martin
Although Bill Martin played football and baseball at Whitman in the early years of the 20th century, track was his primary claim to fame. After blossoming into an extraordinary sprinter in two seasons at Whitman and its prep academy, he transferred to Notre Dame, where his times in the sprints in 1911 earned him the title of "world's fastest human." He set a world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.6 seconds, and he tied the world mark in the 220-yard event at 21.1 seconds. Although he did not compete in the 1912 Olympics, Martin was the top U.S. qualifier, beating two rivals who later won gold medals.
While at Notre Dame, Martin also starred as a split end on its football team. Newspapers in the Chicago, Ill., area named him to their All-America Team. After graduating from Notre Dame, he turned down an offer to play Major League baseball for the New York Giants. He enrolled instead in the Law School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also served as an assistant track coach. The University of North Carolina hired him away as its head football coach, but WWI soon interrupted his coaching career. After serving in the Air Corps as a First Lieutenant, Martin was named head track coach at Penn State, where he placed five athletes on the U.S. Olympic team in 1920. In 1925, he accepted the head coaching position at Harvard, then considered the top track school in the nation.
Returning with his family to the Walla Walla Valley, Martin purchased a ranch and became the head track coach at Whitman for the 1934-35 school year, winning a Northwest Conference title in his first season. Beginning in 1937, his teams won seven consecutive conference crowns. Martin added three more titles to his coaching resume in 1955, 1957 and 1958. He also served as an assistant football coach and Whitman's athletic trainer during the 1930s and 1940s. He retired in the spring of 1969, taking with him numerous coaching honors. His 1966 cross country team placed third in the nation, the same year that he was named National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) regional track coach of the year.
A native of the Wallula and Touchet areas, Martin died in Walla Walla on March 14, 1978, at the age of 90. Whitman's track and field facility, Martin Field, was named in his honor in 1980.
Susan Hubbard Sakimoto
Susan Hubbard Sakimoto, who finished her degree in 1989, led Whitman to a conference championship in basketball, shared in a conference title in volleyball, and competed in the NCAA national championships in track and field. In earning six of her ten varsity letters in her first two years at Whitman, she earned high praise from coaches as well as professors, who described her as a "gem" and "workhorse," and as the "model student-athlete."
Sakimoto enjoyed her finest season, perhaps, as a senior co- captain in basketball, leading Whitman in both scoring (15.3 points per game), rebounding (8.4 rebounds per game), and shooting percentage (56.2 percent). She scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a season-ending victory that clinched Whitman's 1988 conference title. She earned First-Team All- Conference basketball honors, receiving more votes from coaches than any other player. With tennis player Lynn Greer, Sakimoto shared that year's Mignon Borleske Trophy as the top female athlete at Whitman.
Sakimoto, a 6-foot-1 center and forward, finished her basketball career with 1,124 points and 787 rebounds. She led Whitman in rebounding in each of her four seasons, and she ranks third all-time in career rebounding at Whitman (she is No. 7 all-time in scoring). She shot a combined 51.3 percent from the floor in her four seasons. She earned second-team all-conference honors as a junior.
Sakimoto made an immediate impact in track and field during her first year at Whitman, dominating one early season dual meet by winning two individual races and contributing to a pair of Whitman relay victories. Later that spring, she was part of Whitman's winning 400-meter relay team at the 1985 conference championships, where she also placed second in her strongest event, the 400-meter hurdles. One week later, running at the NAIA district meet, she set a new school record in the 400 hurdles. Later that month, she ran the 400 hurdles in the NCAA Div. III National Championships but failed to qualify for the finals.
As a sophomore and junior, Sakimoto finished second in the 400 hurdles at the conference championship meets. As a junior, she won both the 100 and 400 hurdles at the Whitman Invitational at Martin Field. She remains the Whitman record holder in the 100 hurdles with a time of 15.3 seconds. At one time, she also held a share of the school record in the 1,600-meter relay. She missed most of her senior track because of injury.
A middle blocker in volleyball, Sakimoto was part of a conference championship squad in her first season at Whitman. After earning honorable mention all-conference recognition as a sophomore, she skipped her next two volleyball seasons to concentrate on basketball. Sakimoto capped her Whitman athletic career by playing in the 1988 fall volleyball season as a fifth-year senior. She slammed 17 kills in one match to set a school record. She also set school records that fall for blocks and block assists. She averaged 2.5 blocks per game that season, ranking No. 15 nationally in the NAIA.
A graduate of Sandpoint (Idaho) High School, Sakimoto majored in geology and minored in astronomy and physics at Whitman. She later completed her master's and doctoral degrees in earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University and presently works as a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.