Photo courtesy of Sheryl Van Fleet
Andrew Stanley Van Fleet was a bold child, always finding something new and exciting to do. As a young boy, he and a friend made a fort that leaned up against his neighbor’s fence.
“We thought it was a bright idea to build a fort with tractor tires and wood on a wheat field, which was pretty flammable,” Van Fleet said.
They weren’t satisfied simply playing in the fort. Together, they had the bright idea of attempting to cook in the fort.
“We went up on the hillside and shot with our BB guns a quail and cooked it in this little fort,” Van Fleet said.
While cooking the quail, they accidentally caught their fort on fire which led to catching the fence on fire too. Since his parents and brother were out of the house, young Van Fleet had to call the fire department himself.
His parents came home to a burned down fence and the firefighters packing up after the fire was put out.
“He ended up spending the summer rebuilding the fence; he fixed it all,” Tyler Van Fleet, Andy’s brother said.
Andy Van Fleet is a widely known figure at Tigard High School, but how well does the student body and staff truly know him? Not as well as his family. Andy was raised in Klamath Falls, Oregon with his younger brother Tyler, and parents Bryon and Sheryl.
Just like any athletic, hyper-competitive boy growing up, Andy defined himself as an athlete first and foremost. He was a part of many sports including baseball, golf, basketball, track and field, crew, soccer, cricket, and rugby.
“We watched him play all sports but enjoyed following his basketball the most,” Andy’s mom Sheryl said. “He seemed to love playing basketball.”
This was no surprise to Sheryl; his favorite toy as a little boy was any type of ball, especially basketballs.
Growing up in Klamath Falls opened up a wide range of outdoor activities, giving Andy the opportunity to go on many other adventures.
“Hunting and fishing was my background and what I loved to do; I loved to hike, loved to be in the outdoors” Andy said. “That is a passion that continued over, so I still am an avid hunter, fisherman, outdoors person.”
In high school and college, Andy was a river rafting guide on the Klamath River. He wanted to be outdoors at all times if possible.
Along with Andy, Tyler, his little brother, also loved being in the outdoors.
“Once we were rafting [in middle school] and a bear came into our campsite and we had to fight it off by throwing rocks at it and chase it away,” Tyler said.
Andy and Tyler were two years apart and were close, but they still had their sibling quarrels, just like any brothers would.
“When [Tyler] was mad at me he would wait to come kick me or punch me… [then] he would run away as fast as he could and he’d run upstairs and sit with my mom just knowing he got his cheap shot in,” Andy said.
One great memory that they share together is when they would go get black licorice ice cream while traveling to Medford.
“I love black licorice ice cream [along with Andy] but mostly we would get it all over our faces,” Tyler said. “That’s a memory from a while back; we were pretty little.”
Bryon, Andy’s dad, vividly remembers Andy as a young boy playing in a fort at Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon; he crawled up the staircase and was playing at the top. He was so busy playing around up there he didn’t realize the staircase was right behind him. He took a step back and dropped down the spiral stairs.
“He just fell out of sight and I could hear this awful clanging and banging as he descended like a pinball,” Bryon said.
Since Andy was inside a tube, he could not be caught. This was quite a scary experience for both him and his parents. Andy was sure he got a concussion from the fall.
“Concussion?” Bryon said. “I don’t think so.”
As a high schooler, Andy was a varsity soccer player and wanted to keep up his speed, so he decided to join the track and field team on his off season his junior year. During his second meet of the season, in his first event, the long jump, Andy’s knee popped; he just brushed it off. He then substituted in for a 4×100 meter relay race which was unplanned. While running in the race, Andy handed off the baton and fell to the ground in pain.
“My knee hyperextended from the injury I sustained from the long jump,” Andy said. He had stopped too fast and ended up blowing out two ligaments in one leg.
“This took a five-hour surgery and was very worrisome, not knowing what the short and long term results might be,” Sheryl said.
She was thankful because as it turned out, he had the Philadelphia Eagles’ team doctor who had just begun working in Klamath Falls.
His recovery was four long months. Sheryl marveled at how hard he worked at his physical therapy and at his dedication to stay involved in sports. He joined the crew team to help him stay in shape as he recovered, hoping he would be able to play basketball his senior year. Up until his injury, he had always aspired to be a college athlete. During his senior year, he was able to play basketball, but he was not up to the same level as he was the year before.
“I healed up enough to play, but I was a step slower,” Andy said.
He set foot onto the OSU campus his freshman year as a non-athlete. This was something he couldn’t have ever imagined for himself. Although the experience was disappointing, he also considers it one of the best things that happened to him because he had to readjust his priorities.
According to Andy, life turned out for the best because if fate hadn’t sent him to OSU, he wouldn’t have met his wife and have his three “perfect, spunky” daughters.
As it turned out, Andy still had one more shot at basketball. In his junior year, he had begun playing OSU club rugby when Eddie Payne, the head coach recruited him for basketball. He quit rugby to try out for the basketball team. It didn’t work out quite how he had planned.
“I had a two day tryout with Oregon State Beavers; I got cut, but it was fun,” Andy said.
Coming out of high school, Andy’s mind was set to go to college and become a fisheries and wildlife scientist.
“Fact: that’s all I was going to do; I was going to be a forest ranger,” Andy said.
Even with this determination, Andy found that this career choice wasn’t the best fit for him. “Chemistry whooped me… it was such a difficult class coming out of high school because I didn’t focus enough in my science classes,” Andy said.
After dropping Chemistry, a required class for science majors, he abandoned his dreams of fisheries and wildlife. He spent some time looking at political science and elementary education as possible majors. While studying, he got connected back into coaching and became an outdoor school counselor.
“I absolutely loved the experience of teaching the kids about the ecosystem, and ironically, I was teaching science even though I dropped that as my major,” Andy said. “I realized teaching [was] what I wanted to do.”
That difficulty in Chemistry was a nudge in Andy’s life’s direction. Discovering how much he enjoyed teaching made it clear. But it wasn’t as if a career in teaching was entirely foreign to him. He didn’t head down the path of teaching alone. After all, his father was a science teacher, and his little brother Tyler became a Spanish teacher.
Sheryl really admires adult Andy’s humility, sense of humor and especially his ability to make people laugh with his stories.
“He is a great storyteller… he is able to laugh at himself, which provides some of his funniest stories,” Sheryl said.
Andy may seem like just an authority figure, but he’s much more than that to his family and friends.
“To you he is probably Mr. Van Fleet, to us he is just our Andy,” Bryon said.