Since then, the Cougars have been to the baseball playoffs in four straight years. The basketball team has qualified for regional play three times in four years and the Spanish Springs football team has clinched back-to-back postseason berths.
Now, Oates may have had a lot or just a little do with all those programs achieving success, but it’s hard to argue he had none. Oates is one of the rare high school athletes that plays all three major team sports and excels. His efforts on the football gridiron, basketball hardwood and baseball diamond have earned him the honor of Sparks Tribune male athlete of the year.
The award is chosen by the newspaper’s sports staff and goes to the top senior male athlete from a Rail City high school — Reed, Sparks or Spanish Springs.
“You usually get quite a few freshmen and sophomores who play three sports,” Spanish Springs baseball coach Ben Hofmann said. “But to get that kid that competes in all three team sports, at the highest level, is rare. I wish there were more of them, but in this day and age you see so many kids specializing in one sport.”
Oates, who will walk in Spanish Springs’ graduation ceremonies June 11, was a first team Northern 4A second baseman for the Cougars’ baseball team, an honorable mention quarterback for the SSHS football squad and a starting guard on the local school’s basketball club. Oates helped all three programs qualify for the Northern 4A playoffs and he led the Cougars’ baseball team to a regional title and just its second trip to Nevada’s large-school state tournament.
“I enjoy sports,” Oates said. “They’ve always been part of my life. When I was growing up, I played everything form soccer to baseball. In high school, I wanted to play three sports. I thought it would keep me busy and out of trouble.
“Every athlete wants to compete. I’m always competing, whether it’s with friends or whatever. Who knows if that’s always good, but I love to compete. I don’t like to fall short or be second in anything.”
Oates made the Cougars’ varsity baseball roster as a sophomore and has earned all-league honors after each of his varsity campaigns. During the recently completed spring season, he hit a team-leading .520.
“Baseball, by far, has always been my favorite sport,” Oates said. “My dad played D-1 baseball at UNR. My parents kind of pushed me into sports but especially baseball. Then after a while, they didn’t have to press any more. I’ve been playing baseball since I was six. I like that you can go 3-for-10 and be considered great. It’s a very imperfect sport. One guy cannot carry a team.”
Oates gave the Cougars’ football team a big shot in the arm when he arrived on the varsity roster for the fall of 2009. SSHS football coach Scott Hare took over in 2006. Through his first three years, the Cougars’ program struggled to find a quarterback that could pass well enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
Oates changed that, even going on to be recognized as one of the league’s best signal callers. As a junior, Oates guided Spanish Springs to its first playoff berth and a High Desert League runner-up finish, which resulted in a home playoff game. A year later, Oates led the Cougars to their second-straight postseason bid.
“I knew he was a baseball-first type guy, but I really thought he could help us on the football field and he did,” Hare said. “With Tanner at quarterback, we won some of the biggest games this program has ever won. We beat McQueen for the first time school history. We beat Palma (CA), which has lost only two games since, and we won at Reno for the first time … He gave us everything he had everyday and I really appreciated that.”
In November 2009, Oates was playing in a regional quarterfinal football playoff game against Galena. He separated his shoulder in the loss. The injury forced Oates to sit out his winter basketball season and limited his pitching ability during the spring of his junior year.
“That shoulder injury was tough. It definitely put a damper on my junior year,” Oates said. “I’d faced adversity plenty of times in sports, but never really been injured. It happened in the last game of football and then I had to miss basketball and it went into baseball. It was hard but I had plenty of support.”
Despite the injury that kept him from trying out for the varsity hoop team as a junior, Oates was right back on the basketball court for tryouts in November last fall. And he made the team in spite of missing the pivotal junior season.
“I played basketball growing up at the ‘Y’ for years. I wanted to play basketball to stay in shape,” Oates said. “Not as much for the basketball ability or skill but for the physical part. Basketball pushed me and helped me in baseball to have the season I had.”
With his high school athletic career in the rear-view mirror, Oates now has a collegiate career to look forward to. Oates has signed a letter of intent to play baseball for Willamette University, a private NAIA school in Salem, Ore. He plans to study business and finance.
“I’m definitely looking forward to a new challenge,” Oates said. “I told myself my freshman year that I was going out of state. I was going to do something different, go to a different place. I’m excited to play at a four-year school, but ultimately, it’s all about the education. I’m looking forward to turning a page in my life.”
Oates not only excels in the varsity athletic venues, but he’s also an academic standout. Oates has a weighted grade-point average of 4.7. The honor student is the son of Kim and Ken Oates.