WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 28, 2012, 11:14 AM

Grafton High School enjoys dream year in sports

GRAFTON, N.D. (AP) — The drive home from Bismarck to Grafton was a trip of mixed feelings for Kim Droog.

By: GREG DEVILLERS, Grand Forks Herald

GRAFTON, N.D. (AP) — The drive home from Bismarck to Grafton was a trip of mixed feelings for Kim Droog.

The night before, Grafton had won the championship in the North Dakota Class B girls high school basketball tournament. That capped a winter-long run of successes for the Spoilers — and a lot of running for Droog and many other Spoilers fans.

"I've taken in all the state tournaments, and the regionals, too," said Droog, who is president of the school's booster club. "I think a lot of Grafton fans have. We were coming off a high. But there was some fatigue. It's emotional; you're stressed out, hoping the team does well. And it's tiring, the grind of all the tournaments.

"But I'm ready to do it again next year" he said. "It's been so much fun watching the kids doing so well in so many sports. It's been an amazing year."

Pick almost any tournament and you'll find Grafton, with a group of seniors that dominate rosters, having some success.

It started last November, when Grafton capped an unbeaten season by beating two-time defending champion Fargo Shanley in the Class AA football championship.

The winter tournament grind began with Grafton having its highest-ever state wrestling placer when Jaron Lunday finished third, and the Spoilers had multiple state placers for the first time as Jeremy Talamantes finished fourth.

That was followed by Grafton-Park River finishing second in the state boys hockey tournament, Grafton finishing fifth in the boys Class B basketball tournament, then the Spoilers winning their first Class B girls basketball title. Along the way were district and regional tournaments.

"I think everyone knew about the talent the school had been building," Droog said. "They did well last year, and there were a lot of good kids from those teams to build around. It's been sort of a dream year."

There's a bottom line to the Spoilers' athletic successes.

"The first thing you have to have is some God-given natural talent," Grafton athletic director and boys basketball coach Mike Hanson said. "But you also have to utilize that talent.

"Almost all these kids put in their time in the weight room," he said. "We regularly had 40-some kids in there every day last summer. I think that's something that has really turned around here in the last few years."

Hanson said senior Joey DeMers probably has been the biggest offseason leader. He's been lifting regularly since he was a seventh-grader. And his older brother, Chad, was the inspiration for many of the Spoilers.

"We'd hang out a lot at Joey's place," senior Zach Suda said. "We saw how hard Chad worked. Chad pushed Joey to get into the weight room, then he started pushing all of us."

After Chad graduated and left for college, the athletes took it upon themselves to recruit others.

"We always had guys pushing everybody to be in the weight room," Joey DeMers said. "I know I tried to get guys in there. You don't want to see anybody short-change themselves. We'd tell guys, 'You don't want to be the guy who lets teammates down because you weren't in the weight room doing the work.'

"I think it paid off." He said. "In football, we could tell this year that we were the more physical team in games."

There also is very little specialization in the current group of Grafton athletes.

Suda and Demers, for instance, have played in state high school championship games in hockey (twice), baseball and football. Senior Jake Hanson was Class AA senior athlete of the year in football and all-state in both basketball and golf. Those are just a few examples on a long list of multisport athletes.

"A lot of us like the challenge of being competitive in different sports," Suda said. "We're all good friends. We've stuck together in different sports. And I think that's enhanced what we've done in all our sports."

This isn't the first all-around successful go-around for the Spoilers' athletic programs.

Many of the current athletes were key contributors in the strong Spoiler teams during the 2010-11 school year. And, while Grafton has two state titles this season, Spoilers teams won three state championships — girls cross country, boys basketball and boys hockey — in the 2007-08 season.

"Overall, I think this year has been more successful," Mike Hanson said, comparing it to 2007-08. "We won more state championships (in 2007-08). But the number of athletes that have gotten to enjoy the success, getting a chance to play in state tournaments, has to be higher this year."

With that success, however, has come some mixed feelings. The football players have a state championship; so do the girls basketball players. The baseball team is considered a state title contender, being ranked third in the coaches' preseason state poll.

But there also are the near-misses the athletes remember — the girls basketball team suffering narrow losses in region tournaments, and the hockey, baseball and boys basketball teams losing in state title games.

When he gets older, Suda said, "I think I'll look back and think that we should have won a few more (state titles). I hate losing. We're all competitive."

Said DeMers: "We haven't always finished seasons the way we wanted to. But to get to the championship game as much as we have, it says something about our program. It's a pretty special feeling."