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Program of the Year: Grafton High School

YORK – At sweet 16, Grafton High is still building that base of community, student and alumni support so many other area schools have enjoyed for decades. Signs that the community is maturing were evident in so many ways during a 2011-12 school year in which Grafton was selected the Daily Press high school Athletic Program of the Year

There were the little boys who would ask the Clippers players to autograph baseballs during the team's run to Bay Rivers District and Region I titles. And there were those painted faces and midriffs of football-crazy students cheering the Clippers on to the Region I Division 4 title.

But it really all came together at the VCU Siegel Center in Richmond, where the boys basketball team blew out Heritage of Lynchburg in the AA Division 4 state semifinals, then lost a 70-69 overtime heartbreaker to Christiansburg in the state championship game. The Grafton gathering wasn't just large, it was all inclusive.

There were busloads of students, alumni going back to the school's opening, and parents and faculty elbow to elbow in the stands. Many had stormed the court when Elijah Moore nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Clippers a dramatic win over rival Tabb in the regional championship game a week earlier.

At the state championship game, they cheered the Clippers until they were hoarse, then gave them a hearty round of applause when they walked off the Siegel Center floor having just missed out on the title.

"It was exciting to finally get that large community spirit," Grafton athletic director Laura Sutton said. "In Richmond the state tournament was close enough for parents to bring their kids, for a ton of alumni to come back and for lots students to make the game.

"York and Tabb have had that kind of community support for years. We've been around long enough now to get it, and it was special to see."

From August to June, many Grafton athletic teams had their own special athletic moments in the sun. The girls cross country team started the party by winning district and regional championships.

The field hockey team made it all the way to the A/AA state final. They lost 3-0 to a Tabb team among the best in area history, but by holding the Tigers scoreless into the second half the young Clippers established themselves as a serious contender to win this year's state title.

As always, the volleyball and girls basketball teams were among the area's best. The volleyball team just missed out on a state tournament trip with a close loss to eventual state runnerup Jamestown in the regionals, while hard-working district Player of the Year Rose Mulherin led the basketball team to its third AA state quarterfinal berth in four seasons.

There was individual success, too. Julia Young won the state indoor track meet high jump title, while the boys swimming relay foursome of Ryan Carter, Chris Prewitt, Andrew Ferguson and Bryce Hartman won 200 and 400 freestyle relay state titles.

Grafton enjoyed sports success aplenty in the spring. The softball team made it to the regional semifinal, losing a 1-0 thriller to powerful Poquoson while serving notice it will be a force come next year.

Goal-scoring machine Morgan Singer and great defensive play led the Clippers into the AA state quarterfinals where, stunningly and impressively, they pushed eventual state champion Tuscarora to overtime before losing. Daily Press Baseball Player of the Year Kyri Washington and the Clippers won a school-record 25 games to make only the second state semifinal appearance in school history.

Just days later, Grafton learned that its was among just 34 state schools to win one of the prestigious Virginia High School League Sportsmanship Awards. That capped off a school year in which Grafton finished a close second in the overall AA state athletic standings.

"It was a fantastic year with a lot of trophies," Sutton said. "But what the kids will remember more than that is cheering their teammates on and the bus rides together, especially to state tournament games.

"It will soak in later that those are special times in their lives."

And when they do, long after they were sweet 16, they'll come back. And the Grafton High community will continue to grow.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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