Top of the class

Scholar-athletes honored at banquet


Derek Duran has come a long way since standing on the free-throw line in the final moments of a state basketball playoff game his freshman year.

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos' high school initiation also came her freshman year on the high school basketball team.

It's rare for freshmen to contribute to a varsity team right away.

That's what makes this year's Moffat County High School top student-athlete selections so special.

Duran and Raftopoulos were recognized at Tuesday night's academic awards banquet as the school's top combination of ability in athletics and academics.

Both athletes contributed to varsity teams as freshmen and went on to rack up honors and awards the next three years, while helping their teams to top finishes.

"I believe both M.K. and Derek were two of the most dedicated and hard-working student-athletes we've seen at this school," Athletics Director Jim Loughran said. "They were both deserving of the awards."

Duran was an 11-time letter winner, earning three in football, four in track and four in basketball. He earned Western Slope all-conference awards in six of his seven seasons in football and basketball.

His junior year he was honorable mention all state in football. In his senior year he was second in Class 4A basketball in scoring and was honorable mention all state.

In track, Duran helped break two relay records, the 3,200-meter and 1,600-meter relay teams. He and his team in this year's 800 relay were 0.03 seconds away from another school record. In addition, he had a 3.8 grade point average.

"Derek was a special athlete," Loughran said. "He had such a passion for everything he did. He always looked one step above the others out there because he gave everything he had."

Duran will attend Mesa State College in Grand Junction on a football scholarship.

"I have great memories in every sport," he said. "Some of the seasons didn't turn out the way I would have hoped for the team, but there have been some great moments regardless."

His major is undecided, but he plans to coach in the future and work with children "like my coaches helped me when I was growing up," he said.

On the scholastic side, Duran said his Algebra 3 class was one of his most challenging.

"It helped me learn to problem solve," he said.

Raftopoulos' most memorable experience in athletics was during a season she had to miss a part of.

"My senior season in basketball was one I'll always tell my grandchildren about," she said. "I would have done anything to help my team."

Raftopoulos was diagnosed with mononucleosis with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

She sat out two weeks and returned the final weekend of the regular season.

"One doctor told me I wouldn't be able to breathe on the court when I came back," she said. "I didn't care because I was going to play no matter what."

Raftopoulos and the Bulldogs made it to the final four in the state basketball tournament. She was named the Western Slope League's player of the year.

"Mari Katherine was the glue to that team," Loughran said. "Her dedication showed when she wasn't full strength, but she came to play."

She earned 10 athletic letters and was a four-time league first-team athlete. Raftopoulos did all that while earning a 3.9 GPA.

"My senior English class this year was a tough, but rewarding class," she said. "Mrs. Whinery really challenged us to work hard."

Raftopoulos will attend the University of San Diego and plans to study medicine.

The top student-athlete awards are the longest standing athletic honor in the school, known as Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year for the girls, and Dude Dent Award for the boys.

The boys award is named after Lewis S. Dent, a former Moffat County student-athlete who was a four-year scholar-athlete including All-State fullback honors in 1938. Dent went on to be an all-American fullback for Colorado A&M (now Colorado State). He earned a Silver Star in World War II and was killed in action.

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