Best and brightest: Moffat County names Dude Dent recipients, honors multiple scholar-athletes
For Craig Press
Though there are many deserving young men and women who have made a name for themselves in Moffat County High School’s sports venues and classrooms, there can be only two seniors who end their four years by picking up the top honors as part of the annual Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Award ceremony.
The yearly celebration of high school students excelling in academics and athletics alike took place Monday evening at the Center of Craig, with a full banquet, speeches, trophies and more to acknowledge multi-talented teens.
The namesake of the Dude Dent award was a storied football, basketball and track athlete at Craig High School who graduated in 1939 and promptly went to the next level of sports success by achieving All-Conference honors in the Big 7 at Colorado A&M — now Colorado State University — and later named the best all-around athlete in the Mountain States Conference.
Just before achieving a degree, he was drafted into World War II, killed in action in France on August 25, 1944, earning a posthumous Silver Star.
He was honored by his alma mater when the school began giving out the Dude Dent Memorial Award in 1957 to top male student-athletes, later followed by Outstanding Female Athlete in 1977.
“The short yet remarkably amazing life of one of Craig’s finest is very deserving of our continued remembrance and celebration,” read the evening’s program.
And the winners are…
Taking the top honors for the night were Caleb Frink and Emaleigh Papierski.
During her four years at MCHS, Papierski received plentiful varsity letters, each year for basketball and track and field, as well as twice for cross country.
She received numerous All-State honors plus Most Valuable Player for her senior year of Lady Bulldog hoops — a leader in multiple stat categories — and while the track season is just getting underway this spring, she looks to build upon a tremendous sophomore year that included a 4×200-meter relay state title — with her crossing the finish line as the group’s anchor — and a 4×400 school record, both with teammates Stephenie Swindler, Halle Hamilton and Emma Jones.
Papierski will continue in track at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, studying nursing.
Girls basketball coach Eric Hamilton spoke on Papierski’s behalf for the award, having overseen not only her senior season but also well familiar with her AAU days in middle school.
“Even back then I knew she was going to be something very, very special,” Hamilton said. “It seemed like every time I saw Emaleigh, she either had a basketball in her hand or was running a 5K at the park. She was always in motion, always trying to work hard to become the remarkable athlete, student and quality person she has turned out to be today.”
After her name was announced, she took the podium to thank her parents for their support, her twin brother for providing a lifetime of competitive nature, and her teammates.
“I’ve made so many memories that I will never forget,” she said. “My teammates’ continuous encouragement and support have helped me to improve each and every day.”
While he only had one year as a Bulldog, Frink made it count on the gridiron as one of the most prolific players in terms of yardage in the 2A West as an accomplished running back, earning All-State First Team. He led the team in total touchdowns among many accomplishments in the past fall as the team enjoyed a shortened but successful season.
In addition to plans to make a splash in track this season, Frink also is the valedictorian of the Class of 2021, continuing his high-level achievements while at Parachute’s Grand Valley High School. And, like Dude Dent himself, Frink plans to study mechanical engineering, moving on to play football at Colorado School of Mines.
He thanked his family, coaches and fellow athletes for the award.
“Thank you for shaping me into the man I am today and pushing me to be my best and to be the man God has intended me to be,” he said during his acceptance speech.
MoCo assistant football coach Nick Colgate commended Frink for being a great example for all on the field.
“His attitude toward commitment is something that cannot be taught but is a choice he has made,” Colgate said. “He wakes up every morning not only telling himself he is going to make the best out of today but that he is going to work and sacrifice for it.”
Plenty of talent
There were three nominees for each of the big awards, with Alayna Behrman and Kelsey McDiffett up for Outstanding Female Athlete and Blake Juergens and Corey Scranton up for Dude Dent.
Kip Hafey spoke of Behrman’s positive traits as a cross country athlete as well as her showing for him in the track and field triple jump. Among her achievements in the sport was qualifying for state in the event as an alternate her sophomore year and completely outdoing herself by going from the lowest ranked triple-jumper at the big time to finishing 10th overall.
Hafey attributed it to Behrman’s “bring it” nature.
“‘Bring it’ is one of the best qualities a person can have. A person with ‘bring it’ always brings more than what is expected,” he said. “They bring everything they have to offer to every aspect of their lives, and that is exactly what Alayna does.”
Likewise, swim coach Melany Neton mentioned knowing McDiffett for her entire life and seeing her grow step by step from infancy.
“I was there when she swam her first 25 meters to join the Craig Sea Sharks, and I was there when she swam her last event as a Moffat County Bulldog,” she said.
Neton stated that the four-year state competitor in aquatics brought the same kind of qualities to the sports of cross country, track, and most recently, soccer.
“Kelsey has a tremendous amount of poise under pressure. She’s a fighter and she is determined to win,” Neton said.
MCHS wrestling coach Tyler Seislove recounted Juergens’ can-do spirit this winter, earning a spot at the state championships for the first time thanks to a comeback in the late stages of the regional tournament when the number of qualifiers was cut in half.
After a loss for Juergens, Seislove said it wouldn’t be uncommon for a senior to give up in what could be their final match when the odds were stacked against them.
“But not Blake,” he said. “Blake collected himself after defeat and wrestled some of the best matches of his life.”
Corey Scranton had head football coach, his track and field throwing coach, and his father Lance speaking on his behalf.
“I think one trait that describes Corey as an athlete and a student while at Moffat County High School has been his willingness to do the work required to help others to shine,” Lance said. “He doesn’t get motivated by the spotlight, he just wants to perfect his craft.”
As the team captain for his senior season, Corey led the Bulldogs to a conference championship and picked up All-State honors along the way, with plans to play the sport at Western Colorado University.
Lance stated that Corey’s skill on the offensive and defensive lines forced opposing teams to draft game plans just to handle No. 59, one who broke multiple weight room records in the past year.
He added that while they frequently watch other players get glory, football linemen “know confidently that it would be impossible without the hard work of those who toil in the trenches.”
Too many honors
Dude Dent nominees also picked up several additional distinctions during the ceremony, with the Four-Year Scholar Award going to Behrman, Frink, McDiffett, Scranton, Emaleigh Papierski, Krece Papierski and Alexa Neton. The award’s requirements are a 3.6 cumulative grade point average and at least one varsity letter each school year.
McDiffett was the only one of the Dude Dent nominees to also take home the Three-Sport Athlete Award for the 2020-21 school year, with juniors Logan Hafey, Halle Hamilton, Emma Jones, and Ryan Peck, and sophomores Cayden King and Lizzy LeWarne also receiving the award, a requirement for which is a 3.5 GPA and three varsity letters in one year.
Winning the Active Scholar Award through Colorado High School Activities Association — 3.5 and participating in two or more sports across three years — were MCHS juniors Jacie Evenson and Ryan Peck.
Success on the horizon
Delivering the keynote speech for the night was a former recipient of Outstanding Female Athlete.
Alumnus Morgan Lawton earned the award in 2016 for her proficiency in volleyball, basketball, track and field and soccer, as well as being her graduating class’s valedictorian. In spring 2020, she graduated from Harvard University with a dual major in social anthropology and archaeology and a psychology minor, though she is currently planning to attend law school.
Lawton, also a walk-on for the Crimson’s track team, spoke to students about what she learned to appreciate most as a college student-athlete to prepare her for adulthood, including accepting criticism, staying focused on goals amid distractions, and putting academics first.
She added that being back in Craig brought about fond memories of her time as a Bulldog.
“High school athletics was one of the most fun times in my life,” she said. “Being with my teammates, especially basketball, for so long, they were like family. To see these kids still striving like they do, it feels so good.”
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