• Photo by Mary Richardson
    Graford’s Top Athletes were named at the All Sports Banquet on May 17, 2016. Left to right are Preston Tabor, Esmeralda Balvantin and Kacey Christopher, who share the honor of being named Top Athletes for the Jackrabbits and Lady Rabbits for 2016. Graford’s Athletic Director Ty Tabor said those awards are the hardest to name and that the coaches had to develop a point system to help them make that decision.
  • Photo by Mary Richardson
    Taylor Penn and Leo Balvantin are selected as the recipients of the Lindsay Johnson Fighting Heart Award presented to them by GISD Superintendent Dennis Holt at Graford’s annual All Sports Athletic Awards ceremony on May 17, 2016.
  • Photo by Mary Richardson
    Jackrabbits Baseball Head Coach John Newton is flanked by Ulysses Hernandez, on the left, who received the 2016 Cy Young Award, being recognized as the Jackrabbits “best pitcher of the year;” and Trenton Higgins, recipient of the 2016 Silver Slugger Award to Graford for having the best batting average. Newton said it was “tough to see Trenton and ‘Uly’ leave after having them for the last four years.”

Graford holds All Sports Banquet

We love it when kids show this much initiative, it’s really been a great year,” Tabor said.

More than 160 people were on hand as Graford Independent School District held its annual All Sports Athletic Awards Banquet May 17 to honor top athletes and to recognize all participants in its JV and Varsity sports programs.

Proud parents, fellow students, family members and friends applauded as seventh- through 12th-grade athletes made their way to the front to receive recognition from coaches and the superintendent for their participation and achievements in baseball and softball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, golf, tennis, track and volleyball.

Graford’s Athletic Director Ty Tabor presented the Top Athletes Awards to Esmeralda Balvantin for the Lady Rabbits and, Kacey Christopher and Preston Tabor shared the honor of being named Top Athletes for the Jackrabbits. Coach Tabor said those awards are the hardest to name and that the coaches had to develop a point system to help them make that decision.

“Although the award to the female multisport athlete was not hard to figure out, it should come as no surprise that Esmeralda Balvantin is the recipient of that award,” Tabor said. “Esmeralda has worked very hard all year and accomplished a lot. In Track, she was the only female from Graford to win at the District Meet in March, winning five medals. She qualified in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter events; discus and shot put. Izzy went on to place sixth at State in 1A in the shot put event, with her personal best throw of 35-feet, 4.25-inches. We are very, very proud of her.”

Tabor also recognized the State qualifiers for the Track team, including Leo Balvantin, Kacey Christopher, Gabe Allen, Rode Newton, Jacob Moss, Keagan Rogers, Preston Tabor and  Ryan Carver, whom he said did very well considering it rained during the entire event and they were in ankle to knee-deep mud.

“The overall competition for being named ‘Top Athlete’ for the boys was a little harder to decide, however, because there were so many athletes who gave a 100 percent effort, and that’s where the point system was especially needed,” Tabor said, adding that after much consideration, Kacey Christopher and Preston Tabor would share the honor of being named Top Athletes in the boys division.

“We love it when kids show this much initiative, it’s really been a great year,” Tabor said. “Even though we will be losing our graduating seniors, we look forward to those young athletes who will be coming back to us next year and we will strive to make Graford number one in each sport.”

The Jackrabbits Baseball Head Coach John Newton presented the 2016 Silver Slugger Award to Graford senior Trenton Higgins, for having the best batting average, for which Newton said there had been a lot of competition throughout the baseball season. 

Graford senior Ulysses Hernandez was the recipient of the 2016 Cy Young Award, being recognized as the Jackrabbits “best pitcher of the year.”

Newton said it was “tough to see Trenton and ‘Uly’ leave after having them for the last four years.”

As Graford Independent School District Superintendent Dennis Holt presented the Lindsay Johnson Fighting Heart Award to Taylor Penn and Leo Balvantin, he said the award should be presented to “someone who would have your back in any situation - sort of like being in a foxhole.”

Coach Tabor said the varsity boys basketball team was a young one that “had a lot of growing pains this year, and there was some work needing to be done to improve it.” He encouraged all to take advantage of the upcoming summer camps and said he looked forward to working with them all next season.

Jackrabbits named to All-State, All-Region included Preston Tabor and Kacey Christopher, who were selected by Regional coaches from the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. The MVP Award was shared by Preston Tabor and Co-MVP Kacey Christopher. The Sixth Man of the Year Award was presented to Jacob Moss. Those achieving Academic All-District included Leo Balvantin, James Kincaid and Preston Tabor.

Varsity girls basketball Coach Jarod Westmoreland said he was very proud of the Lady Rabbits for doing so well; they achieved third place in District. He gave special recognition to three girls who achieved Academic All-District, including Rebecca Naylor, Sunni Lemley and Lacie Bell; because he said he believed it is most important to maintain grades even though it is often difficult to do so while participating in sports.

Esmeralda Balvantin was named Most Valuable Player and First Team All-District; Sunni Lemley, Second Team All-District; Lacie Bell, Taylor Penn and Rebecca Richardson received Honorable Mention; Taylor Penn was named Defensive Player of the Year; Sunni Lemley was named Offensive Player of the Year; and Newcomer of the year was awarded to Carolina Torres.

Varsity Girls Volleyball Coach Derek Wuthrich and assistant, Miriam Ramirez, presented the award for Most Valuable Player to Sunni Lemley; “Above the Net” was awarded to Esmeralda Balvantin; the “Back Row” award went to Betsy Lizalde.

In Golf, Coach Tabor said Regional and State qualifiers included Ricky Williams, Preston Tabor, Keagan Rogers, Clay Carver and Garrett McAllister.

In tennis, Regional qualifiers included Emma Martin, in Girl’s Singles; Gabe Allen in Boy’s Singles; and Leo Balvantin and Michael Phillips in Boy’s Doubles.

Tabor said parents of Graford students should be aware that they will be holding a summer strength conditioning camp for weight training with several of the coaches to help guide athletes and that there will also be opportunities to attend camps for baseball, basketball, volleyball and softball.

“The doors to the gym will be open for those who would like to come practice basketball and the batting and hitting cages will be open for baseball practice. Graford also offers a summer shooting program, and anyone interested in any of these activities can get in touch with him or any of the coaches for access to these facilities in the event the doors are locked.

“We would like to continue to improve the skills of our students, so, instead of sitting at home watching television or just being bored with nothing to do, they can always have the opportunity to come and sharpen their skills. For more information, call the school at 940-664-3101.”

The Graham Leader

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