ESPN surprises Tumwater High's Justin Graham

mwochnick@theolympian.comNovember 12, 2013 

TUMWATER -- The best-kept secret in Tumwater was finally revealed Tuesday morning.

In front of an all-school assembly at Tumwater High School, the week-long surprise for senior Justin Graham was unveiled: he’s one of 12 nationwide finalists out of 48,000 applicants for Wendy’s High School Heisman Trophy, an award that honors excellence in academics, athletics and community service among high school seniors. It gets better: Graham will be featured on ESPN next month, and will be in New York for the annual Heisman Trophy presentation.


Tumwater principal Jeff Broome kept tight-lipped all week, only telling the student body the “secret assembly” included a national television crew.


“They were thinking the Seahawks were going to be here,” Broome said.


That crew, however, was ESPN, which brought a handful of representatives to film Graham at school Tuesday and conduct on-camera interviews. Graham will be in New York to compete for the title of Wendy’s High School Heisman on Dec. 13, and featured during a nationally televised ceremony before the Heisman Memorial Trophy presentation at 5 p.m. PST Saturday, Dec. 14 on ESPN.


The grueling application process started almost two months ago was well worth it. Should he win, Graham receives a $500 Wendy’s gift card, and the fast-food chain also donates $10,000 to Tumwater High School. He, along with Moses Lake’s Kayla Grigg, are recently named Washington’s male and female state winners, respectively, getting $2,000 to their high schools and $100 Wendy’s gift card.


But being named a national finalist took Graham aback, as did the ceremony in front of his peers. He had no idea what was in store until Broome, in conjunction with David Antis, Wendy’s Division vice president, made the announcement. The student body gave Graham, a basketball and baseball standout who hit .384 last spring in baseball to lead the Thunderbirds to the 2A state title game, two standing ovations.


“It was really humbling,” he said. ... “I didn’t think (the process) would get this far.”


A 4.0 student, Graham also is proud of his community service work in and around what he called a “pretty close Tumwater community”, highlighted by the City of Tumwater’s Adopt-A-Family campaign during the holidays, hosting blood drives, and coaching youth. 


“It’s important to give back,” he said. 

Said Broome: “He embodies what we want from all of our students here: excellence in the athletic field and in activities and also service in our community."


The secret of Tuesday's announcement was a tough one for Broome to keep since Graham’s parents, Tim and Kellie, are the school’s athletic director and attendance office secretary. Over the past 15 years as athletic director at Tumwater, Tim Graham has nominated some 150 students, but Justin is the first from Tumwater to be a state winner.


“To have the first (winner) and it’s your son is pretty special,” Tim Graham said.


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