T-Birds’ Graham has Heisman hopes

Tumwater basketball, baseball player Justin Graham finalist for national prep award

mwochnick@theolympian.comNovember 13, 2013 

Tumwater first baseman Justin Graham, who hit .384 to help lead the Thunderbirds to the Class 2A state title game in the spring, is a finalist for Wendy’s High School Heisman Trophy.

TONY OVERMAN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

TUMWATER – The well-kept secret was finally revealed Tuesday morning.

In front of an all-school assembly at Tumwater High School, the weeklong 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, a basketball and baseball standout who hit .384 last spring to lead the Thunderbirds to the Class 2A state title game, will be featured on ESPN in December, and will be in New York for the annual Heisman Trophy presentation.

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

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

That TV crew, however, was from ESPN, which brought a handful of representatives to film Graham and conduct on-camera interviews. Graham will compete for the title of Wendy’s High School Heisman (which isn’t limited to football players),

and will be featured during a nationally televised ceremony before the Heisman presentation at 5 p.m. Dec. 14 on ESPN.

The grueling application process started almost two months ago. He and Moses Lake’s Kayla Grigg were recently named Washington’s male and female state winners, earning a $2,000 donation to their high schools and a $100 Wendy’s gift card. Should he win, Graham would get a $500 Wendy’s gift card, plus the fast-food chain would donate $10,000 to Tumwater High School.

The news, and the ceremony, caught Graham by surprise. 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 two standing ovations.

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

Graham, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, 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 sports.

“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, respectively. Over the past 15 years as athletic director at Tumwater, Tim Graham has nominated about 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.

mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/ south-sound-sports-blog @megwochnick

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