BHS Athletic Hall of Fame grows to 65
Monday night the Bemidji High School Hall of Fame fraternity grew to 65 members as Jim Grimm, Ray Kavanagh, Joe Motzko, Jim Toninato and John Warford were inducted.
The induction ceremony was part of a festive evening which included the announcement of this year's high school athletes of the year, each sport's most valuable athletes, the senior letter winners and the scholarship winners.
The Hall of Fame was created in 2001 and during the first three years officials inducted 30 past Lumberjack coaches and athletes. Each year since 2003 the Hall of Fame has grown by five members.
John Warford was thrilled to return to Bemidji Monday for his induction into the BHS Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay long because business in Bismark, N.D., had to be dealt with early Tuesday.
Among other endeavors, Warford is balancing his orthodontics practice and his duties as Bismark's mayor.
"These are very exciting times for me," Warford said.
Warford is accustomed to juggling responsibilities. During his time as a Lumberjack he was a three-sport athlete, excelling in cross country, basketball and track. Warford continued his athletic success at the University of Minnesota, earning four letters in track and setting all of the school's hurdles records from 1964 to 1968.
He still owns the school record in the 120-yard hurdles and he is second all-time in the 110-meter hurdles.
Warford's orthodontics practice was established in 1973 and eight years ago he was elected the mayor of Bismark.
Despite all of his success, he was shocked when he opened a letter from the Lumberjacks athletic department last week.
"I was very surprised," Warford said. "I didn't think I'd remotely be considered a candidate for the Hall of Fame. Reading that letter was like getting struck by a bolt of lightning."
Warford said his success, athletically, academically and professionally, has its roots in Bemidji.
"All of us look back at our years in high school and for me, they were very informative from the standpoints of athletics and academics," he said. "What I learned at Bemidji High School equipped me to compete at the University of Minnesota and also to compete with scholars nationally. And that is a credit to Bemidji High School."
Warford is grateful to have had mentors such as Bun Fortier and Jack Luoma guide him through his high school years.
"I have many people to thank," he said. "The community and the culture of Bemidji actually fostered people to excel.
"People may say I was lucky to be around those people but I believe you have to create your own luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and Bemidji High School and the Bemidji community provided the preparation that enabled me to take advantage of the opportunities that were presented."
That situation continues to exist in Bemidji, according to Warford.
"Today's students have the same opportunities," he said. "They are able to achieve what they want to do.
"But they have to create their own luck," Warford added.
Ray Kavanagh would not have expected a Hall of Fame honor, according to his widow, Vera.
"Ray would be very pleased to be here but he also would be humbled," Vera said. "He would say that he had to share this honor with the many wonderful people he worked with and with the kids he had the honor to coach."
Kavanagh's career philosophy was simple, according to Vera.
"Ray always wanted people to know that he was a teacher first and a coach second. He enjoyed both professions very much but he always emphasized his teaching."
Kavanagh, who taught social studies, moved to Bemidji in 1969 from Roseau and coached the Lumberjacks football team to a 94-41 record during his 14 years on the sidelines.
A graduate of Appleton High School and Moorhead State, Kavanagh also is a member of the Moorhead State Hall of Fame.
"I'm very pleased that this (the Hall of Fame induction) is occurring," Vera said, "and so are the kids. This gives us another opportunity to Remember Ray in better times. I'm sure he'll be watching us."
When Jim Grimm received a phone call from the high school activities office he didn't know what to think.
"I was stunned," Grimm said. "I wasn't sure I heard things right. Then I thought somebody might be playing a joke on me. You don't expect that type of a phone call."
Once he was convinced that the news was legitimate, Grimm analyzed how his induction came to be and what being forever linked with the best athletes and coaches at BHS represented.
"After I was told of my induction I took the time to visit the high school, look at the Hall of Fame plaques and learn about who has been honored," Grimm said. "I know every one of those people and they all had at least one thing that made them stand out.
"I thought of what that one thing was for me and I realized that I had the honor of playing for great coaches and playing with great teammates."
Great coaches, according to Grimm, are less concerned about wins and losses than they are about making their athletes better people.
"I played football for Ray and I played baseball for Desi Sagedahl and both of them are in the Hall of Fame. I would have been proud to have had my kids play for Ray or Desi. They taught you how to be a good person first and a good athlete second.
"They taught life lessons," Grimm continued. "They taught you how to be a contributor to society and also how to fail. They knew how to make a player a better person and they demanded more of you than you thought you could give."
Grimm, a 1976 BHS graduate, played three sports and excelled in football and baseball. He also played those two sports at BSU where he graduated in 1981. During the 1980s Grimm also played for and coached the Bemidji Chiefs amateur baseball team.
His resume also includes being the Bemidji Legion coach (1992-94) and the head baseball coach at Bemidji State for seven years.
Grimm transferred the lessons he learned while being a student and an athlete at Bemidji High School into his coaching career.
"Every coach I played for told us that we were being held to a higher standard than the other students, both on and off the field," Grimm said. "We had to answer to everybody. We were responsible for how we acted and how we did in the classroom.
"Because of that responsibility, none of the teams I played with were afraid to lose. We were prepared to give our all at all times. If we did our best and lost, we wanted to know why we lost and what we needed to do so when we played that team again we would win."
Great coaches and great teammates helped Grimm ascend into a Hall of Fame inductee. And Grimm is very grateful.
"The teams I played with were like a family," he said. "When I was on the sideline or in the dugout and looked left or looked right, all I saw were guys and coaches that I was proud to be with. They are the reason I am in the Hall of Fame."
Within a two-year span, 2007-08, Joe Motzko played on teams that won the Stanley Cup (Anaheim) and the Calder Cup (Chicago Wolves). He spent the past winter playing professional hockey in Germany.
Monday night the 1998 BHS graduate received another honor: he was inducted into the Lumberjack Hall of Fame.
"To be among the people in the Hall of Fame is quite an honor," Motzko said. "I'm very happy. Being inducted says a great deal about growing up in Bemidji and playing golf and hockey here."
In addition to his hockey accomplishments, Motzko was a standout on the golf course. He was on the Lumberjacks team that finished third in the 1996 state meet, won the 1997 title and placed second in 1998. Individually he was third in the 1998 state tournament.
"I practically lived at the Bemidji Town & Country Club when I was young and, as far as allowing junior golfers to get in their playing time, the country club is a hidden gem." Motzko said.
"Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a great honor and I have so many people to thank," Motzko continued. " People who worked with players from the youth programs through high school, people like Bryan Grand, John Wangberg and Bob Fitzgerald, made it possible for me to make hockey a career. I've had some luck the past few years and I've had some dreams come true."
Bemidji activities director Troy Hendricks and Jim Toninato are good friends and when Hendricks called Toninato to give him the news of the Hall of Fame induction, Toninato questioned the conversation.
"Troy and I goof around quite a bit and when he called I wasn't sure what to think," Toninato said. "But when he convinced me that the news was real, I didn't know how to react. This is a huge honor and I am very surprised."
Toninato, a 1982 graduate, was a four-year hockey letterwinner and also lettered three years in baseball. Following high school he played hockey at UMD and helped the Bulldogs advance to the NCAA hockey tournament all four years and to the Frozen Four two of those winters..
"There was a conglomeration of things that enabled me to have success and made it possible for me to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," Toninato said. "My success at Bemidji was like a perfect storm. My teammates were great people and we got along very well on and off the ice. Coaches Bryan Grand and Lyman Brink gave me the leeway to be creative and I always had talented linemates and teammates.
"What I have learned through the years is if you follow your dreams, have fun and stay on the path of life you have chosen, everything will fall into place," Toninato said.