By Alan Sorensen
Skip Grodahl, also know as Walter Grodahl III, is about to become the fifth Havre High School graduate inducted into the Montana High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
The 1971 Havre High grad is among six former high school greats from around the state scheduled for induction into the hall during a banquet in Billings Sunday.
Grodahl was nominated for the honor last summer by Wells Lamey and Noel Henderson. Past HHS honorees he'll join are Ray Kuka, who went on to star in basketball at Notre Dame; Glenn Havskjold, who went on to a successful sprint career at Stanford; shot putter Scott Steckel, who had a stellar college career at MSU, and distance ace Kathy Jarvis, now a successful lawyer.
Lamey said he was surprised that Grodahl was accepted into the hall of fame on his first nomination. Usually, he said, it takes two or three times before nominees are inducted.
"Wow, I think it's pretty neat, huh?" Grodahl said in a telephone interview Thursday. "A great honor. It's pretty surprising. Noel and Wells took the bull by the horns and put a lot of work into this. And for me, it's a real honor."
Grodahl, who has a sense of Havre history, knows the local company he'll be keeping in the hall. And he credits that to the support from the community.
"Havre is well represented," he said. "People care, they're enthusistaic, Havre does great. The Blue Ponies, right?
"I ran into (Oregon State University Beavers football coach) Dennis Erickson last summer and said, It's remarkable all the things you accomplished, winning a national collegiate title at Miami, coaching in the NFL, bringing the Beavers back. It's amazing you couldn't beat those Blue Ponies,'" Grodahl said.
Grodahl clarified the statement by saying that Erickson was coaching at Billings Central when Ponies beat them in the semifinals.
"He said, Yeah, Pat Kelly was a great quarterback,'" Grodahl said.
Grodahl's mother, Dee Heltne, a retired Havre High English teacher, and his sister, Debbie Baker, still live in Havre. They, along with other family members and several of Grodahl's teammates and classmates are expected to attend the banquet and other festivities.
"I just feel very, very proud of him and I really have to say that I think that he deserves this," Heltne said. "He started the Fosbury Flop in Montana and worked very hard at trying to learn it. I think this was probably a source of regret to him that he had mumps during his junior year during basketball and track and then his senior year when he wanted to defend that title he got mono (mononucleosis). He shouldn't have even entered that state competition, but he did. He was hoping to do a lot better in both areas, in both basketball and track. Especially at setting a state record."
Heltne said Grodahl's use of the Fosbury Flop caused her a lot of worry in the beginning, before the advent of the one-piece foam landing pit.
"The thing I remember the most was when he first started jumping was landing on the hard surface," she said. "Going head first was always a source of worry for me."
Her pride in Havre's latest hall of famer goes beyond track and field, where he also ran hurdles.
"He worked hard in his athletic life and I was just as proud of him in basketball as I was in track," Heltne said. "And besides that, he was a good student. He was a friendly person and was always interested in other people."
Grodahl went on to earn his MBA at Dartmouth. Today, he is a partner in GSL Properties, a Portland, Ore. development company with operations throughout the West. He and his wife, Judy, have been married nearly 15 years and have three sons: Eric, 12; Adam, 10; Jack, 7.
"They love those sports," Grodahl said of his boys.
Grodahl starred in basketball and track and field in high school, but his athletic abilities were recognized much earlier. While still in grade school, he won the city open tennis title. He also earned city-wide recognition while quarterbacking the Devlin Elementary School touch football team.
"It's 30 years since this all happened, so it's amazing how fast time goes, but the memories are fresh and treasured, and Havre was a great place to grow up," Grodahl said. "The friendships, the competitive environment, the teammates and Havre has turned out some great athletes. It's something when you have a small environment turning out great athletes."
Among the many teammates and classmates who will join Grodahl and his family in Billings this weekend are Henderson, Jim Kuka, Jim Seel, Kevin Conroy, Dan Brown, Dave Kiesling and Billy Watkins. Former coaches Craig Price and Herb Kimball along with staunch Havre supporter Wells Lamey will be there, too, Grodahl said.
Others being inducted this year are Great Falls High quarterback Dave Dickinson (1987-91), Deer Lodge distance runner Gordon Ruttenbur (1978-82), Malta High basketball and track star Skyla Sisco (1989-93), Missoula Sentinel basketball standout Karen Deden-Westwater (1983-87), Billings High All-American running back Richard Gregory (1944-48).
Lamey said he is already considering three other Havre nominees: running back Mac Wiley, who went on to captain the Stanford Cardinal football team and earn All-American honors; Julie Callahan, who brought Havre High its first girls state basketball title and went on to star at Northwestern University; Loree Payne, already among the finest basketball players in the nation in just her sophomore year at the University of Washington.