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Grainfield, KS : Community News

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
October 31, 2010 - Hays Daily News

Their school colors are blue, black and silver.

So why all the pink-clad fans in the crowd cheering on the Wheatland-Grinnell prep volleyball team this weekend?

By far the largest cheering section in Fort Hays State University's Gross Memorial Coliseum, Thunderhawk fans were wearing pink T-shirts as part of a project to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, whose designated month is October and always falls smack dab in the middle of volleyball season.

But the team had an even bigger incentive to win on the court.

One of the Thunderhawks' most loyal fans, Dorothy Schroeder, died of a heart attack at her home on Oct. 11.

Since then, team members have worn black ribbons in their hair with the initials D.A.S on them in honor of dedicating their season to Dorothy.

"Dorothy Ann Schroeder," senior Alysia Schwarz said, explaining the initials. "She would have been here."

Some people contend that Dorothy's spirit has been present with the team all along.

"At sub-state, we had a couple of serves hit the net, and instead of coming back on our side, popped over (for a Thunderhawk point)," Schwarz said.

"We'd look at each other," senior Taylor Rathgeber added, "and say 'Dorothy.' "

Dorothy's husband, Raymond, wore a ribbon made especially for him, with ribbon from a floral arrangement the volleyball team had sent to the family for his wife's funeral.

"I had no idea she had so much impact," Ray Schroeder said.

One could spot the Schroeder couple in the crowd at just about any sporting event of their six children during the 1970s and '80s while raising their family on a farm near Angelus, a small town northwest of Grinnell.

Four of those children were girls, who helped Grinnell High School fill its trophy case with regional, sub-state and state trophies from volleyball, basketball and track and field.

The Schroeders continued to follow the Warriors even after their last daughter, Sheila, graduated in 1987. And they switched from the red and black colors of GHS and became Thunderhawk fans when Wheatland High School, 8 miles to the east in Grainfield, combined sports teams with Grinnell in 2006, then consolidated schools a year later.

Fans in the stands, and athletes on the court or field of play, knew when Dorothy had arrived for a game.

"Definitely the loudest," said Allison Polifka, a 2003 graduate of Grinnell High who went to state twice in volleyball during her prep career and is now the Thunderhawks' head coach.

"She would be hollering and telling us what we should be doing, good or bad," Schwarz said. "She was there for everything. She was really supportive," but didn't mince words, either.

"Wake up girls" was a common phrase if Dorothy thought the team needed some shaking up.

"Whatever she said, it was true," Polifka said.

And the team listened, added Polifka. That's because they knew Dorothy knew what she was talking about.

"If you needed to know what happened in 1983, Dorothy would know," Rathgeber said.

"She'd have a bracket (for a tournament), know who we were going to play before we did," Schwarz said.

The pink shirts in the crowd read "Cheer Blue" on top of a volleyball and "Think Pink!" below the ball, with the saying "Thunderhawks Dig for a Cure."

The team took pledges for digs they recorded during the season and sold shirts in honor of two Thunderhawk mothers, both survivors of breast cancer -- Schwarz's mom, Nancy Schwarz, and Christy Mense, mother of junior Carolyn Mense.

The first order of 150 shirts went so quickly that a second batch, then a third, had to be ordered. To date, the team has raised nearly $3,000 with more pledges still to be collected.

Dorothy thought there would be plenty of pink at state.

"The last conversation my mom had with Dorothy was that she knew we could go to state," Schwarz said.

"So," Rathgeber said simply, "we thought we probably should."

The Thunderhawks did better than just get to state. Once there, they went 2-1 in Friday's pool play to advance to Saturday's final four.

Wheatland-Grinnell beat Norwich in the semifinals to earn a rematch with Hutchinson's Central Christian, the top-ranked team in the state and the tourney's No. 1 seed that had barely beaten the Thunderhawks in Friday's pool play.

Wheatland-Grinnell lost that match, 25-13, 25-21.

But Dorothy surely would have been proud of the runner-up state finish anyway, as were all the pink- and blue-clad fans cheering for the team during the awards ceremony Saturday.

"She was hollering," said Marge Feldt, a friend of the Schroeders. "You betcha she was hollering."

Back home in Gove County, windows on some of the Thunderhawks' vehicles read, "Do It For Dorothy."

It won't take much window chalk to change the "do" to "we did."

October 28, 2010 - Hays Daily News

When it was just Grainfield-Wheatland and Grinnell, both prep volleyball programs experienced success at state.

Now in their fifth season of combining together for volleyball, the Wheatland-Grinnell Thunderhawks are looking to make some history of their own. They will be going for their 15th state title and their first one all at the same time this weekend at the Class 1A, Division II State Championships in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Before the schools consolidated, first for sports in the fall of 2006, the Grainfield-Wheatland volleyball team won nine state titles and the Grinnell volleyball team claimed five state crowns.

Wheatland-Grinnell took second at state in 2007, and a championship this season would be the program's first.

Meanwhile, first-year coach Morgan Richmeier, aware of the rich volleyball tradition at fifth-ranked Weskan, admitted she didn't want to mess up a good thing. She didn't; Weskan also returns to state.

Weskan won state titles in 1995 and 1996. The Coyotes also finished second in 1997 and third in 1994. Weskan also made state in 2008, and was the lone unbeaten team in 1A, but didn't make it out of pool play. Last year, Weskan made state again as the No. 7 seed, but didn't make it to Saturday.

"Coming in, I was nervous," Richmeier said. "They knew they wanted to return to state."

Weskan (33-8) is the No. 3 seed, and has No. 2 seed Norwich (30-6), No. 6 Bushton-Quivira Heights (19-19) and No. 7 Fowler (18-19) in its pool.

"I'm excited," Richmeier said. "I like where we're seeded at.

"The girls are really aiming for Saturday," she added.

Weskan lost one of its top players from last season -- outside hitter Payton Walker, a four-year starter -- to graduation. But senior middle hitter/setter Hillary McKinney and junior outside hitter/setter Jori Mote returned.

"She's probably one of our strongest hitters, her and Hillary," Richmeier said of Mote. "They pick up our team when we're down."

Second-year Wheatland-Grinnell coach Allison Polifka, a 2003 graduate from Grinnell High School, went to state twice as a player. Last year, the Thunderhawks lost to Weskan in the sub-state title game. This year, the No. 2 seed Thunderhawks hosted the sub-state and beat top seed Kensington-Thunder Ridge in the final at Grainfield.

Polifka said her team's difficult schedule proved to be a benefit. Of the Thunderhawks' 10 losses, seven were to state qualifiers.

"We've played a very tough schedule," Polifka said.

Polifka also thinks her team has a difficult pool at state.

"I think it's a tough one," she said. "We got a tough draw."

Joining No. 4 seed Wheatland-Grinnell (24-10) in its pool are No. 1 seed Hutchinson-Central Christian (38-2), No. 5 Bern (21-15) and No. 8 Frankfort (13-24).

Wheatland-Grinnell will have four freshmen on the state tournament roster, but the Thunderhawks are led at the net by 5-foot-10 junior middle hitter Megan Heier, who leads the team in kills.

"Obviously, a lot of people look at the team -- stop Megan Heier," Polifka said. "Look at four other girls; they're pretty equal. They all have high numbers, just not as many attempts."

The Thunderhawks also have Taylor Rathgeber, a senior libero who leads in digs, and sophomore setter Brooke Ostmeyer, tops in assists.