Come Friday, the Newton High School Athletic Hall of Fame will have three new members — Merl Sturd, a basketball player who graduated in 1956; Michelle Bergquist, a cross country runner who graduated in 1991; and Don Thaw, a wrestler who graduated in 1975.
All three will be recognized during the Newton High School football game at Atheltic Park, and then with a reception at Santa Fe Middle School at 9:30 p.m.
Donald Thaw, Class of 1975
Donald Thaw was, in many ways, just keeping a family tradition alive when he joined the Newton High School wrestling team in 1971. His older brother, Jack, had been quite successful, going on to wrestle collegiately after high school.
Donald had been groomed, so to speak, by his older brother. Jack started taking Donald to high school practices when Don was in elementary school — and got Don to go to his first tournament at age 8.
“Jack used to take me and my other brothers to practice, back when I was in the first or second grade,” Donald said. “They had a little kids tournament in Manhattan. … We used to go and spend the night in a church basement because it was a two-day tournament. … That was my first experience. I wrestled at 50 pounds. That was fun.”
Donald is continuing the family wrestling tradition of success this weekend — joining both his brother and his nephew, Justin, in the Newton High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
According to Robert Jasso, one of the persons who nominated Donald for the Hall of Fame, Donald's success speaks for itself, despite his being part of a family that excelled in the sport.
“From our era, 1973 to 1976, there were two athletes who stood out during that era, and Donald was one of them,” Jasso said. “No one has been recognized from that era, and it was well past due that recognition was given.”
Donald was quite successful as a high school wrestler — making use of the tutelage of not only his family but hall of fame coaches Jack White, who coached him in elementary school, and Delbert Erickson, who coached him in high school.
“I had a lot of help, my brothers, the coaching staff, the trainers and the Newton fans,” Donald said. “They really got on board. My freshman year, when you looked up in Lindley Hall, there were not many there. As we started winning, more and more people started coming. That was good. Newton needed something to cheer about. Basketball was not doing well. It was about like now, with how good the girls are doing in track now. .. The fans really got behind us.”
As a freshman at Newton High School Donald qualified for the state tournament, but a case of the mumps kept him from wrestling in the tournament. Not to be discouraged, the following year he won the 126 pound title and helped Newton win a team title. His junior year he entered a new weight class, 132 pounds, and put together the same results — both an individual and team title. His senior year he set his sights on winning a third consecutive title, which would have tied him with Newton Hall-of-Famer Albert Martinez.
However an injury — a torn ligament in his knee — slowed him down a little. He ended up placing third at the state tournament that year.
“Sometimes you just get beat,” Donald said. “Sometimes you have to go through the back door. I had a bad knee and the doctor said I was probably going to be out for the season. I said 'no, I am not. I am going to wrap it up and keep going and do the best I can.' That is what I did. I don't blame it on the knee. I blamed it on not being as focused as I should have been.”
He was successful outside of the high school ranks as well — winning the Kansas AAU Olympics Championship three times.
After high school, he went to Adams State College in Colorado wrestling there for one year. After college ended for him, he returned to Newton. He started working, got married and had children. For two years, he coached the Newton Wrestling Club — something he says he misses but can not do because of his work schedule.
Michelle Bergquist, class of 1991
Michelle Bergquist ran her way into the record books at Newton High School as a member of the cross country and track teams, putting together a career that resulted in eight letters from participation on two teams — earning more than 40 medals and qualifying for state seven times.
She was pulled into cross country and track not only because of natural talent, but because of her father.
“My dad ran cross country when he was at East High, and he loved it and talked about it, and that was my introduction to it,” she said. “I did something that my dad did.”
She will be inducted into the Newton Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 1.
“I am honored,” Bergquist said. “I don't have any really great words for that.”
Bergquist ran through high school — participating in cross country and track.
Her junior year was one for the ages, as during the cross country season she placed either first or second in every meet she participated in during the regular season. That year she placed fifth at state, the second highest place finish of a any girl from Newton High School in cross country.
During her career, she became the only cross country athlete from Newton High School to place in the top 20 at state four times.
She also holds a cross country record that will likely never be broken — the fastest two-mile cross country race time recorded by a freshman at Newton High School. The Kansas High School Activities Association has changed girls' cross country from a two mile to five kilometer (3.1 miles) event.
“I had patient coaches,” Bergquist said. “There are equal parts of mental training and ability. For whatever reason, I ended up being mentally competitive and I had natural ability.”
She said she didn't do enough in the summers, what her coaches were telling her she needed to do. That is one thing she is not proud of during her career.
“I was lucky to have natural ability to carry me through,” Bergquist said.
She was coached by Ron Capps and Ralph Malin, and she ran with current coach Richard Mick as a teammate at Newton High School.
After high school, she went to Emporia State, where she competed in cross country, outdoor track and indoor track.
“Being part of a team is a lifelong thing, whether you are winning, right behind or in the middle,” Berquist said. “You learn a lot of life lessons. I gained a lot of confidence from my running and that is what my athletes who I coach can take with them — friendships and some lessons. I got those in cross country and that is why I like coaching.”
She went on to a teaching career and started coaching cross country. She now serves as an assistant to the Newton High School Activities Director.
“I came back and started coaching right out of college,” Bergquist said. “I took a few years off to teach preschool, but came back. … Running, with the adrenaline and the family members who are your team is incredible. Now I have all these kids who are a part of my life every day in the fall. By the time they are a senior, they are a big part of you.”
Merl Sturd, Class of 1956
Merl Sturd was a shooter, at least that's one of the few things his teammate Ken Franz can remember about the Newton High School basketball player who graduated in 1956.
"That's about all I can really say," Franz said.
Franz was a sophomore when Sturd started his senior year — meaning he had just one season with Sturd in the black-and-gold of Newton High School more than 60 years ago. One could forgive him not remembering a lot about Sturd as a player.
He does, however, remember Sturd after he hung up the high tops. Franz was a basketball coach at Newton when Sturd was trying to establish himself as a basketball official.
"He was working a JV game, and he asked me if I would recommend him for the Ark Valley (League)," Franz said. "I did. He worked in the Ark Valley for years."
According to Monty Fey, who wrote a letter in support of Sturd's induction into the Hall of Fame, that career as a basketball official lasted 25 years. Sturd worked in the Ark Valley, Wichita City League, Chisholm Trail League and collegiately in the Jayhawk Junior College league and Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
In 1989 Sturd received a service award from the Kansas High School Activities Association for 25 years of service.
Sturd's love of basketball led him to co-captain the 1956 state championship team from Newton High School. He earned a host of awards while wearing the Railroader uniform including all league and state tournament all tournament honors in 1956. He earned two varisty letters while playing for Newton.
He kept grabbing headlines after he graduated, starting his college career at Dodge City Junior College before transferring to Fort Hays State University in 1958. Wearing the uniform of the Fort Hays, Sturd earned all conference honors twice, and was named to the small college All-America team in 1959.
He set a scoring record at Fort Hays, pouring in 402 points in 1959. He led the Tigers in scoring again in 1960, again earning all conference honors.
Sturd was included in the very first Fort Hays Hall of Fame induction class, feted with the honor in 1986.
"Mel Sturd upheld and exemplified the best in sports as a player and as an official," Fey wrote in Sturd's NHS Hall of Fame nomination. "He was a fierce competitor who continued that way into his adult years, and I believe his athletic story needs to be recognized by the students of Newton High School and our Newton community.