, Muskogee, OK

April 1, 2013

COLUMN: Graves gives Okay reason to be proud

From staff, wire reports

— These are tough times at Okay High School, which has struggled of late to improve low test scores just as schools all over the state walk a budget tightrope.

Amid it sits a senior who has reason to not only celebrate her own achievement, but helped make the school feel good about itself.

Not that Bristen Graves hasn’t done her share of that already. She’s the only three-time MVP on the All-Phoenix volleyball team, having helped lead the Lady Mustangs to their deepest season since 1997 as it won 13 consecutive games but fell in the Class 4A semifinals, finishing 29-4.

On Monday, she signed a scholarship to Northeastern A&M, just two days removed from being part of the school’s team that won state to qualify for the FCCLA nationals in Nashville, Tenn. FCCLA stands for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

“I’m kind of excited,” she said over the weekend, not sounding like the type of girl who boasts about herself much.

If any program should, Okay’s volleyball should boast. The Mustangs haven’t had much success in other sports. While football is front and center in communities in the fall, volleyball has the spotlight as one of 4A’s elite in the sport since its only state title back in ’97.

And, of the four kids who have earned the right to play at the next level in any sport from the school since 2000, three of those have been volleyball players.  

That’s not easy, even with that success, said coach Belinda Clark, who found the options limited for the first signee in her tenure.  Clark sent match video to multiple schools, from the University of Arkansas to several Oklahoma and Kansas junior colleges.

Few responded.

“Bristen had been to Arkansas’ camp twice and liked the environment,” Clark said. “I don’t know this to be true there but the big schools in general tend to recruit a lot of club players.  It makes sense since club schedules are outside of their team schedule and allows them to scout more often.”

Graves’ volleyball acumen was all home-grown and no clubbing.

Redlands showed interest during the state tournament in October, Clark said. “But I don’t think it felt right to Bristen.”

So it came down to NEO and a late-fall visit.

“It’s small and coming from small, I feel more comfortable,” Graves said.

And it gives her a place to develop for two years and revisit her options.

Between now and then, she and selected other students will head to Nashville for a July competition with the FCCLA based on a lunch event they planned and executed for veterans in their community. In it, they learn leadership, teamwork, communication and public speaking skills.

“She’s a part of some accomplishments that should make people see that in spite of the perception they might have about Okay, everything is not as bad as it seems,” Clark said.

 Good for Okay, and good for Bristen.