Congratulations to Clayton on its state basketball showing

I had the opportunity to cover Clayton High School sports for five years in the 1980s. Ever since then I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Clayton’s athletes and their teams.
Clayton struck me as this warm, welcoming town that welcomed anyone who showed an interest in the community. The enrollment of the whole Clayton school probably wouldn’t make up one grade level in a burgeoning suburb like Hudson or Stillwater. But that was part of the charm of Clayton.
You could go to football practice and they’d have 20 players on the team. That includes grades 9-12. But that didn’t stop the players from seeing the possibilities in their season. And more often than not, those tiny Clayton teams would be among the top finishers in their conference each year.
As a rookie reporter, I got to work with Clayton coaches like Ed Langham and Tracey Mumm, who were exceptional at their craft. I’ve met small town coaches who always use the built-in excuse that they don’t have as many kids or as fancy facilities as most of the schools they face. I never heard excuses in Clayton. The coaches taught the athletes to get the most out of their skills and to play as a team.
Clayton was getting the start on its long run of successful volleyball teams back then. Clayton has been to state four times in volleyball since 1990. The boys basketball team has reached state four times since 2000.
Seeing Clayton reach the state championship game in boys basketball should make all the area sports fans a little proud. The Bears’ success comes from commitment and effort. The Bears weren’t tall or lightning fast, but they played with a savvy built by spending countless hours playing together in the off-season.
I remember watching Clayton beat St. Croix Central two years ago in the WIAA baseball regionals. Tyler Ketz, who was Clayton’s leading scorer in the state championship game, was this tiny sophomore pitcher going against the Panthers. Some of our loyal readers may remember Tyler’s older sister, Sarha Baumgard, who was a reporter for The News a decade ago.
Clayton beat Central in that regional final, playing an almost flawless game. Central is always pretty strong in its fundamentals, so beating the Panthers at their own game was memorable.
There are a lot of opponents who have to feel like Central did in that game. Clayton may not have huge, physically imposing athletes. They have smart, dedicated athletes who are well coached. That’s a pretty good equation for long-term success.