MISSOULA — History was honored last Friday night at the Adams Center as the University of Montana honored four new members into the Grizzly Athletics Hall of Fame.
The inductees included former Griz football All-American and NFL Pro Bowler Marc Mariani, former Lady Griz star Jeanne McNulty-King, former All-American runner Dean Erhard and Betsy Duerksen, who was the first coach of the women's soccer team, while Kyle Washington accepted the Grizzly Lifetime Honors Award given to the entire Washington family for their contributions to UM throughout the years.
Voice of the Griz Riley Corcoran emceed the event, saying it was an opportunity to connection generations of Grizzly greats and for those inducted like Erhard, who had a decorated cross country and track and field career in the 1970's, it brought him back to Missoula for the first time in 40 years to be recognized for his accomplishments.
"It's pretty special when you go to school, you never think something like this will happen eventually to you, and what a thrill, what an honor to have the university express its gratitude in this way," said Erhard, who was born in Havre and grew up in Helena, Billings and Illinois. "I'm just like eternally grateful to the university it gave me my life it gave me everything just completely astonished and grateful to the enth degree."
The Griz soccer program has become one of the jewels of the UM athletic department, but that wouldn't have happened without Duerkson, who was hired in 1994 to build the program up from scratch, and since, the soccer program has turned into one of the powers in the Big Sky Conference, including having locked up the regular-season championship this year.
"Well, I'm super excited about how the team is doing so well this year and I can tell that the Missoula community is really excited about the current team, so thinking that it was 29 years ago that we started it, and it's come to this, that's endearing to me to see the program is still being successful under coach Chris (Citowicki)," Duerksen said. "But at the beginning, I think I was really young and dumb. I didn't know what a difficult project it was that I was taking on, and I'm glad that I was young and dumb and I was like yeah I can build a great soccer program in Montana."
McNulty-King, a native of Whitehall, was the Big Sky MVP after the 1989-90 season as one of many homegrown products to play and star for Robin Selvig at Montana.
She led the Lady Griz to a NCAA tournament win in 1989 and became one of the program's best scorers and rebounders, and being part of the Lady Griz legacy is a point of pride for McNulty-King, as it is for so many others.
"The success that we had on the floor was phenomenal, but the relationships and the family we have now with Lady Griz that played before me, to the Lady Griz that play now, having that camaraderie and that sense of family I think that is the thing that is most cool," McNulty-King said. "I've been real big in bringing that all together and someone called it the glue and I think that's really cool that's probably my most proud."
Mariani rounded out the bunch as the Havre native turned walk-on for the Griz football program, who worked his way up and grinded before becoming a two-time All-American in 2008 and 2009 as the Grizzlies went to the national championship in both seasons.
The record-setter eventually went on to become a Pro Bowl return man in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, and for him, all he ever wanted was to represent the Montana Grizzlies, which has set him up for everything he's accomplished to this point in his life.
"It's more about what's on the front of the jersey for me, and it always was than what was on the back, and being able to be a Montana Grizzly, to represent the University of Montana not only while you're playing, but when you go on and after into the NFL, or into the real world after college, to be able to represent this place, it means a lot," Mariani said. "I take a lot of pride in that. I don't take it for granted, it's done so much for me in my life and it was a blessing to be a part of the maroon and silver."