Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
This year’s inductees into the Hot Springs Bison Athletics Hall of Fame were introduced on the football field prior to last Friday night’s homecoming football game versus Lead-Deadwood. Pictured with family and friends are Bill Marks (far left), Jeff Graf (fifth from right) and Billy Morrow (third from right).
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – School pride and community appreciation were on full display this past Saturday evening at the Hot Springs American Legion, as the Hot Springs Bison Athletics Hall of Fame hosted its 2023 induction banquet where four individuals were honored, including athletes Billy Morrow, Jeff Graf and Willie Marks along with coach Dan Lennon.
Hot Springs native and current men’s basketball coach at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Eric Glenn served as the emcee of the 8th annual event, which began with a donation presentation from Class of 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Don Turbiville who donated $5,000 to the organization.
The night’s first 2023 inductee was Billy Morrow, who was introduced by his former wrestling coach Mark Rude, who now lives in Casper, Wyo., but was a teacher and coach in Hot Springs from 1988 to 1997.
Morrow is a 1997 graduate and a four-time state placewinner for the Hot Springs Bison wrestling team who battled his way to a state championship as a junior in 1996 at 103 pounds. He finished his high school career with a 149-42 record overall, which included a few years wrestling varsity while well-underweight as a middle schooler.
Rude said he first heard about Morrow when he was on the Hot Springs Middle School and joked about how Billy was “the only sixth grader with a mustache.” Rude described Morrow as a hard worker and relentless competitor who was known for his quick “snapdown” which is how he won many of his matches. As the team’s first wrestler on the mat in duals at 103 pounds, Rude said Morrow always set the tone for the night and helped pave the way to team success throughout his career.
Rude also spoke of Morrow’s early interest in demolition derby racing and his well-known success in that field later in life. Morrow currently works as a foreman for the City of Hot Springs.
When the soft-spoken Morrow came to the microphone, he used his time on stage to thank his family and several members of the community who supported him throughout his time in high school, specifically the late Linda Murdock who would take him to meets when his father could not, along with Patsy Davis and many others.
Morrow also thanked and listed all of his coaches and many of his teammates, including Tony Phipps who was the team’s heavyweight at the time and was also Billy’s running partner as the team’s “biggest and smallest” wrestlers.
Jeff Graf, a 1973 graduate, was a standout four-sport athlete for Hot Springs, who returned to Hot Springs as a coach after completing his football playing career at Northern State University.
He was introduced by former Hot Springs teacher and coach Gary Glenn. Prior to speaking himself, Glenn had Jeff’s sister first read her nomination letter which summarized all of his credentials.
Graf, who now lives in Bremerton, Wash., spoke briefly about his time as a coach in Hot Springs but then spoke extensively about his memories from high school and being a part of multiple sports, including baseball, basketball, track and football.
“When I graduated in 1973, I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame, but they didn’t have one,” Graf said, while emphasizing the important significance this honor now has in his life. Graf also pointed out how appropriate it was that the banquet was being held on the 23rd of the month, which was also his number in football.
Graf summarized numerous highlights of his high school years and mentioned several Hot Springs people who he grew up with, looked up to and who influenced him, including Tuffy Halls, Gump Green, Mike Harris, Jim Tays, Norm and Bud Jenniges, Bill Marks, Carl Wilde, Dave Merrill, Gerald Collogan and Don Turbiville, to name just a few.
Graf also emphasized the importance of his family, with whom many were present during the Hall of Fame weekend in Hot Springs. He said his three pillars in life are God, Family and Sports, in that order. However, during his time in high school and earlier in life, he mistakenly placed Sports above them all, which he now regrets in some ways due to the toll it sometimes took on his family.
As a nod to fellow Hall of Fame inductee Rick Wass (Class of 2018) who made a famously very lengthy induction speech, Graf jokingly provided his own timer with a bell that was set for 15 minutes. Despite starting it several minutes after he first took the stage, the bell did go off prior to him completing everything he wanted to say. He however chuckled and continued for a few more minutes afterwards, reminiscing about his time on the Bison football team.
Next up was Bill “Willie” Marks, who was introduced by Hall of Fame board member Carlos Cornay. He said that Marks was the first Hot Springs High School athlete he looked up to as a youth, and said Marks was an athlete in which “everything he touched turned to gold.”
Marks is a 1970 graduate who played football, basketball and ran track. He averaged 20 points per game his senior season in basketball but would go on to compete track collegiately at Chadron State College after setting a few high school record.
During his speech, Marks said his family was originally from Sterling, Colo., but moved to Oral the year he was born in 1952 when his dad Bud, a WW II veteran, was granted a unit within the newly-created Angostura Irrigation District. He attended his first eight grades in Oral before finishing up his secondary education in Hot Springs.
Marks, who now again lives on his family’s ranch near Oral after moving back home in 2010, recalled how his dad placed a basketball rim on the back of a grain bin which is where he learned to play basketball. That rim, he said, is still on that same grain bin.
He said that he originally wanted to attend college at Black Hills State, but the coach there wanted him to run cross country, which he had never before run. So instead, he decided to walk-on at Chadron State and recalled always having his best times competing against Black Hills State.
After college, Marks began a career with the Burlington Northern railroad which brought him to Sheridan, Wyo, where he lived most of this adult life and is also where he once again began playing organized basketball at the YMCA for a total of 48 years. Now at the age of 71, Marks said he believes he would still be playing basketball there, if he would not have chosen to move back home 12 years ago following the death of his mother.
The final inductee of the night was Dan Lennon, who passed away at the age of 94 in 2002. He was introduced posthumously by his son Dick Lennon.
Prior to becoming a legendary South Dakota coach who has since been inducted into numerous other Halls of Fame – including those for USD Coyote Sports, South Dakota Sports and South Dakota Sportswriters – Lennon got his first-ever coach job in Hot Springs from 1937 to 1943. During that time, Lennon earned a 40-10-4 record overall in six seasons.
Dick recalled a story told to him about his dad when he was a coach in Hot Springs, in which he helped lead the Bison to a victory over Rapid City. Dick said his dad created a trick play when Hot Springs was down by three points, whereas he called a time out in the closing seconds and then directed one of his players to stay near the sideline instead of going back out to the middle of the field with the rest of the team. After the snap, the Rapid City defenders did not notice the Hot Springs player isolated and uncovered near the sideline which allowed for him to have a clear path to the endzone to score a touchdown and allow the Bison to defeat the favored Rapid City squad.