Hannibal students recognized for all-state honors

From left, President of the Hannibal School Board Michael Holliday, Dawson Biel, Madhi Behniaye and Atticus Sternke stand with their all-state honors for swimming.

HANNIBAL, Mo. —  During a presentation at the Hannibal School Board Meeting on Wednesday night, LaRhonda Behl said her team is “small but mighty.”

She was referring to her swim team made up of only seven swimmers who are known for being fierce competitors at every swim meet.

Behl recognized three swimmers who made all-state team this year and her introductions brought both laughter and tears. 

She especially teared up when introducing Dawson Behl, the senior team captain who will announce his college of choice later in the year, and plans to be an astrophysicist. 

When Dawson started on the swim team in 2020, it wasn’t just small and mighty — it was just a party of two. Dawson and Gabe Foster brought the swim team back after it had fizzled out for various reasons. 

Behl stood and spoke directly to Dawson in front of the group.

“Three years ago you and Gabe Foster brought this team back,” she said and then turned to the crowd.

She explained that during the hardest time to start anything new —during COVID— Dawson and Foster got together, made videos, and talked to people at school about getting the swim team back together and it ended being just the two of them.

“So the parents would drive them to the swim meets, sit in the car, wait for them to finish swimming and then drive them back home,” she said. “They went in and would swim in a pool with no one there to cheer them on and that was all the way up to the state competition.”

She turned back to Dawson. 

“It was very tough but you hung in there and  I am so glad because we only had seven swimmers and I hope we can grow even more,” she said.

Behl also spotlighted that Dawson maintains a GPA above 4.0, is involved in marching band and jazz band, and broke two school records this year.

“Most importantly, last year you broke your brother’s school record,” she said to a room full of laughs.

Dawson finished 6th in the 100 backstroke in the state competition.

Behl also spoke to the two other state winners which were Atticus Sternke and Mahdi Behniaye.

Sternke, sophomore, placed 4th in the 100 Freestyle in the state competition.

Behl said that Sternke is a “very strong man on the swim team.” 

She also jokingly referred to him as the team nutritionist, because he always checked the labels of everything they ate. “Which was great but not always fun,” Behl laughed.  

“I am looking forward to having Atticus on the team for the next two years. You are going to see him first at the state level over the next couple of years. He is a very strong and awesome swimmer,” she said. 

Mahdi Behniaye, junior, placed 20th in breast stroke at state, which Behl said was an especially fierce competition this year.  

“Those kids were incredibly fast and we are swimming against St. Louis teams with lots of coaches. He pulled it together and did great, and I am very proud of that,” Behl said. “Swimming, if you don’t know, you get in there it’s one chance and once chance only. So, you get in there and do the best you can and he did and came away with 20th which I think is just awesome.”

Behl said that while Sternke was their nutritionist, Behniaye was their stock broker.

“These boys would be trying to swim and practice in the morning and this one would be telling us what’s going on with stocks —what was high and what was low,” she laughed. 

While Behniaye is a junior, he will be graduating early. His GPA is above 4.0. He is looking at school in Texas and hoping to become a surgeon.

“These guys have maintained excellent achievement not only in their sport but in maintaining academic excellence, leadership, and involved while being involved in other sports and into other things,” said Behl. “I want to say to the parents: Thank you for supporting the team and bringing up such fine young men. I am proud of them and I know they are going to do great things in their lives.” 

Coach Jeff Gschwender also introduced five football players who made the all state team this year.

“We had five football students selected for all-state football. The way they do that is the weekend after the state football game a representative or two representatives of each district all come together to select a few individuals that are good enough to get on that team out of the thousands of people who play football.”

For Aston Watts, senior, it was his second year on the team. He played as the third linebacker last year and this year he was the second team linebacker.

“Ashton is a senior this year and we will miss him big time. Not just his play on the field but just his attitude about everything. He is everything we look for on the football time,” Gschwender said.

He also told the crowd that not only is Watts earning honors on the field but he has received all-state academic honors as well, which requires a high GPA and ACT score, along with a top percentage in class.

“Getting athletic all-star and academic all-star is a pretty cool deal. His third year,” Gschwender said.

Ashton Watts is a senior, this is his second year. He was on the all-state football team last year; he was third team linebacker. This year he was second-team linebacker. He 

“He played defense side of ball force and a ton of tackles. He was a great leader for us when we were captains. He also academic all-state as well. In which you have to have GPA and ACT score, top percentage in your class. Getting athletic all-star and academic all-star is a pretty cool deal. His third year.

Kane Wilson, junior, was selected for first-team defensive line.  Gschwender said that in his opinion Wilson could have easily been selected as first team tight on the offensive side as well, but the rules at state are that players are only allowed to play on one side of the football.

He pinpointed Wilson as a big player for the last few years and they look for him to do again this next year and step up his leadership as a senior. 

“A lot of kids look up to him and if you go up to the weight room then he’s up there with 65 kids up there following his lead, so Kane is going to be a great one to have back. He makes everyday interesting especially for me,” he said.

Three of the individuals selected for all state were not able to make it Wednesday night. 

Markahl Humphrey was selected first-team returner. Gschwender said Humphrey is another one, in his opinion, who could have gotten all-state running back or all-state defensive back as well. 

“He had been a starter for us for the last three years, this year he started on the offensive side of the ball so you probably heard his name more at football games carrying the ball and stuff like that,” he said.

Ryan Ross, junior, was selected second team offensive line. 

“Ross is a second year starter for us and will be a senior next year for him as well so we are excited to get him back,” said Gschwender. “Again not just his ability but his leadership and what he brings to the program as a whole.”

Aneyas Williams, junior, was selected first team running back. 

Williams has been in high school and played varsity football all three years. 

As a freshman, he was second team all-purpose back, as a sophomore he was first team all state wide receiver and as a junior he is first-time all-state running back. 

Gschwender said he’s not heard of many players in the state of Missouri who have gotten all-state first three years but three different positions as well.

“Again, we couldn’t be more proud of these five individuals. Our seniors, Ashton and Markel, we are going to miss greatly,” he said. “The way they bring a great attitude to practice everyday and make the sport fun — that’s what it’s supposed to be.”

Sara Kurz, teacher of the music program for the Hannibal High School and Middle School, also introduced two students who made all-state choir. 

Michael Hark and Gavin Underhill, both seniors, were selected for the second year to participate in all-state choir. Kurz said you can only try out during junior and senior years. The boys also made all-state show choir and all-state festival choir.

Kurz said they are also leading rehearsals for show choir and concert choir.

“They are two of the top basses in the Northeast District of the state, they had to audition twice for singing and also sight-reading with different judges,” said Kurz. “If you watched the musical then you know how talented both of them are.”

Superintendent Susan Johnson also told Hark and Underhill, “Every time I go somewhere our choir is very well-known. Thanks for being such great representations of our school and thanks to Mrs. Kurz for leading that.”

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