The North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NDAPSSA) selected seven recipients for its Special Achievement awards.
Jordan Shearer, Wayne Herman, Steve Miller, Scott Knowlen, Clint Chamberlin, Jim Haussler and the Bishop Ryan girls basketball team were chosen for the honor in 2015.
Wayne Herman was first introduced to rodeo as a 20-year-old from Golden Valley, N.D.
And he learned quick.
Just a year into the sport as a participant, Herman took third at a regional rodeo event in Denver, which booked his National Finals Rodeo (NFR) debut later the same season. Herman went on to take third in the world that year in bareback riding, the first of his 11 career NFR appearances.
Thirty years and $856,490 later, Herman was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2014.
"I was honored and humbled at the same time," Herman said. "It's hard to explain. It's almost surreal in a sense, where I still can't believe I did that. That never really crossed my mind as a kid. I shouldn't say never, but as a youngster, I couldn't have pictured that happening."
After bursting onto the scene in 1985, Herman became a cemented fixture in the nation's rodeo scene for the next several years.
Of his 11 NFR appearances, Herman registered six top-five finishes as a bareback rider. In 1992, he secured his first and only World Bareback Championship.
And he had to work for it.
Just one season after falling $1,050 shy of his first golden buckle, Herman held a slim $1,596 advantage over Ken Lensegrav entering the NFR. Enduring a multitude of bumps and bruises stemming from a fifth-round wreck at the NFR in Las Vegas - including six stitches in his face and an injured riding arm - Herman went on to edge the field by placing second in Round 8 and winning Round 9. He finished that season with a career-best $122,949, more than 40 percent of which was earned in NFR competition.
Herman's 1992 season was the last in a string of five consecutive top-five NFR finishes.
"I think one of the strengths I had was that I didn't beat myself much," Herman said. "I capitalized on most of my opportunities and was able to ride up to my potential pretty regularly, and that made a big difference, especially at that level.
"I had my share of ups and downs, but all in all, it was an awfully good experience."
Bismarck High and Bismarck Century have amassed 125 combined state championships since 1992.
That brand of success is certainly a credit to the kids and coaches involved.
It's also a credit to the man at the top of the pyramid.
Jim Haussler, a long-time activities director for Bismarck Public Schools, is retiring from his post this season after a success-laden, 23-year career.
"We did experience a lot of success, and that success is a tribute to our kids and our coaches," Haussler said. "We've really had some special people in those positions."
A four-year letter winner and former captain of the University of Jamestown's football team, Haussler later obtained his doctorate in educational administration from the University of North Dakota in 1994.
After accepting his first administrative position in Aberdeen, S.D., Haussler returned to Bismarck in 1992.
"In Bismarck, we have tremendous parent support no matter what," Haussler said. "High school athletics is a very big deal in Bismarck, and parents come out and support in so many different ways: time, money, resources, whatever it takes to get the job done. And then, we've been fortunate to recruit and select quality people to direct those kids.
"I think that's the secret to any successful program, is making sure you have the right people doing the right things, and we've been really lucky."
Aside from his role in the athletic success of Bismarck Public Schools, Haussler has also directed a whopping 229 North Dakota High School Activities Association-sanctioned events.
But those tournaments were far from one-man operations, he said.
"It starts with your office staff and your support staff and your tournament committee, and just your attention to detail," Haussler said. "When you're running an event, one of the things I always said was, 'We need to give it our best shot because the kids involved in this event deserve it. They deserve our attention to the detail. They deserve us giving everyone the best experience possible.' I sincerely believe that."
Haussler has served as Chairman of the Bismarck Community Bowl Authority since the venue's inception in 1997, and was named a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Athletic Director of the Year in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013.
And from day one, he's always strived to improve.
"I always believed in the idea of getting better," said Haussler, a four-time Regional Athletic Director of the Year. "We ask our kids to lift weights and run and get better, and we ask coaches to go to conferences and pick up things, to learn more and get better. So I think as an athletic administrator, you have to always work at getting better."
In addition to losing its activities director, Bismarck High is also losing its most decorated head coach to retirement.
Over a 26-year career, Bismarck wrestling coach Scott Knowlen, who led the Demons to yet another Class A dual state championship last season, amassed an astonishing 368-16-2 dual record, including 15 state points championships, 15 undefeated teams and 12 other state titles in dual competition.
Knowlen was named national coach of the year in 2004, and once led the Demons to a streak of 145 consecutive dual victories.
"You have to have those kinds of people that go above and beyond the norm," Haussler said.
Knowlen certainly went above and beyond during his career.
In addition to his duties with Bismarck, Knowlen has also served as USAW Cadet director since 1994, and USAW Junior director since 1988.
With regard to the consistent success of his program, Knowlen believes year-round involvement in wrestling has been key for his athletes over the years.
"We have a lot of kids that are multi-sport guys, but there's room for everybody," Knowlen said. "There's room for our football guys to go to a football camp, but they can still squeeze in a wrestling camp or a tournament, too. That's been big. That's an area that's really added to our longevity of success. I'm grateful that the kids allow me to push them."
Knowlen's success at Bismarck wrestling wasn't limited to the coaching ranks.
As a student-athlete for the Demons, Knowlen accumulated a perfect 67-0 record en route to two state championships. He later merited All-America recognition during his time at Bismarck State and the University of North Dakota.
After serving a five-year coaching stint as an assistant under Mandan's Dave Mellen, Knowlen returned to Bismarck High to partner Mark Carter as co-coach in 1989.
Three years later, Knowlen assumed the helm on his own, and immediately led the Demons - a team ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today - to a Class A state title. He also won championships in 1996, 1998 and 2000 before a string of four straight between 2002-06.
Knowlen coached 79 individual state champions, 24 of which named high school All-Americans, and seven of which were named state senior athlete of the year. Those accolades sound impressive, and they are.
But that's become the norm for Bismarck wrestling.
"One aspect that I relish about our program is that we have that expectation," Knowlen said. "Our kids come into our room that first day of practice, and they have the expectation to be successful. We don't change our team goals any given year. It's the same all the time. We want to win a state dual title, and we want to win individual state titles. Every year."
Like Haussler and Knowlen, Bismarck High basketball coach Steve Miller has become an absolute legend.
And just like his two colleagues, Miller's calling it a career.
Over 25 seasons with the Demons, Miller took 23 different teams to the state tournament, winning Class A state championships in 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Miller also acumulated 539 victories throughout his career against just 256 losses (.678 winning percentage).
It wasn't easy, either.
"You have to work really hard as a coach, and I mean really, really hard," Miller said. "You have to work hard to get your kids to want to play together, and I think that's led to the succes that we've had. We expected our kids to work very hard and we expected them to play together, and we set kind of a model for our program that we wanted to play a certain kind of way."
A Flasher native, Miller was named Class A boys basketball coach of the year three times, most recently in 2004. After winning his second state championship in 2000, Miller was also named male coach of the year by the NDAPSSA.
He's also secured a winning record in all but one of his years in charge of Bismarck.
But Miller is quick to deflect his own accolades.
"I think first of all, the credit has to go to several people," he said. "You don't win in a program of our magnitude without the cooperation of a lot of people. It has to start with the athletes that you coach, and I've had some tremendous athletes, kids that were willing to be coached and wanted to get better. I think that's where it starts. They all had a goal in mind: let's pull together as a team and win, and not every situation is always like that."
Miller led the Demons to six state titles, but also made six additional championship game appearances, a model of consistency unmatched by any other Class A boys basketball program since the turn of the century.
In light of such consistent success, Miller's biggest job was keeping his players focused each and every night.
"You have to make the players understand that every game out is going to be a very difficult game, because when you're winning, you're everyone's rival," Miller said. "And I think that's been the case at Bismarck High because of the success we've had. You start talking about rivals, they go back a long way and run very deep. You have to prepare your kids that you're going to have a tough game every night.
"From the students' and the athletes' standpoint, it creates a culture of success."
Over the last 38 years, Williston High has seen plenty of coaches come and go.
But not Clint Chamberlin.
From 1976 to 2014, Chamberlin was a fixture in the Coyotes' distance running programs, both cross country, and track and field. Last spring, Chamberlin called it a career after 38 seasons with Williston, paving the way for newly hired coach Shane Wahlstrom, who assumed the helm for the first time in 2014-15.
Wahlstrom certainly has big shoes to fill.
At one time, Williston was a distance-running powerhouse in the state of North Dakota. With back-to-back state cross country titles in 1979 and 1980, Chamberlin eventually led the Coyotes to four championships in the same sport. As an assistant coach on the track, Chamberlin also coached up three different 3,200-meter relay teams, along with 14 individual champions.
"I just liked working with the kids," Chamberlin said. "The kids were talented enough, and they had good attitudes and went to work."
Cory Ihmels and Rob Heen - for whom Williston's annual Ihmels-Heen Invitational is named - both won multiple state titles in cross country under Chamberlin, as did North Dakota State alumni Jory Zunich. Ihmels is the only three-time cross country champion in Williston history, as he went on to compete and eventually coach at Iowa State. Heen was a a two-time champ, and went on to run for the University of Wisconsin.
The decision to run at the college level is always the players' decision, but Chamberlin took special pride in seeing his athletes advance to greater heights.
"If a runner feels like he wants to go on and run at the college level, then that's what I want, too," he said. "It's up to the individual, but it's rewarding to see that, and I tried to help them any way I could."
After winning three state cross country championships in a six-year span, the third coming in 1984, Chamberlin's Coyotes went without a title until 2004, when Zunich helped lift Williston back atop the state's cross country platform.
Chamberlin dealt with his share of talented athletes during his time at the helm. When training athletes of such caliber, the key is hard work, he said.
"You have to condition them properly and carefully," Chamberlin said. "It doesn't happen overnight. You work from one season to the next and see what you can get done, and see what they can do. That's up to their dedication and what they want to do, and how far they want to go."
Chamberlin is a six-time Class A cross country coach of the year, as voted on by the North Dakota High School Coaches Association.
Bishop Ryan Girls Basketball
This spring, Bishop Ryan's girls basketball team managed a feat only one other team has accomplished in the history of North Dakota Class B.
Still riding an 83-game winning streak against Class B opposition, the Lions secured their third consecutive state title against Kindred in March at the Minot State Dome, capping one of the most successful athletic runs this state has ever seen.
Before Ryan, only Bottineau had accomplished a three-peat in Class B (2006-08). The Lions matched that feat, but they also set a new benchmark for victories.
After a quarterfinal loss to Linton-HMB at the 2012 state tournament, Ryan reeled off a state record 63 consecutive games over the next three years, including two perfect seasons.
But wins aren't what Ryan coach Julie Stewart will remember most of her championship teams.
"The wins and the titles are great, and the girls will never forget them, but for me, it's really about just remembering what kinds of kids they are," said Stewart, who's led the Lions to an overpowering 107-3 record since the beginning of the 2011-12 season. "It's going to be fun watching them grow into special adults."
Several factors contributed to Ryan's three-year dynasty, but the talent of all-state forwards Hannah Stewart and Gabbie Bohl helped transform the Lions into a powerhouse.
Stewart, a three-time state tournament most vaulable player and Iowa recruit, ended her career as one of the most decorated prep athletes in North Dakota history, capped by her receiving the Miss Basketball award in March. She averaged 18.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game throughout her five-year varsity career, along with per-game totals of 2.9 blocks and 4.1 steals over 135 games in a Ryan uniform.
Bohl, who committed to the University of Mary in November, was a three-time all-state selection - including first-team honors in 2015 - and led the Lions in scoring last season with 21 points per game. Despite untimely injury problems in 2013-14, Bohl finished with 1,881 career varsity points (15.5 per game), and averaged 7.1 rebounds in five years with the Lions.
Individual talent has been an undeniable part of Ryan's recent Class B dominance, but "cooperation and dedication" were equally important, Julie Stewart said.
"The girls don't make themselves more or less important because of their abilities," she said. "I think that is what's kept us grounded as a team. They never lost the joy of the game. They worked so hard, but they also kept it in perspective where it never felt like a grind. I really believe they loved to play, and they enjoyed each other."
North Dakota has never encountered a prep wrestler quite like West Fargo's Jordan Shearer.
Already with five Class A individual state championships after his junior season, Shearer entered his senior year with eyes on more than one state record.
Before this season, no prep wrestler had ever captured six individual titles in North Dakota history, and no wrestler had won more than 250 matches.
At least not until Shearer.
Despite wrestling more than half the season on a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Shearer set new benchmarks in both categories.
More than a week after setting the all-time wins record at the East Region tournament in Valley City, Shearer swept his way through the state tournament, as well, capping his illustrious career with a 259-21 record and a whopping six state titles.
"He's always had a tremendous work ethic, and he's always put hard work and dedication into this sport," said former West Fargo coach Kayle Dangerud, who resigned after 10 seasons with the Packers. "He's earned every bit of success that he's had."
But Shearer's bid for six titles was nearly nipped in the bud.
As a seventh-grader taking on Turtle Mountain's Terry LaVallie in the championship match, Shearer found himself trailing in the third period with less than 10 seconds to go, but found a way to tie the match and send it to overtime.
In the extra frame, Shearer was up against the ropes again, clinging for survival against LaVallie's subsequent takedown attempt. Shearer eventually induced a stalemate, bringing both wrestlers back to their feet.
Seconds later, Shearer took down LaVallie and pinned him for his first state championship.
"Even talking about it now kind of gives me goosebumps," Dangerud said. "For him to be able to win a state title as a seventh-grader, that was an amazing accomplishment."
An accomplishment that kept Shearer's nose to the grindstone for the next five years.
"Obviously I could see the possibility of what would happen if I kept winning, and I knew I had the opportunity to be a six-time state champ," said Shearer, a University of Nebraska recruit. "That was always in the back of mind, but I knew I had to keep it there and focus on one year at a time. That was pretty much the goal every time. Just win this year, seventh grade. Win this year, eighth grade. I really had to break it down year by year, week by week, tournament by tournament."