Forever In Our Hearts

Coaches, friends, teammates, and family members remember Isabel Duba, multiple sport student athlete at Grayling High School, as someone who was kind, talented, and loved the outdoors
Isabel Duba – a multiple sport athlete for Grayling High School who graduated in 2020 – was known by teammates, coaches, teachers, and friends as someone who was kind, smart, and determined, and someone who loved to be active, especially in sports and in the outdoors.
“She was the kindest person,” said Emma Mertes, Duba’s cousin, friend, classmate, and teammate. “Some of the best and hardest make-your-stomach-hurt kind of laughs were with her.”
Duba passed away on September 19 at the age of 18 following a horse riding accident, according to her obituary.
She was known for her love of horseback riding, sports, and being outside. Friend and classmate Lauren Helsel described Duba as “a unique and radiant young woman.”
“She was outgoing and always knew how to have a good time,” Helsel said. “She taught me to ride a dirt bike, ride a horse, and to let loose and have fun.”
“I will forever cherish the times I spent with her,” Helsel said. “I remember attending her family’s adventure days and riding horses and doing outdoor activities when we were younger. I will never forget swimming in her grandma’s pond, riding her horses, riding the buggy through the trails, eating cheese bread around the dinner table, or sitting in her room talking. Whenever I was with Isabel I always had a smile on my face and was laughing. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her and those who did not.  Her energy and positive spirit was so great it spread to anyone who was around her.”
“Isabel never let me forget the time I ran into the door going outside for recess in fifth grade,” said friend and classmate Eli Jackson. “I will always appreciate her humor and love for the outdoors.”
“It was never a dull moment with her. Whenever I was with her, it was always go, and do. Never sit,” Mertes said. “Riding her buggy, sledding, her trying to teach me to ride a horse (and me falling off and sliding into giant piles of you-know-what), swimming anywhere we could, making silly TikTok videos (they were not good at all, but they were really fun to make), staying the night at each other’s house before early morning tournaments, and my personal favorite, bonfires.”
“Isabel was always outside,” Mertes said. “She had so much she wanted to do, and it was hard to fit it all into one day. One thing I was always jealous of – besides her stunning good looks – was her courage, and daringness. It wasn’t that nothing was intimidating to her. It was her jumping head first into it, and trying her complete best. Then if she didn’t succeed, she’d do it again. No matter how big or small the task.”
Duba played four years of basketball at Grayling High School (three on varsity). She played varsity girls soccer during her sophomore and junior seasons, and she played volleyball for three years.
“Isabel was such an amazing person, I know that she will forever hold a special place in my heart and the hearts of the coaching staff and her teammates,” said Dan Brandt, coach of the Grayling High School varsity girls basketball team. “She was one who always left it out on the court every night; she was her own toughest critic. No matter how well she played she would always think she could have done more; she always pushed herself so hard to do better each and every day.”
“I remember a time when she forgot her basketball shoes and only had on some tennis shoes with no grip so we flipped around sports tape and wrapped her shoes to give her traction to practice because she refused to sit out, but watching her run up and down the court with tape just to give her traction was one of my favorite memories because it goes to show that no matter the circumstances she always pushed through and found a way to put in her best effort,” Brandt said.
Doug Paulus, JV girls basketball coach for Grayling High School, recalled a time in which he thought she was being too unselfish.
“I had the great privilege of coaching Isabel for five years of basketball. A time that both stands out for me and defines her was her freshman season at Charlevoix. It was our third or fourth game of the season and the first game that the freshman girls were behind at halftime. She would steal the ball from the other team on trip after trip. She would then dribble down the floor all by herself and curl to the outside even though she was a great lay-up shooter. I had asked her several times over several games to just take it to the basket and she would look at me, shrug her shoulders, and smile. At halftime I took her out in the hallway and explained that we were losing because she was giving up golden opportunities to score, which caused her to start crying as she explained that she ‘just could not be that kind of ball hog.’ I explained the concept of positive life leadership and how it affects those around you, especially teammates. I explained with good leads it was much easier for me to get bench players more time and they would respect her for that lead if she created it. She came out in the third quarter and stole the ball seven straight times, scoring each time, giving us a big lead. When the Charlevoix coach called a timeout to try and regroup I asked Isabel to look around her. The other four players were the bottom of the bench who had played very little up to this time. As they came off the floor they all gave her a huge group hug. She gave me a huge smile and from that day on in her basketball career she led her teams with a full out quiet charge,” Paulus said.
“I had the pleasure of coaching Isabel in both freshman basketball and JV volleyball and from the first day I saw her in the gym, I knew she was going to be special and turns out, I was right,” said Sarah Frisbie. “She was not only a special athlete, but a special person. She made her presence known both on and off the court or field. She was a tremendously talented three-sport athlete that faced any challenge head on and was a fierce competitor. She was a dedicated student, a positive role model, and an outstanding leader. Above all, she was a wonderful daughter, big sister, and friend. She was brave, daring, and adventurous. Truly a beautiful soul both inside and out. Her smile could light up a room and it will be greatly missed. We love you sweet Iz! You are forever in our hearts.”
“Isabel naturally expected great things from herself: in school, in sports, and in life.  Students and athletes like Isabel are unique and special.  Her drive to always be better inspired me to always want to be better,” said Samara Sabin Hartman, middle school teacher and coach.
“She was a great student to have in class and one of the best that I can remember,” said Eric Tunney, Grayling High School physical education teacher. “She always attacked every activity we did and loved to compete. She was rough and tough even with the boys but would stop to help out the beginners when needed.  Her smile was contagious and she brightened the class each day. She was smart, witty, and quick with a good comeback. I’m so thankful my family and I were able to see her on the day she passed and will hold that and many more memories forever. Many continued thoughts and prayers.”
Cheryl L. Millikin, Duba’s grandmother, said Isabel developed a love of sports at an early age.
“She started participating in sports in kindergarten. Saturday clinics learning the fundamentals. She was very attentive, soaking in the directions of student-athlete volunteers and coaches. She was a perfectionist and wanted to do it right. Very careful in her aggression towards others even though her whole heart was in the game. Her aggression did increase as she grew and became more comfortable with the sport she was playing, but still was cautious of others. I will always remember that powerful drive down the basketball court, the soccer field, and on the volleyball court. I loved it. It didn’t matter what she chose to do, she gave it her all,” Millikin said.
Mertes said teammates enjoyed the camaraderie with Duba not just on the court, but in the locker room and at practice.
“What I remember the clearest is the goofing around. Whether it was before games or practice or even sometimes during games (sorry coach),” Mertes said.
“Every day after school before basketball practice we would sit in the locker room and eat some snacks. We had a box of Wheat Thins on Wednesday and decided we needed to make it last until Friday. On Thursday, we eat our portion of Wheat Thins for the day and get dressed for practice and went into the gym. That was our routine together. School, snack, change, sit in the gym, warm up together, practice, go home. I look around in the gym and Isabel is gone. We always told the other where we were going, and they usually came with us. I run into the locker room because I know exactly what she is doing. I peek around the corner to see her munching on the Wheat Thins and she just goes ‘oh no.’ It was kind of our thing to always be goofy after school before practice to hopefully have some energy to run. So I chase her and she starts running around the locker room and I had my water bottle in hand so I shoot a little at her. Needless to say, what started as chasing each other for a box of Wheat Thins ended up with us shooting water at each other and me trying to wrestle the box of Wheat Thins away from her,” Mertes said.
“If there is one thing Isabel has inspired me to do, it’s live life. Fill your days. Spend time with your family. Do the things you enjoy, every day. Don’t hesitate to do the things you want to do, and more importantly, don’t let the unimportant things take up time that should be used for the things important to you. Go, and do,” Mertes said.
Millikin offered a similar message.
“I attended my grandson’s football practice not long ago and one of the coaches stopped to chat, looking at me, wondering why I would be at a practice. I just enjoy watching not only Isabel but all of my grandchildren. He commented ‘savor the moment.’ He was so right. Always, always, savor the moment,” Millikin said.
The community has created a local scholarship in Duba’s name. To contribute to the Isabel Duba Endowed Memorial Scholarship, send donations to CAEEF, Attn: Kim Schmidt, Crawford AuSable School District, 1135 North Old U.S. 27, Grayling, MI, 49738. The CAEEF – the Crawford AuSable Excellence In Education Foundation – also accepts donations online at

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806

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