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Portraits of perfection

Perfection is rare. Not just because it's hard to accomplish, though it is. What makes it so uncommon is definition, not difficulty. True perfection can only exist where there is finite certainty. If the task at hand isn't wholly objective or qua...

Perfect attendance

Perfection is rare.

Not just because it's hard to accomplish, though it is. What makes it so uncommon is definition, not difficulty.

True perfection can only exist where there is finite certainty. If the task at hand isn't wholly objective or quantified, complete success - perfection - is impossible.

The perfect novel, the perfect business deal, the perfect song, the perfect love - none of them will ever happen.

Its scarcity is why we are drawn to perfection, why the New England Patriots' quest for the NFL's first

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19-0 season is so captivating that today's Super Bowl may draw its largest viewing audience ever.

A perfect feat, however, is not all that different from the subjective kind. It's nothing mystical. All it takes is a mix of skill, luck, genetic blessings, hard work and inspiration - the same components that birth imperfect triumphs and valiant efforts.

From acing to acting

Racking up a perfect score on the SAT opens all kinds of doors. They just weren't the doors through which Sean Dillon wanted to walk.

Dillon, a 1999 graduate of Fargo South High School, got a 1600 on the SAT. Pre-2005, that was the college-entrance exam's top score. His mother, Deb, says the max score didn't strike Sean as anything particularly noteworthy.

"He was like, 'OK, so?' " recalls his mother.

Unsolicited free-ride offers from colleges around the country fell on deaf ears. Sean already had his post-school plans mapped out. Bitten by the acting bug in first grade, he wanted to study theater.

"Maybe it was just something I really had to struggle with," says Sean Dillon, who went to New York University, which offered little in the way of scholarships. "When I had successes (acting), it really meant a lot because it was something I had to work at."

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In New York, his test score meant little. If anything, the natural aptitude that helped him conquer the SAT was a hindrance, he says. "I didn't have a lot of those study skills and academic skills that I think most people develop more in high school," he says.

Dillon made it through NYU fine, and is now a fledgling actor living in Brooklyn. He's done lots of work as an extra, and he's got a scene in "The Wackness," an upcoming Ben Kingsley comedy. He's also studying graphic design and would like to get into laying out book covers.

The SAT is not something he spends much time thinking about, and it rarely comes up. His mom says Sean prefers to keep it to himself.

For instance, after he graduated from college, he got a job teaching SAT prep courses. When it came out that he was a theater major, some of the students' parents demanded he be replaced. Even then, he never said anything about his score. "Oh, no. I wouldn't want them to feel bad," he told his mother. He was fired.

When his former employers changed their mind later and offered to give him the job back, he declined.

Shrugging it off

Travis Hersrud doesn't remember precisely how many 300 games he has bowled. It's either nine or 10, he thinks.

"Must be nine," he says before rattling off a list of other bowlers in town who have done it more times than that. This is half modesty, half sign of the times. "A 300 game back in the day was a pretty big deal," Hersrud says.

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Accomplished by knocking down all 10 pins with the first ball 12 times in a row, a 300 game is as good as it gets in bowling - all Xs. Even most avid bowlers won't ever do it.

But Hersrud - who as the co-owner of Sunset Lanes has a handle on this - says advances in lanes and balls have rubbed some of the luster off 10-pin perfection. It's easier now.

Still, a crowd forms when a league bowler at Sunset is approaching a 300. That penultimate tease - a 299, 11 strikes followed by a ball that leaves one lone pin standing - is as sickening as ever.

Flawless frames don't mean flawless shots, though. Hersrud says his perfect games have little in common other than luck. Any one of them could have ended up being a run-of-the-mill great score.

"I'm pretty sure I've never had 12 perfect shots in a row."

Always showing up

When he was 5 or so, Peter Mursu heard about a student who never missed a day of class from kindergarten to high school. It was an item on Paul Harvey's radio show.

"I remember thinking, 'Man, I want to do that,' " says Mursu, who grew up near New York Mills, Minn.

So he did. He never missed a day. Not in fourth grade when he had appendix surgery over Thanksgiving break or when he had a bad cold or when his classmates would skip school to go fishing. Never. Not once.

"I've told people I've worked with that, and they think it's ridiculous," says the 31-year-old dairy farmer.

It is an unusual goal for a 5-year-old to set, one that Mursu can't really explain.

"It's a real hard question. I've thought about it before. I've been asked about it before. I'm not really a perfectionist at anything. My truck is a mess. Maybe it was just a competitive thing to me."

Whatever the reason, Peter, the oldest of four siblings, accomplished his goal. Then his younger brother Knute and little sisters Trudy and Maggi did the same. Not one missed a day among the four.

"I never once had a conversation with them about it. I think it was just the trickle-down effect," Mursu says.

His mother, Miriam Mursu, credits her children's ruggedness to natural supplements she gave them. But it took iron will, too.

"They made sacrifices," she says, recalling how one of her daughters had painful menstrual cramps but would stay in class until the point in the day where even if you went home sick, you were counted as present for its entirety.

"It was easy to get them up in the morning," Miriam says.

Eventually, it all came full circle. Paul Harvey did a piece on the Mursus.

Ignoring an elephant

Parents whose sons play football at Stephen-Argyle, Minn., don't even wait for summer to end before they call Mark Kroulik to ask the coach about playoffs. Never too early to book hotel rooms.

"And I say, 'Well, we got to win first,' " Kroulik told a New York Times reporter last year. Yes, the New York Times did a story about the nine-man football team from the school about 45 miles northeast of Grand Forks, N.D.

See, the Storm have won 67 straight games dating back to 2002. That's five straight state titles. The coach of 2007's sacrificial lamb, Waubun, said this after a 43-21 loss in the finals: "If we played them 100 times, we might have a chance to win one."

Kroulik credits the domination to a good run of athletes and the work ethic instilled by "positive pressure."

"They don't want to be the ones who lose," he says.

The empty adages of sports, like taking one game at a time, aren't easy to parrot when winning is a birthright.

"We kind of take it one season at time," says Kip Thorstenson, a senior quarterback whose class never lost a game.

Before this year's season even started, the weight room had a sign reading 67-0, but Kroulik says coaches try to avoid streak talk as best they can. It's not easy. "You can pretend it's not there, but obviously it is," he says.

The pressure may breed further winning, but it's pressure nonetheless. Blaine Deschene, also a graduating senior, says he was relieved when they survived another perfect season. It felt like taking off a bulls-eye, he said.

The coaching staff has talked about what to do when some team finally hits that bulls-eye and hands the Storm a loss. They know it will happen someday. No team remains perfect forever.

"One of the things we'll do is dig a big hole in the practice field, bury the record and stop worrying about it," he says. After that, ice cream for everybody.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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