Still On Ice...
MHSAA reacts to lengthened pause in winter contact sports. Cites successful pilot program.
New Jersey began games Tuesday while the District of Columbia and the state of Washington are slated to start next Monday.
California (March 12th) and New Mexico (March 22) are still out there a tad and Oregon has pushed the season to May.
Meanwhile, from what we gather, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont are not yet committed to a firm date and Hawaii cancelled h.s. sports altogether.
And here in our bipeninsular paradise?
This press release from our friends at the MHSAA seems to reveal their disappointment, a chagrin shared by many, as the winter sports season continues to remain on sabbatical.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Jan. 27 – The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association reaffirmed its commitment today to play Winter sports when current restrictions are lifted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Winter contact sports – girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling – are allowed presently to participate in non-contact activities only, per an MDHHS emergency order restricting contact activity and competition due to COVID-19.
Non-contact Winter sports – girls and boys bowling, girls gymnastics, girls and boys alpine skiing and girls and boys swimming & diving – are able to participate in those activities fully.
The MDHHS limitations on Winter contact sports were set to expire at the end of January, but were extended last week by MDHHS through Feb. 21.
“Each week, we see hundreds of examples of children and families competing in non-school competition, both in-state and out-of-state,” Uyl said. “This not only is in violation of current MDHHS orders, but sending all of these families into different states will only become an impediment to getting students back in school full time.
“But we can contribute to students returning to in-person learning by allowing MHSAA member schools to begin full activities, participating locally and against more local competition, and under the guidance of trained, professional educators.”
This past weekend the MHSAA concluded its remaining Fall tournaments with 11-Player Football Finals. Earlier this month, Girls Volleyball, Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving and 8-Player Football Finals were competed to conclude those seasons. All four were allowed to complete their seasons because those teams took part in the MDHHS rapid testing pilot program.
Results of that program were overwhelmingly positive. A total of 5,376 individuals (athletes, coaches, team personnel, cheerleaders, etc.) were tested, and 57 – or 1 percent – tested positive at some point in the pilot. Nearly 30,000 rapid antigen tests were administered – and 99.8 percent were negative. (All four data points were through Jan. 19 and provided to the MHSAA by the MDHHS.).
As of Monday (Jan. 25), Winter contact sports had begun in 38 states, including border states Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Hoops, Grapplers, Cheer Remain on Hold
DETROIT – Jan. 22 - Governor Whitmer and MDHHS announced that Winter contact sports – including MHSAA activities in girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, ice hockey and wrestling – must remain non-contact through Feb. 21. The previous emergency order was set to expire at the end of January and would’ve allowed those sports to begin contact activities Feb. 1.
“We found out about this decision at 9:30 a.m. like everyone else, and we will address it as quickly as possible after taking the weekend to collect more information,” said Mark Uyl, executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. “We did not anticipate this delay in winter contact practices and competition, and today’s announcement has created many new questions.
“Obviously, this is disappointing to thousands of athletes who have been training with their teams over the last week and watching teams in other states around Michigan play for the last two months.”
The MHSAA stated they would have no other comments on today’s Governor/MDHHS announcements until early next week after more information has been gathered.
Newaygo Girls Coach Nate Thomasma and his team have been champing at the bit to get the season rolling. After all he was welcoming back nearly every member of the team that burned through district play then took down highly rated (and much taller) GR Christian before missing out on a facedown with (also highly rated) West Catholic for the Regional crown.
The Lions, now a veteran team with a slew of weaponry on both sides of the ball figured on a belated start when the pandemic began to shut down sports.
But with the opening game kicked back to February 21?
Last February 21st the Lions had just dropped their third contest in a row in their 18th game.
It was, by the way, their last loss of the season so technically they’ve been undefeated for a year.
“Very disappointed in the news we received today,” said Thomasma. “The most frustrating part is that no clear data has been given to why we are not allowed to play. The state of Michigan owes the players and families that.
"We'll continue as is and wait for the MHSAA to respond early next week."
Over in Fremont, Boys Coach Pete Zerfas saw his team's season come to an early end on the cusp of a District Final revenge game against the Comstock Park team that knocked them from the tourney the previous year.
This year the Pack was poised to compete for the title that eluded them last year in a season that looks to be their CSAA swan song and Zerfas shared Thomasma’s frustration at the lack of communication.
"I was completely taken by surprise by the news of no contact sports for 3 more weeks, It was just another blow to our kids who don't get to fully participate in the sport they love until at least Feb 21.
“Science has shown both in football here in Michigan and basketball in surrounding states that it is safe for kids to play. We have not been given a reason by our governor as to why she extended the pause further because I don't think there is a good reason.
“My total focus now, more than ever is the mental health of our athletes, try to stay positive and be as ready as we can when we are finally allowed to play the sport we and so many love to play.”
A pair of Lions are among the finalists for the Michigan High School Athletic Association's Scholar-Athlete Awards.
Kendall Mathis and Hudson Harkness join the 120 candidates in contention for the awards. 32 students including 8 from each division will be selected to receive the scholarships.
Mathis has participated in volleyball, basketball, and track and field in her time as a Lion. She was a member of last year’s Regional Champion basketball team which was forced to end their season prematurely due to Covid, this year’s Conference Champion volleyball team and has been an All Conference athlete in track. In the classroom she excels with a schedule full of honors classes. Her GPA is an impressive 4.0. In addition, Kendall is a member of National Honors Society, College Ambassadors and was the leader of the ski club in 2020.
Harkness has participated in football, basketball, and baseball as well as cross country in his time as a Lion. He has earned athletic honors in football including the 2021 All-Conference Center and Academic All-State. In the classroom Hudson has earned an outstanding 4.27 GPA. His community service is an area in which he excels, volunteering his time to announce youth sports of all sorts. He is a member of the yearbook staff, Student Council, National Honors Society and College Ambassadors.
To be eligible for the award, students must have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.50 (on a 4.0 scale) and previously have won a varsity letter in at least one sport in which the MHSAA sponsors a postseason tournament. Students also were asked to respond to a series of short essay questions, submit two letters of recommendation and a 500-word essay on the importance of sportsmanship in educational athletics.
Farm Bureau Insurance underwrites the Scholar-Athlete Awards and will present a $1,000 scholarship to each recipient.
The applications were judged by a 72-member committee of school coaches, counselors, faculty members, administrators and board members from MHSAA member schools. Selection of the scholarship recipients will take place in early February.
Tip Off Time? Feb. 4th
Wrestling, Cheer begin Feb 8th
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Jan. 14 – The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Representative Council today approved a plan for adjusting schedules for the Winter “contact” sports which may begin non-contact activities Jan. 16 but not full practice and competition until Feb. 1 per the recent update to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) epidemic plan.
The updated schedule for girls and boys basketball, competitive cheer, and wrestling pushes Finals for those sports into late March or early April. The Council approved the following dates:
First non-contact practice: Jan. 16
First contact practice: Feb. 1
First contest: Feb. 4
Districts: March 22, 24, 26
Regionals: March 29, 31
Quarterfinals: April 5
Semifinals: April 7
Finals: April 9
First non-contact practice: Jan. 16
First contact practice: Feb. 1
First contest: Feb. 4
Districts: March 23, 25, 27
Regionals: March 30, April 1
Quarterfinals: April 6
Semifinals: April 8
Finals: April 10
First non-contact practice: Jan. 16
First contact practice: Feb. 1
First contest: Feb. 8
Districts: March 15-20
Regionals: March 22-24
Finals: March 26-27
First non-contact practice: Jan. 16
First contact practice: Feb. 1
First contest: Feb. 8
Districts: March 15-20
Regionals: March 22-28
Team Finals: March 31
Individual Finals: April 2-3
Sports Review 2020 Part II
Fall arrived with uncertainty with football and other sports off the table, then moved to spring, then back on again for the fall.
COVID was a presence on the field forcing the cancellation of games, forfeitures and a couple of seasons that are about to go deep into their 5th month with the finals scheduled for a week beyond the projected opener of the basketball season.
Here’s a summary and a pair of stories we really liked a lot.
Well, all of the local teams we cover made the playoffs.
Truth be told, every team in the state made the playoffs as a result of the shortened season that didn’t end up being shortened by any means.
Newaygo finished 2-5 losing their playoff opener to Big Rapids
Fremont also finished 2-5 with one win a forfeit. The fell to Spring lake in the playoffs
Grant wound up with a 3-4 record with one loss a forfeit. They won their playoff opener before being knocked out of the tournament by the Tri County team they had beaten in their season opener.
White Cloud notched a pair of wins by forfeit but couldn’t get one on the field ending with a playoff loss to Holton and a 2-5 mark
Holton won 3 and lost 5. They beat WC twice including the first playoff game then got taken out by the Fowler Eagles.
Hesperia was the only team finishing with a winning record going 4-3 with a season ending loss to Pewamo Westphalia.
The Biggest story? The Packer juggernaut that ran their way to a second straight State Championship.
White Cloud teams also made the trip to Brooklyn with the boys finishing 12th and the girls 20th.
Newaygo and Fremont tied with Central Montcalm to share the Gold title while Kent City and Morley Stanwood halved the top spot in the Silver.
The Packers swept through the conference for the title but were derailed in the playoff opener by Ludington.
Our favorite pieces?
Editor Alexis Mercer (a former collegiate Volleyballer herself) captured the competition that led to the end of a 20 year title drought for the Lions. Beyond her narrative is the photographic story that unfolds from her stirring shots.
Lions Volleyball Earns First Conference Championship Since 2000
Mike Paige skillfully chronicled the story of the Packer XC team’s march to a second straight state title from Hills and Bales to the triumph in Brooklyn. His close coverage and knowledge of the runners may have had something to do with being Dad to Ben Paige one of the repeat champions.
Fremont Runners Look to Repeat as State Champions
Here’s hoping for a safe return to high school sports in the near future.
Photo credits include Leanne Wuerfel Roesler. Joan Ludtke, Mike Paige, Alexis Mercer
The Year in Sports Part I
Of all the weirdness of the year the sudden slamming on the brakes of the high school sports season was surely among the most surreal. Up until then it was a fun run. Here are a few of the highlights.
Grapplers reach triple figures
A pair of Packers reached wrestling milestones recently as their victory total reached beyond double figures to hit the century mark.
Trey Breuker achieved win number 100 at the Hopkins Invitational on January 18th.
A week later Kyler Kolk collected his 100th at the Shelby Super Duals.
Both grapplers recorded pins in reaching the impressive win total.
It’s the halfway point in the conference season and the Packers sit atop the Gold in girls and boys while Kent City controls both houses of the Silver.
In girls play the Cards of BR are lingering a game behind Fremont and CM’s Hornets rest a game back of the Pack in boys. In the Silver both Morley teams hold second with each losing their lone conference game to the Eagles.
In the end celebrating championships would be a shared experience in the Gold as the Packer girls split the title with Big Rapids and the Tigers using a late season run to share the title with the Hornets. In the Silver Kent City split their games with Morley but a late season loss to a scrappy Red Devil squad cost them a share of the title. The Eagle girls cruised to a title and a district crown but met up with a familiar nemesis in the regionals (Pewamo Westphalia) and bowed out
January 31, 2020 was the 35th anniversary of the Newaygo Lady Lions winning back-to-back State Championships. A recognition ceremony was held in the gymnasium between varsity games.
These women were the first women's team ever to be inducted into the Muskegon Hall of Fame in 2010.
Members of the 1984 team: Dorren (Berger) Hook, Erica (Thomas) Boyd, Keri Thomas, Sandy Wagner, Kristin Long, Sonja (Beckman) Heinzman, Dawn (Bulk) Bourdon, Sheryl (Frye) Presler, Kristen (Westcott) Mast, Coach Stan Thomas.
Members of the 1985 team: Amy (Schenk) Powell, Lori (Mauer) Bruggema, Amy (Saum) Putnam, Erica (Thomas) Boyd, Keri Thomas, Tammy (Morton) Dey, Sandy Wegner, Kristin Long, Assistant Coach Rose Bonk and Head Coach Stan Thomas.
Side note: The first year they defeated Pewamo Westphalia in the finals. The Pirates are likely pretty familiar to Newaygo Supe and Fowler grad Peg Mathis.
N3 has had the privilege of having Mike Gesler cover Grant basketball and he weaves a hoops story with journalistic craftsmanship.
“If you were not in the gym at the Grant Middle School for tonight’s game against Central Montcalm, you missed a game that will certainly go down in Grant basketball lore.
“With the energy and drama cranked all away up to ten and a showdown percolating, the opening tipoff couldn’t come soon enough.”
“Like the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, two teams entered the court at Grant Middle School, and only one was going to leave.”
as well as
“The Tigers went colder than a block of ice sitting on a frozen pond.”
We only hope there will be a (safe) season and give us the opportunity to see more of Mike’s work
On Saturday February 1st at the annual Legends tournament in Fruitport another historical achievement occurred for the Grant Wrestling program.
Senior Billy Ostyn won his 150th career varsity match. Billy is just the 4th wrestler in Grant's history to win 150 matches. Ostyn won his weight bracket at 125lbs after finishing the day 3-0, he now sits at 38-0 on the season. He is a 3-time State Qualifier.
Billy placed second in regionals punching a ticket to state along with sophomore Brady Jacobs. He went on to finish his Grant wrestling career as the first 4 time state qualifier in school history and tied for second on the all-time career wins list with 165 victories before entering service as part of the U.S. Navy.
State Senator Jon Bumstead welcomed the Fremont boy’s cross-country team to the state Capitol on Wednesday, February 5th to celebrate their 2019 MHSAA Division II state championship.
Will there be a repeat visit to coincide with the repeat title?
The first time around the Red Devils were riding a 4 game win streak and the Eagles were alone atop the Silver having just knocked Morley from the top spot. KC went onto the Holton court and blasted the Devs by 25 points.
A month later and all the Eagles needed to do was to end another 4 game winning streak by the Devils to secure a share of the Silver crown.
And this time they had them on their home court.
Not so fast.
This was the classic spoiler game for Coach Houseman’s gritty group of players led by Nate Slowik and Aiden Poling. They didn’t forget the drubbing the Eagles laid on them in front of their fans and when they arrived at the Aerie there was no question in their minds who would emerge the winner.
And they were right. The win clipped the Eagles chances at a shared title and the Red Devils finished third.
A strong third.
Beyond his basketball coverage Mr. Gesler has reviewed GR Opera performances for us, reviews that are favorites with the GRO folks given that they ask for him each time they put on a new show. Hopefully there will be another Opera season soon.
Mike was also willing to cover a cheer competition delivering not only the results but also a most welcome bit of a tutorial on just how those results are achieved.
On Monday evening, the Grant High School Varsity Competitive Cheer played host to a CSAA Conference meet. In attendance were four other varsity teams from Big Rapids, Ludington, Tri County, and West Michigan Christian. Also in attendance were two middle school teams representing Big Rapids and Tri County. The meet was the second in four years for Grant to host.“I think they did really good,” stated Grant’s coach, Ashley Chesebro. “We actually had our best round one score and best round two score of the whole season so far so I think they really gave great performances today.”
The Panther girls finished middle of the pack among some strong Silver teams but one player proved to be prolific on the boards as well as putting the ball in the net.
The ‘Hawks won the regular season finale for both teams by racing past the Panthers in the second quarter with a 19-2 run to balloon their 8 point lead to a 39-14 advantage at the break.
Meanwhile with another year left to pull on the Panther jersey Emily Bayle hit the 1000 point mark for Hesperia part of the 25 points poured in to go with a dominant performance on the glass that saw her haul down 22 boards.
It had been a long time since the Packers finished a season in first place. Long before their current players were born and since it was well into the last century (1980) more than likely longer than some of their parents even knew each other. The streak spread across four conferences from the Seaway and WWAC to the Lakes 8 and finally the CSAA -Gold. There were years they came close but each time the title eluded their grasp
Not this year.
Outside of splitting their contests with co-champion Big Rapids, the Packer girls team swept through the conference schedule to earn a share of the CSAA Gold crown and capped the regular season off with a convincing win over the Warriors Friday night.
The Packers were rolling into district play where they would face Newaygo and Coach Wes Zerlauts said “Now we turn our attention to District play. There are no guarantees beyond the next game. We will give our best effort to keep things rolling.”
Yep. No guarantees
The Packer season indeed came to an end in the District opener. It’s tough to beat a good team twice much less three times and the Lions were a good team.
In our tourney preview of this game we talked about the struggles Newaygo had with finishing in their first two matchups with Fremont.
Boy, did they ever finish.
This was an epic matchup featuring a pair of quality teams with ample heroics on both sides of the court. Goodin and Vandenberg battled in the paint all night. Goodin finished with 10 points and 11 boards and Vandenberg swatted away 6 Lion attempts while dropping in a dozen and snaring 9 rebounds. Shriver (11) and Miller (10) reached double figures and put on display their patented defense while Jaylee Long dished out 6 assists, scored 8 points and finished with 6 off the glass. Avery Curnett and Kayla Fisk came off their respective benches to slap on some needed defense at critical times and Jaxi Long knocked it down in the clutch more than once.
But it was Frisbie who would lead the Lions on this night. The senior seemed to will her Lion career to extend with tireless defense that led to 5 steals and a game high 15 points, hitting the needed shots when her team had gone cold.
The season ends for the Packers but they depart with a share of the conference title and the pride that comes with a stellar season of play.
The younger Tiger players had this one circled on their calendar after a heartbreaking loss in early January.
Like the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, two teams entered the court at Grant Middle School, and only one was going to leave.
Well, leave with a share of the CSAA Gold Conference title that is.
Tonight was the much anticipated rematch of the Grant Tigers and the Fremont Packers. Because of illness, this game was postponed a week and a half from the originally schedule date. And over that week and a half, both the Packers and the Tigers took care of the business they needed to in order to come into tonight with the share of the conference title on the line. The last time these two teams met back in mid-January, Fremont rose as the victors in a close and hotly contested game. The last time the Tigers also had the help of their top defender, Brett Long. Tonight, Grant would have to do without his services.As the final buzzer sounded, Grant secured its share of the CSAA Gold Conference title with Central Montcalm, and the Packers found themselves alone in second.
Then came the Districts.
The gym in the Grant Middle School was a packed house in this much anticipated, opening round of district play, rubber match of the Grant Tigers and Fremont Packers. Last week, the Tigers swiped a share of the conference title for themselves and away from the Packers. The Packers, for their part, felt they didn’t put their best foot forward, and were looking to kill any hope the Tigers may have had at a district title to add to their season. With the energy and drama cranked all away up to ten, a showdown percolating, the opening tipoff couldn’t come soon enough.
Fremont came out hot, mainly due to three 3s put up by Joshua Zerfas, and went up fifteen points to Grant’s four. But Grant didn’t hit the panic button, and continued to play their game. With a boost from Gage Burrows, who shot five 3s, Grant pulled within two by the end of the half. And even though Fremont went into the locker room with a 45-43 lead, this game felt like it would go down to the final buzzer.
The second half however was solely Fremont’s. The Tigers went colder than a block of ice sitting on a frozen pond. “The second half felt like it got away when we had empty offensive trips in the third, and then it was kind of a runaway train. We just tried to do a little bit of desperation shoot and foul, and that didn’t work either,” stated Grant’s coach, Joel Schuitema
Few I know can capture a story like N3 Editor Alexis Mercer. This one’s a beaut.
April 4, 2016 was a day Trevir Kral won't forget: the day he was diagnosed with cancer. 3 years, 336 days later, Kral walked on to the floor as a starting senior for the Newaygo Lions basketball team, cancer free.
"I was nervous. I haven't played basketball since 7th grade. High school basketball is a lot different than middle school." But his nervousness didn't last long as he took a pass from his teammate and drained a shot. The insanity that ensued from the crowd was epic. There weren't many dry eyes in the gym from the Newaygo fans.
Trevir's advice? "You gotta stay positive through anything that tries to overcome you. Live your best life while you have the chance."
Here’s the whole piece.
The magical run by the Lions got some traction with a convincing win over a strong Sparta squad, but part of the prize was a trip to what was expected to be a brutal regional with two GR powerhouses focusing on a finals rematch. This was our game preview.
The smart money on the Sparta Regional says the final will be a classic matchup between the dominating Eagles and the juggernaut known as the West Catholic Falcons.
After all, competing in the vaunted OK Gold GRC brought back nearly everyone from an 11-11 season to defeat all but 2 teams. There was the puzzling loss to Middleville to open the New Year after a 2 ½ week layoff and 2 defeats at the hands of OK Gold champ East GR. Other than that they have employed a tough defense to amass 20 wins including blowing their way through the Districts.
But now they face the lone survivor of another Gold division...this one from the CSAA.The Lions won’t have the height of the Eagles, nor likely the depth of the senior laden team.
But they have heart.
Miles and miles and miles of heart.
Then came one of the most exciting games I’ve ever witnessed.
They simply refuse to lose.
After a grueling and heart pounding 31 minutes and 50+ seconds of defensive wizardry at its best, a back and forth game that left players and fans emotionally spent, the Lions found themselves down 2. They needed a bucket to send the game into overtime.
Jaxi Long who moments before kept her team in the game with a triple, took the ball down court and launched a high arcing shot from several feet behind the three point line as time seemed to stop and the gym fell silent for a split second.
And she burned it.
Bring on the Falcons.
Fremont was poised to battle for a District title and a trip to the Regionals.
The Packers came to play.
Facing a physical Bronco squad and with a chance to make it to the District finals Fremont came up big behind a strong defensive effort that led to an outpouring of transition scoring.
And now the Packers move on to face Comstock Park, the team that knocked the 19-1 Fremont team out of the tournament in the opening game last season coming back from a 7 point deficit in the last 2 minutes to win in overtime.
The game still stings some of the Packer players who were on that squad last year.
And now is their chance to avenge that loss.
And then it all came to an end. A sudden end. As I left the Grant gym following the Fremont win the buzz indicated the games would be played without fans and allow only media. By the next day all games were shelved. The pandemic tossed away the Cinderella slipper that had been fitting the Lions so well and cheated the Pack from a revenge game and a possible trip to the Regionals. It’s one thing to end the season with disappointment because you lost. After all out of over 1400 teams there are only 8 that don’t lose their final game. It's another thing altogether to watch your season, your magical run, come to a sputtering end just when the excitement was reaching fever pitch. I feel deeply for these players.
Oh, there were all conference lists and we did a ‘what if’ article about the Lion girls but high school sports, the best show in town, ground to a halt. Spring sports never got underway and schools remained empty.
Now we have the fall seasons wrapping up in January with some schools opting out of the final leg of the tournaments. Basketball and wrestling are unknowns at this point with some tentative dates for starting in the coming weeks but nothing set in stone.
Our hope is that teams will again be able to compete without the spectre of the virus looming over their seasons.