Joe Berger Camp Celebrates 7th Year
Story by Alexis Mercer
Photos by Easton Harkness and Alexis Mercer
120 eager, smiling faces lined up on the Newaygo High School football field on Tuesday, July 25 ready for whatever Joe Berger had to throw at them.
The young athletes came from near and far for the much anticipated and loved Joe Berger Football Camp: Newaygo, Tri-County, Fremont, Grant, Walkerville, Muskegon Christian, Hesperia, Sparta, Northpoint Christian, Trinity Lutheran, Reed City, Reed City and even ... England!
The camp began in 2015 when Berger was playing for the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL allotted money to players to hold youth camps. Since then, the grant money has been suspended, but Kevin Harkness, along with his son Hudson, and local businesses and communities wanted to keep the camp going.
Why does Berger want to continue this camp despite his retirement from the NFL? "The way the community embraced the camp a few years back, when the NFL suspended the grant, was very encouraging to me," Berger said. "I feel like it's a fun way to bring local businesses together, along with leaders in the community, to provide a fun day for the kids. If putting a retired athlete's name on it helps facilitate that, I'm all for it."
Volunteers also showed up in great numbers and from near and far. NHS football players and coaches, surrounding schools' coaches, Berger's son Gavin, Scott Swinehart, the Navy, and Northwood football players all gathered together to help the camp attendees have an enjoyable experience.
In fact, the Northwood football players were such a hit with the athletes, they sparked Berger's attention. "Seeing the energy that the four college athletes brought to the camp was my favorite part," he said. "I'm thankful to Hudson [Harkness, who plays at Northwood] for facilitating that and the Northwood crew for investing in our youth. If I didn't graduate from Tech, I may have to be a Timberwolves fan."
BACK ROW STANDING Coach Rickert - White Cloud, Jaylinn Wiles- Newaygo, Audrina Ball - Newaygo, Violet Borkowski - Newaygo, Coach Boynton - Newaygo, Ali Kurtz - Hesperia, Addison Bates - Newaygo, Coach Bates - Newaygo, Camdyn DeGarmo Hesperia, Gwyn McGahn Hesperia, KNEELING Taytum Rickert White Cloud, Braelynn Patterson - Newaygo, Sam Osborne - Newaygo, Demi Castillo - Hesperia, Elena Rice- Newaygo, Elaine Good - Hesperia
3 teams combine into one for 8-10 year olds
They are the Tri City North Girls Softball team and they are headed down to Mattawan on Thursday July 20th to compete in the Little League State Tournament for 8-10 year old players.
The team is made up of players from the Hesperia, White Cloud and Newaygo teams.
We got a hold of the three Coaches Matthew Boynton (Newaygo), Cassie Rickert (White Cloud) and Michele Bates (Hesperia) who will be guiding the team in their hunt for hardware to pose a few questions
What’s the format for the State Tourney?
Coach Boynton: The State Tournament is round robin pool play initially. There are sixteen districts. Each district is represented by one team at the tournament, aka District champs. Those sixteen are divided into four pools of four teams. First three days of the tourney are playing one game each against the other three teams in your pool. Day four is the start of bracket play and the top two teams in each pool play to advance the following day. This is essentially the quarterfinals of the tournament. Day five is the semifinals where the four winners of each pool play. Winning two will advance to day 6 and play in the State Championship game for all the marbles.
What are your greatest strengths as a team?
Coach Boynton: Our greatest strength as a team has gotta be our pitching. We have 5/6 girls I can trot out comfortably if they're on. Following close behind is hitting. We have several girls on the team that hit over .700 for the entire year. Several hume runs, bunch of triples, and overall a good balance of speed and power. We also have at least 7 to 9 girls who can literally play anywhere on the field without significant drop off.
What has the experience been like as coaches?
Coach Bates: This year of coaching has been an excellent experience. I have enjoyed teaching our girls this season and loved being the positive reinforcement. It has been a pleasure to encourage and watch the girls improve in skill and to see their love for the sport grow. They have all shown tremendous sportsmanship throughout the season. Look forward to seeing what these girls can do at States.
Coach Rickert: The experience has been an honor as it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to compete at this level, let alone get to coach young athletes that have a passion for the game. As coaches we've had to have these girls practice 4 days a week in hot, humid weather to prepare them. They were combined together from 3 small towns and expected to develop camaraderie and teamwork in about a month's time. As a coach I am proud of what they have developed into.
Coach Boynton: The experience as coach has been a whirlwind honestly. I would do it again in a heartbeat and probably will every year. I've coached youth sports, specifically Little league, for 4 years now. This was my first year with Softball and probably my most favorite so far. Hopefully they just enjoy the experience and if all goes well we will shock some folks who see us as the underdogs from the rural communities.
Gus Macker Returns to Newaygo County with a Vengeance
Story and photos by Alexis Mercer
In its second year, the Newaygo County Gus Macker has become a highly anticipated event. This year, the Grant Public Schools parking lots were filled with players, spectators, referees and volunteers on both Saturday, July 15 and Sunday, July 16.
With 295 teams participating, the event grew significantly from its inception. In 2022, there were 229 teams, a record for first year attendance from Gus Macker in the last 40 years.
More courts, more action, and certainly more volunteers. Everywhere one looked there were bright yellow volunteer shirts. According to event coordinator Tara Nelson, there were approximately 225 volunteers who worked along with the planning team to make this event a success. "Newaygo, Grant, Tri-County and Fremont schools each provided us with 50 volunteers," said Nelson. "Plus the River Country Chamber of Commerce, friends of the planning team and police agencies from the county," she added.
Gus Macker is a 3 on 3 tournament meant to include people from all ages and abilities. From the Macker website, the following information is included to inspire people to register:
"The Macker Tournament is designed so that anyone can play: male or female, young and old, short and tall, the most experienced or no experience at all. This maintains the purity and integrity of the driveway game.
Since 1987, the Macker tour has expanded, holding a total of 972 tournaments with over 2.2 million players – male and female from 7 years old to 50+ - and more than 23 million spectators."
This article has been updated to reflect the record attendance for a first year Macker to be 40 years rather than the 10 originally published.