By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
BROOKLYN – When Khol Partridge gets some time away from the football field, basketball court and baseball diamond, he knows exactly where he’s going – to relax with some Mixed Martial Arts.
Partridge is winding down his days as a three-sport athlete at Brooklyn Columbia Central, a Class B school in southeast Michigan’s Irish Hills area. His father Rodney owns Pure Combat, a gym in Cement City that challenges Khol as an athlete, both mentally and physically, in a different way than high school sports do. But, combined, Khol said, it’s made him a stronger athlete and more of a leader.
“In the summertime, I’m in the gym every day,” Partridge said. “It makes you such a better athlete. It improves your attitude, your mindset, your balance, everything about being an athlete.”
Partridge mainly does the Jiu Jitsu form of MMA, not the type that puts him into a ring with another striker, or fighter. But, it’s still intense.
“My dad puts me through all kinds of crazy workouts,” he said. “You get yourself into tough spots in MMA and it makes you have to find a way out of it. That’s one way it helps you in other sports.”
Partridge has been in more than a few tight spots for the Golden Eagles over the last few seasons but has usually found a way to success. The CC football team has gone 23-9 over the last three seasons, making three consecutive playoff appearances. He led the Lenawee County Athletic Association this past season by completing 154-of-257 passes for 2,317 yards and 26 touchdowns. He threw just four interceptions all season. He also ran for 511 yards and nine touchdowns.
CC football coach Josh Kubiak called Partridge an “amazing athlete” and “amazing individual.”
“I could go on about Khol for a long time and tell you about all his stats and achievements,” Kubiak wrote in an e-mail. “In my opinion the best quality Khol has is his leadership skills. I remember back to when he was a freshman on our playoff team. He was the last player on the field after our loss hugging seniors and then came up to me and said, ‘We will be back.’”
The Golden Eagles won their first league football title since 1982 with Partridge at quarterback this past season. He finished with 4,800 career passing yards and a number of CC football records.
“He has the special talent to get other student athletes to follow him, and he gets the best out of them,” Kubiak said. “He always finds the positive out of the worst situations.”
It’s no surprise that Partridge chose the quarterback position – or, rather, it chose him.
“I was a quarterback since I was really little. I don’t know, maybe it was just because I wanted to be a leader. I’ve always had that mindset. I wanted to be the smartest player on the field, to know what everyone else was doing. My dad always taught me to be a leader, to be the best leader I could be.
“My biggest goal has always been just to be a leader. Leadership is a full-time job. You just have to step up at important times, to be an inspiration to others in the huddle or know when to get after someone and when to just give them a high-five and say, ‘It’s all right. Keep your head up.’”
Partridge got a few looks from colleges and was close to trying to walk on at a Division I school out west. Ultimately, he decided to stay a little closer to home and committed to Ohio’s University of Findlay, a perennial football powerhouse in Division II.
“I got a lot of looks, but nothing seemed to pan out. Then, the Findlay coach hit me up on Twitter,” Partridge said. “They contacted me, so saw tape and I went to visit. They have a great campus. I even did some research, and I know there is a Mixed Martial Arts gym not far from campus.”
In basketball, Partridge was the team’s top scorer in 2018-19, made 48 3-pointers and finished his career with more than 750 points over parts of four seasons. In baseball, he’s one of the team leaders in hitting and is enjoying another season of success.
“I fell in love with football early on in life,” he said. “I always played baseball, too. Me and my buddy, Chase Tompkins, we’ve always played baseball together. I didn’t start playing basketball until later, probably seventh grade.
“If it’s football season, then football is my favorite sport. If it’s baseball season, then baseball is my favorite sport.”
In baseball, Partridge is a middle infielder. When Tompkins pitches, Partridge plays shortstop; otherwise he plays second base.
“We are a really good double-play combination,” he said. “I think last year we turned like 20 double plays together. It’s crazy. We’ve played together a long time. We’ve kind of always been that duo.”
This season, Partridge’s goal is to hit .500.
“The season is going great,” he said. “I’m hitting fairly well, not as well as I want to be hitting, but I’m working hard. Baseball is so mental. You have to be mentally right to play the game.”
Partridge is quick to credit his parents, Rodney and Terri, for his success.
“My dad has been the biggest influence in my life,” he said. “He’s always been someone to look up to. And my mom is the best ever. She keeps my head in line. I’m so blessed to have two parents I can look up to.”
Khol Partridge is excited for the next chapter in life, although he still has some work to do this spring with the CC baseball team. He’s entertaining the idea of trying to walk-on with the Findlay baseball team.
“I definitely think I can,” he said. “Sports are a big part of my life. They always have been. Sports teaches you so much about different aspects in life.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Columbia Central’s Khol Partridge unleashes a pass this past fall. (Middle) Partridge, far right, with father Rodney (far left) and renowned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor Marcelo Garcia. (Photos courtesy of the Partridge family.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)