It’s been nearly 10 years since Jacob Cronenworth and Tyler Motte were teammates at St. Clair High School, but the pair still managed to energize their hometown in 2020.
Cronenworth tied for second in the official National League Rookie of the Year voting, which was announced Monday – and won several Rookie of the Year honors from other organizations, including his fellow players – after a standout first season with the San Diego Padres.
Motte was a key cog for the Canucks as they made a run to the Western Conference semifinals, scoring four goals and adding an assist in 17 playoff games, and earning himself a two-year contract extension in October.
And as the folks back home were reveling in that success, both were happy to have the support.
“The support of our town has been crazy throughout my career, even back when I was at Michigan,” Motte said. “When you have the support of not just your friends, family and loved ones, to have it go to an even bigger population where you grew up, that’s cool to see.”
Motte and Cronenworth provided plenty of great memories while students in St. Clair, most notably helping the Saints win the 2011 MHSAA Division 2 baseball championship. Cronenworth was the winning pitcher in the title game, while Motte had two hits and scored what turned out to be the winning run against Grand Rapids Christian.
“Obviously, that was an incredible team,” said Cronenworth, who was a junior that season. “We only lost one game the whole year. It was just a special group of guys. We were all friends, we all played little league together. We’d all play street hockey and basketball together in the summers. It was a great way to cap off our childhood.”
That team featured 10 players who would go on to play college athletics. Two – Joel Seddon and Jared Tobey – joined Cronenworth and Motte as professional draft picks, as they were both selected in the MLB Draft. Another, Jeremy Carrell, is now the Detroit Tigers bullpen catcher.
Most of the players on the title team had been playing together since Little League, where they also had plenty of success, taking second in the state in 2006 before a handful of them came back and took third the next year. As they stayed together, the wins kept coming.
“I think at the time (2011), with that group of people, our eyes were on a state championship,” Motte said. “I was in more of a supporting role, because we had a lot of good baseball players. Just looking back, it was kind of crazy.
“Going through with those guys and how much fun we had in Little League really made the camaraderie we had in high school so much stronger. We had guys that really cared about each other, and that’s what made it really fun.”
The 2011 Division 2 Final was Motte’s final competitive baseball game, as after his sophomore year he joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. He had planned to continue playing baseball while going to school at Ann Arbor Pioneer, but said that it didn’t work out.
“If there was a way to go out, that’s the way to do it,” he said.
Baseball was a big part of Motte’s athletic upbringing, just like hockey was a big part of Cronenworth’s. The two had played travel hockey together locally in Port Huron, and Cronenworth continued to play the sport through high school. By that time, baseball had started to look like his path forward, but he was still a star on the ice, winning the Macomb Area Conference Red MVP.
“It was one of those things, I think Tyler wanted to play both in college, but it was a decision that we kind of had to make – I always wanted to play hockey,” Cronenworth said. “I think probably my sophomore year of high school, maybe freshman year when I got called up to the varsity in baseball, that was the turning point. But (hockey season) was huge. It just gave me a rest from baseball. When we were younger, yeah, you’re playing street hockey in the summer, but when it was baseball season, we played baseball, and when it was hockey season, we played hockey.”
Both went to University of Michigan to continue their academic and athletic careers and took winding professional paths before getting the opportunities they’re currently enjoying.
Both already have been part of multiple pro organizations. Cronenworth was dealt to San Diego after beginning his career as a Tampa Bay Rays draft pick. Motte was a Chicago Blackhawks draft selection and after his first season was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who later sent him to Vancouver.
But while they may both be out west now, their biggest fans remain in St. Clair – unless you count each other.
“I got to watch him play basically every single game besides,” Cronenworth said. “He had that game where he scored two short-handed goals, and I’m in my living room at 10:30 in the morning screaming at the TV. We have a group chat with the guys we played with in high school. We’re like one big family. We grew up together.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Former high school teammates Jacob Cronenworth (left) and Tyler Motte meet up while Cronenworth plays minor league baseball for the Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2016. (Middle) Cronenworth shows his support for Motte during the latter’s time suiting up for USA Hockey. (Below) Cronenworth holds the trophy and Motte is bottom row, second from right, as St. Clair celebrates its 2011 Division 2 baseball championship. (Photos of Cronenworth and Motte together courtesy of Tyler Motte; head shots courtesy of MLB.com and NHL.com, respectively.)
Twenty years ago, Kwin Morris and Jeff Guy were teammates on an MHSAA Quarterfinal-qualifying hockey team.
Guy even scored the winning goal in the Regional Final for Bay Area Reps, which topped Traverse City West 2-1.
This summer’s accomplishment, though, will go deeper in the history books.
Guy and Morris teamed up with Joe Lorenz to complete a dream that started a decade ago. They crossed all five of the Great Lakes on paddle boards while raising awareness and funds for water quality.
They put their balance, endurance and stick-handling skills together for the cause.
‘After 10 years and over one hundred grand raised for the lakes, it feels amazing,” Morris said. “I think the best part is knowing my kids will grow up knowing their old man did something cool for the environment in a unique way.”
It all started at a December social event in Traverse City. Guy, a financial adviser, and Morris, a middle school science teacher, had just gotten into paddle boarding when they began to wonder if they could cross Lake Michigan.
Lorenz, a personal trainer, promptly gave assurances they could — and joined them — even though he had never been on a paddle board prior to the holiday gathering.
Morris, Guy and Lorenz successfully crossed Lake Michigan in 2015, pausing in the cold of the night to look at the Northern Lights. They finished the nearly 100-kilometer journey in just under 25 hours. That accomplishment convinced them to launch Stand Up for Great Lakes, a non-profit organization to raise money and awareness for the protection of the lakes.
The trio also is supporting the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, a non-profit housed at the University of Michigan.
“It feels amazing to have finished crossing all five lakes and complete a lifelong goal,” Guy acknowledged. “The dollars and awareness we have raised is incredible, and hopefully it continues to grow.”
Lake Huron was the toughest to cross by far, the former Reps noted. The 90-mile, 29-hour paddle brought seven hours of rain and high waves.
“Plus Joe knocked me in and Jeff fell in after catching a fish,” Morris observed.
Ontario was the team’s second-hardest challenge and the shortest paddle. Huge waves from the side all day took quite a toll on the paddlers, who were accompanied by safety boats on each crossing.
Lake Superior featured glassy water, a spectacular sunset and the paddlers pausing to conduct a ceremony over the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck. The northernmost Great Lake ranks as the group’s favorite.
Guy graduated from Kalkaska High School in 2003 and went on to play hockey at Hope College. He also played football, baseball and golf for the Blazers. He and his wife, Melissa, have a daughter, Emma.
Morris graduated in 2005 from Elk Rapids High School, where he also played baseball. He went on to get a teaching degree from Western Michigan University. He and his wife, Megan, have two children, Fitz and Knox. He now works for his former school district, teaching science.
The pair played for the Reps through a co-op hosted by Traverse City St. Francis that included athletes from Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Kalkaska, Kingsley, Lake Leelanau St Mary, Mancelona and Suttons Bay. The Reps’ first coach was Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Rex Luxton. He coached through 2008.
Morris and Guy look back at their high school playing days and coach with fondness.
“We had some great teams, and I think I still have the career goal record there,” Guy recalled. “Also, our coach on the Reps Rex Luxton was highly motivational to me while playing for him and later in life.”
Morris echoed Guy.
“I loved the whole experience,” Morris said. “Playing for my high school … Friday night games … school rivalries … playing for Rex Luxton … amazing friends and teammates — almost surreal that it will have been 20 years.”
The former coaching staff of the Reps are not at all surprised Morris and Guy challenged themselves to make a difference for the Great Lakes.
The coaching staff remembers Guy as a natural scorer coming through with big goals, and Morris as a strong two-way player who scored five goals in one period in Sault Ste. Marie. The past coaches also remember all the traveling the two did for practice and games because of the geographic nature of the squad.
“I had no idea they had any interest in the water kind of stuff,” Luxton said of his former players’ feat. “When I started following their bid to raise awareness, it didn’t surprise me they would attempt something like this.
“I think it illustrates how much determination they have and how much hard work they were willing to put in,” he continued. “It is just outstanding, particularly with the cold weather in the Great Lakes.”
Cody Inglis, a senior assistant director for the MHSAA, was an assistant coach for the Reps during all of Morris and Guy’s time with the co-op. He finds himself beaming with pride and happiness knowing these former players are giving back and making it a better world.
“What Jeff and Kwin have done physically and mentally to cross all of the Great Lakes on stand-up paddle boards is remarkable in itself,” Inglis pointed out. “When you add in the fact that they have put in charitable causes and the preservation of the Great Lakes as a reason for doing it – it makes it even more special.
“It’s not surprising given my recollection and remembrances of Jeff and Kwin, as they were really good hockey players and better people.”
High school hockey is where Morris and Guy’ friendship blossomed. Spending 24 or more hours together — and with Lorenz — has forged a greater lifetime bond that already had included being a part of each other’s weddings.
But they admit they had no inkling of this type of accomplishment back in high school.
“Sports were the most important thing in my life in high school,” Guy revealed. “Working really hard to win as many games as possible was the main goal – along with getting good grades and trying to get into a good college.”
But teamwork, learned on the ice and through other high school sports, can make anything possible.
“Any sport where you have to work as a team helps push yourself out of your comfort zone,” Morris concluded. “That's where the best things in life happen.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Clockwise from top left: Jeff Guy celebrates a goal while playing for Traverse Bay Reps with Kwin Morris to his left, Guy (left) and Morris (right) take a photo after one of their paddle board trips, and Morris bringing the puck up the ice for the Reps. (Middle) Guy, Morris and Joe Lorenz take a photo together on the lake shore. (Below) Morris accepts a medal during the 2004-05 season. (Photos courtesy of Jeff Guy, Kwin and Jo Morris.)