After Leading Glen Lake Girls to Title, Bradford Brings Boys Into Final Week

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 15, 2024

Eight is Enough.

Northern Lower PeninsulaOr is it?

For Jason Bradford growing up on the farm of Arden and Lynn Bradford as one of their eight children, it probably was enough. Bradford’s upbringing may have been slightly similar to “Eight Is Enough,” a comedy-drama television series about a family with eight children that aired on ABC from March of 1977 to May of 1981.

But the show didn’t depict pick-up basketball being played in the barn like it was for Bradford and his siblings. And surely eight would not be enough Regional basketball championships for Jason Bradford, nor enough District titles either. 

After leading Maple City Glen Lake to the Division 4 girls basketball championship last year, Bradford stepped down from coaching.  At the time his teams had won five Regional and six District titles.

Now his teams have won six Regional and seven District championships. He took over Glen Lake’s boys program during the holiday break this winter as the Lakers were off to a 4-2 start. They finished the season 22-5.  

It was the Lakers boys’ first 20-win campaign since the 2018-19 season, and they clinched their first Regional title since 2018.

Glen Lake went 19-5 last year losing to Traverse City St. Francis in the District Final. The season before that ended with a first-round loss to Elk Rapids and 15-6 record.

Bradford led his girls teams four times to the MHSAA Semifinals and almost got their a fifth time this year with the boys. Their run ended Tuesday with a tough loss in the Division 4 Quarterfinals to Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 63-51. 

“We’re licking the wounds of that one,” he said. “We’ve got to remember to look at the big picture – they are young men becoming men.”

Glen Lake’s Cooper Bufalini (11) pushes the ball upcourt during a 65-49 District Final win over Bellaire.But Bradford already has turned his thoughts to next season and is making plans for summer basketball.

“Having the summer with them if it goes the way we want is going to be huge,” Bradford said. “There are a few things going through my head I can change or adjust.  

“We want to continue to build on what our philosophy of what Glen Lake is and my philosophy of what Glen Lake is.”

The Lakers will graduate Cooper Bufalini, Gage Baker, Dylan Cundiff, Tyler Bixby and Jamie Blondia. But they’ll have their top two scorers back, sophomore Jacob Plamondon and junior Benji Allen. Plamondon kicked in almost 20 points per game and led the team in rebounding with more than 10 per contest. Allen averaged more than 11 points per game and led the team in assists.

Glen Lake finished second in the Northwest Conference behind Benzie Central, which was undefeated in league play. The Lakers knocked off league opponents Frankfort in the Division 4 District title match and Buckley in the Regional Semifinal.

The battles with Benzie for the conference title may have been the highlights of the season, Bradford noted. Those were Glen Lake’s only losses in league play, and a share of the title was within their grasp late in the second game with the Huskies.

The Lakers lost 60-51 on their home court in the first meeting but took Benzie to the limit in the rematch before falling, 41-39, on the road.

“We had a lot of great games and a lot of great memories,” Bradford said. “Going for conference it pretty much came down to the last few seconds with lead changes. 

“We were up by one point with less than 30 second lefts, and that was the high point,” he continued. “We came up short, but we learned from that game.”

Also among highlights for Bradford this year was the chance to coach against his brother Nathan for the first time in their careers.

The Lakers’ Jacob Plamondon (35) makes a strong move to the basket.The Bradfords started coaching girls varsity basketball 16 years ago, but their teams were in different conferences at the time. Nathan coached the Onekama girls but moved to the boys program before Onekama and Glen Lake had a chance to compete against each other in the Northwest Conference.

The Bradford coaches often talk after their games and learn from one another. They have also seen their parents frequently in the bleachers as they rotate home game sites to see their grandchildren play and their sons coach.

When Onekama and Glen Lake played this year, eight Bradfords were on the rosters as players or coaches. Jason’s son Toby, a freshman, played on the Glen Lake junior varsity team, as Nathan’s son Carson played for the Portagers’ JV squad. The Onekama JV team is coached by another Bradford, Jason and Nathan’s brother Nick. And there were three more Bradfords on the varsity – Nathan’s son Caden and his cousins Luke and Arden.

Glen Lake won both varsity games, 38-36 at Onekama and 61-33 at home.

Jason and his wife Jackie have five children. Their youngest son, Drew, is now a sixth grader at Glen Lake. His oldest son, J.J., is at Michigan Tech and has begun officiating basketball after his senior season at Glen Lake cut short by the pandemic while the Lakers were preparing to play in a 2020 District Final. Daughters Maddie and Grace are playing basketball for Lake Superior State University.

Maddie and Grace were big parts of Glen Lake’s deep postseason runs with Jason as girls coach. With many games played on Saturdays and not conflicting with coaching, Jason, Jackie and the younger boys were able to travel to see the Upper Peninsula’s Lakers play regularly.

This season, the Glen Lake girls – under first-year head coach Brad Fosmore – went 16-8 and won Northwest Conference and District titles before losing a nail-biter, 45-42, to league rival Frankfort in the Regional Semifinal.

“Jason did a good job, and it felt good to carry on the tradition,” said Fosmore, who previously served as a Lakers JV coach. “We took it one game at a time.

“Jason worked hard to build a great girls program,” he continued. “It made it pretty simple because they had that winning tradition and kind of kept it rolling.”

Tom SpencerTom 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) Jason Bradford, kneeling, coaches the Maple City Glen Lake boys varsity after taking over the program earlier this season. (Middle) Glen Lake’s Cooper Bufalini (11) pushes the ball upcourt during a 65-49 District Final win over Bellaire. (Below) The Lakers’ Jacob Plamondon (35) makes a strong move to the basket. (Top photo by RD Sports Photo/Rob DeForge, additional photos by Nicole Bixby.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)