Athens' #13 Makes 'Miracle' Comeback

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 19, 2015

ATHENS — Damon Knowles talked about baseball and basketball with his cousin, Luke Lamson, one warm Sunday last December.

That’s not unusual for the two young teens, but that day Lamson lay crushed beneath the wheels of a semi trailer loaded with corn and weighing more than 30,000 pounds.

His cousin had crawled beneath the trailer to keep Lamson awake until the ambulance arrived with the Jaws of Life. Both boys were in eighth grade at the time.


Immediately following the accident, “My dad told me to go get the phone so we could call 911,” Knowles, 14, said. “I went under the trailer and was talking to Luke. I just had to keep asking him if he could breathe.”

That accident drastically changed the way Lamson figured his freshman year at Athens High School would play out. Instead of running cross country and playing basketball this year, he is on the sidelines cheering his teammates.

The fact the 14-year-old can actually do that now is a story of amazing recovery and faith.

Knowles, his dad John and Lamson were the only ones at the farm, moving the corn to the silo at the time of the accident. None of them knows exactly how the accident happened, but John Knowles said the ground was soft from rain the day before, which probably kept his nephew from being crushed to death.

Lamson said he was awake the entire time, but doesn’t remember much about the accident. 

“It didn’t kill him because we kept the pressure on him,” an emotional John Knowles said. “I could have drove the truck off him. Had a piece of machinery there, I could have tipped the truck off him. 

“But I kept the pressure on him and he didn’t bleed internally. There was a higher power telling me not to get the trailer off him. He should have never made it out from under the trailer, never made it to the hospital. The first couple days were nerve-wracking.

“By the time I got to the hospital (later that day), half of Athens was there. We had over 90 people in the waiting room that night; probably 25 of them spent the night.”

Said Lamson’s mother, Lucy: “Being the adult and the one driving the vehicle, my brother was a mess. This little guy (Damon) was down there with Luke, underneath the trailer while he was pinned and held his head and made him stay awake and just kept talking with him.

“To me, that was the first miracle. Luke is sitting here right now because of it.”

The family created a Facebook page, Lukey Lamson’s Comeback, to post updates for friends and family.

The first entry explained: “He has a shattered pelvis, a compound fracture in his shoulder, a fracture in his lower back, and numerous open wounds. He currently just got out of surgery and they were able to attach a wound vac to help his wounds heal.

“We are receiving some communication from him such as waves, thumbs up, and hand squeezes when he is off his sedation medication, which is only for a few minutes at a time.”

Lamson, who spent two months in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Methodist Hospital and one in University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said at the beginning he wasn’t sure he would live.

“There was times in the hospital that Luke wasn’t real fun to be around,” his uncle said. “There was one time I come around the corner and my mother and my sister were crying. I said what’s wrong. They said Luke wants to die.

“So I walked in there. I asked the two nurses to leave. We had a good heart-to-heart talk, and things changed.”

By Dec. 10, three days after the accident, Lamson was taken off the ventilator. And by Christmas, he had survived seven surgeries.

On Dec. 28 he was moved from the intensive care unit to a regular room, and by Jan. 20 he was able to sit in a wheelchair for the first time. He left Bronson for Mott’s on Feb. 3.

One bright spot in those early days came from Bronson Hospital’s Dr. Michael Leinwand who learned that Lamson is a huge Michigan State fan. He arranged for a visit from two students from the MSU dance team along with mascot Sparty.

Lamson had an attitude adjustment at Mott’s, where he found inspiration after watching an ESPN short called “Miraculous: The Austin Hatch Story,” about the University of Michigan basketball player.

“(Hatch) survived two plane crashes and lost his mother, father, two siblings and a stepmother in those two airplane crashes,” Lucy Lamson said. “He had a crushed pelvis, brain injuries. He worked like there was no tomorrow, and he didn’t have the family to support him.

“After we watched the story, Luke looked at me and said he doesn’t even have his mom and his dad to help him, and I do. That’s when he kicked it in.”

Lamson has had 22 surgeries with another scheduled for later this week, goes for physical therapy three times a week and has actually walked Athens’ home course at Stanton Farms with the cross country team.

He expects to be on the sidelines cheering on the team at its regional Oct. 31 and hopes to be a manager for the basketball team.

Lucy Lamson said it is not just the community who has come together to support the family, but also teams in the Big 8 Conference.

While at Mott’s, the teen wanted a leave to attend an Athens basketball game when his sister, Josie, was on the homecoming court.

He worked hard to meet all the criteria his doctors set and planned the surprise.

“We played our rival, Union City,” Lucy Lamson said. “They did a fundraiser for him, too. My sister was thanking everyone and then Luke rolled in in his wheelchair. and everybody just cried.”

Lamson’s basketball number has always been 13, and that number actually gave the family some comfort.

“After the accident, that number kept showing up everywhere,” his mother said. “The room he was in at one point was 13. Damon’s first gymnastics meet after the accident, he drew 13. They won a basketball game by 13.

“Players had headbands made that had 13 on them. Other teams in our conference that played our team would come in with 13 on their shirts or wristbands. At a dollar store for fundraiser stuff, the amount came to exactly $13. That was our way of knowing that God was with us and Luke would be OK.”

Lamson, Knowles and Riley Howard, all freshmen, figured they would be battling each other on the cross country team this year.

Instead, Knowles and Howard are running with Lamson cheering them on.

Although basketball is his first love, “We talked Luke into running cross country his seventh grade year, so he ran seventh and eighth grade years,” said coach Missy Hamilton, who also teaches science at the middle school.

“He’s just amazed everybody because we didn’t think he’d be back in school last year. He came back after spring break, in a wheelchair. He’s starting to walk a little bit. Now he walks the halls (with a brace on his left leg).

“I’m hoping he’ll be ready to run with us next year, and by the time he’s a junior, full time. As he works through his physical therapy, he becomes stronger and stronger.”

Damon Knowles has dedicated this cross country season to his cousin.

Asked if he thinks of Luke running beside him during meets, Damon replied, laughing and without hesitation: “Maybe behind me.”

Howard said Lamson is an inspiration to the other athletes.

“I’ve known him my whole life,” Howard said. “I was worried that he wasn’t going to make it, but I was really surprised because he’s up and walking.

“It’s inspired me to work harder, actually, because he’s not doing this right now, but he’ll be back. The team likes it when he’s there supporting us.”

John Knowles said the family has become even closer since the accident.

“There’s been a lot of great things that have come from this accident that is bigger than any one person or any one sport,” he said. “You’ve got to have bad days to appreciate the good days. Sports is a great teacher of that.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She continues to freelance for covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Luke Lamson, in bed, is surrounded by his doctor, members of the Michigan State University dance team and Sparty during his stay at Bronson Hospital. (Middle) From left, John Knowles, Damon Knowles, Lucy Lamson. (Middle below) Luke Lamson sits up as his recovery continues. (Below) Lamson played basketball during middle school. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Lamson family; head shots by Pam Shebest, basketball photo by Photography by Char.)

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.)