Ball Joins Dad, Uncle Among Elk Rapids Scoring Elite

By Tom Spencer
Special for

February 26, 2021

Riddle 1: How can a ball get passed from another to another and go through the bottom of the net resulting in three points and three of them appearing on a list on a school banner?

Riddle 2: How can three Balls from Riddle 1 represent one-third of the list?

Answer: Only one ball is a basketball. The other four Balls are all related to each other. They are Kevin Ball, Jeremy Ball, Preston Ball and Spencer Ball.

Kevin and Jeremy are brothers who played basketball during the 1990s for Elk Rapids High School. Kevin is also currently coaching the Elks. Preston and Spencer are also brothers playing today for the Elks. And, Kevin is the father of Preston and Spencer. 

As a result of the basketball being passed by Spencer to Preston in a win over Boyne City last week and Preston subsequently burying a 3-pointer, Preston became the Elks’ ninth member of the 1,000 point club joining his father and uncle.

“It is really cool,” the four-year Elk Rapids starter said of joining his father and uncle. “Three Balls on the list ... I really can’t put it into words ... it’s incredible.”

Elk Rapids boys basketball 2His father agrees.

“As a family we’re very blessed and been very fortunate to have all of our kids have success in athletics,” said the proud father of three children raised with his wife Charlotte. “So to have Preston join us is awesome. 

“We’re excited that Spencer has been a part of it as well,” he conditioned. “To be able to play with his brother is pretty special. With my brother being four years apart, we didn’t have that opportunity until after we graduated.”

Spencer and Preston have also teamed up on the soccer pitch for the Elks, who reached the Division 3 Semifinals this fall. Preston led the Elks in scoring all four years amassing 86 goals and 41 assists. Spencer assisted Preston’s final career goal and the Elks’ only goal in the Semifinal shootout loss to Grand Rapids South Christian.

And Spencer’s very first goal for the Elks was assisted by Preston.

Spencer had hopes all along he’d be the one getting the assist on the 1,000th point. It was on the sophomore’s mind as Preston neared the mark entering the game with the Ramblers. But it didn’t cross his mind in the game until play was stopped to recognize the accomplishment.

“I wanted to, but our whole team wanted to do the same thing,” Spencer noted. “They all wanted the assist on it.  

“I guess it just fell in place.”

And Preston is thrilled it did come from his brother.

“It was pretty cool the way it all turned out,” he said.

Preston currently ranks ninth among the school’s all-time career scorers. Kevin’s 1,188 points are second, and Jeremy is third on the list with 1,171. The senior is not likely to pass top scorer Luke Morrison, but topping his father and uncle may be in reach.

Elk Rapids boys basketball 3Preston recalls watching Morrison join the 1,000 point club. 

“Luke Morrison was kind of the guy I looked up to a lot,” Preston said. “Watching him throughout his career kind of inspired me.

“My dad and uncle being in the 1,000 point club was also something I wanted to join them in and coach (Brett) Graham also in the 1,000 point club,” he continued. “All three of them had a tremendous impact on my game and my life.”

Graham coached the Elks when Preston began his varsity career. Kevin was the JV coach and was happy to see his son move up to the varsity right away. Kevin took over the boys varsity last year when Graham stepped down.  

Kevin wasn’t and still isn’t sure how far Preston would go, but he knew there was a good chance Preston would join him in the 1,000 point club the day he started on the varsity. Preston’s summer camp display proved to coach Graham that he could play varsity, his father said. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

“Once he made (varsity) and once he was in that position to be a starter as a freshman, I knew he had a shot (at the 1,000 point club),” the coach said.

Both coach and son are glad to put the accomplishment behind them and move on. The Elks are 8-1 after Friday’s win over East Jordan.

“I tried to think about it as little as possible,” said the senior who is averaging nearly 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game. “It felt really good to get past that benchmark.

“Hopefully people kind of stop talking about it for a little bit and I can just focus on the rest of season, play my game and just enjoy it.”

The Balls’ younger sister, Mattea, is an eighth grader. She is expected to carry on the Ball family tradition next year playing basketball for Elk Rapids.

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) Preston Ball (3) went over 1,000 career points last week against Boyne City, on a basket assisted by brother Spencer (24), to join the school’s 1,000 point club with father/coach Kevin Ball (far left) and uncle Jeremy Ball (far right). (Middle) The school’s 1,000-point scorers banner will soon include Preston as well. (Below) Preston Ball brings the ball upcourt this season. (Group and banner photos courtesy of Charlotte Ball. Action shot courtesy of the Elk Rapids boys basketball program.)

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.)