Benton Harbor Aims to Add to Legacy

March 23, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Benton Harbor is wearing the weight of history, with the last name of Don Farnum across the chests of the team’s warm-up T-shirts.

But this season’s Tigers have been aiming to add to their school’s long legacy of boys basketball success – and become its first MHSAA champion in the sport since Farnum led the team to back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965.

Benton Harbor earned another championship opportunity Friday at the Breslin Center with a 60-49 Class B Semifinal win over River Rouge.

The victory sent the Tigers back to the title game for the 11th time and first since 2014.

“It’s a lot of weight, but we don’t let it get to our heads,” Benton Harbor senior guard Dennie Brown said. “We know this is a great group. We’ve had chemistry since back in middle school. So we knew coming into the season it would be something magical if we’d play the way we’ve been playing our whole lives.

“So it’s not much weight, just motivation.”

Benton Harbor will face Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Saturday’s 6:45 p.m. finale.

The Tigers (26-1) fell to New Haven 78-49 during last season’s Semifinals, as the Rockets went on to win their first Class B title.

A number of Benton Harbor’s players are the same this time around, but this is a new team.

Senior guards Shawn Hopkins (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Elijah Baxter (17 points) and sophomore forward Carlos Johnson (nine points, nine rebounds, six blocks) also started last season and set the tone Friday.

“It’s been a dream season. We’ve gone 27-1, and we had a bad half against Hazel Park – we should be undefeated,” said Benton Harbor coach Corey Sterling, noting his team’s lone loss 77-70 to the Class A Vikings. “But we want that ring tomorrow.

“This senior group earned it. They worked hard in the offseason. We lost last year … and they did everything I asked them to do. And they’re great character kids off the court with high GPAs; I’m so proud of them.”

Facing 14-time champ River Rouge, Benton Harbor saw another team both rich in history and also back at the Semifinals for the second straight season. But Rouge brought only one returning starter to East Lansing.

“It was a great experience to be here, especially as I have a young team,” River Rouge coach Mark White said. “After coming here last year and losing a lot of key players, just the magnitude of experiences, it was great for us. It was great for us, a great achievement to make it here, to play a really good team.”

White then added: “I’m not in the excuse-making business, but I’m looking forward to our guys being seniors.”

White’s young squad kept up with Sterling’s veterans for a half, and the score was deadlocked 25-25 at the break. But starting with a Johnson basket with 2:49 to play in the third quarter, the Tigers put together an 11-4 run to run out the quarter with a 10-point lead. The advantage got as large as 14 but no smaller than eight the rest of the way.

Junior guard Nigel Colvin led River Rouge (23-2) with 15 points, six rebounds and three steals while coming off the bench. Junior guard Donovan Freeman added 12 points, and freshman forward Legend Geeter added eight points and nine rebounds in 14 minutes of sub time.

Brown added eight points and four assists for the Tigers, and senior guard Devan Nichols had six points and five rebounds as the starting five scored all but two of the team’s points.

The “Farnum Boyz” shirts worn by the Tigers are more a dedication to their home court, the Don Farnum Gymnasium, than to the man himself. But a first championship in more than a half century surely would bring a lot of pride to the building and the many who have shined playing in it.

“Coming in, we just knew we had to stay focused,” Baxter said. “We have a goal, and we’ve had this goal since we were young. Coming into this game, we wanted to prove a point we didn’t prove last year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Benton Harbor’s Carlos Johnson gets past three defenders on the way to the basket Friday. (Middle) Johnson (11) gets a hand up as River Rouge’s Nigel Colvin drives.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

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 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) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)