Changing of the Capital Guard

August 16, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Who would I pick to coach a Lansing area boys basketball Dream Team? Sportswriters get a lot of questions like that, from radio hosts or fans, or roommates who grew up nearby.

To not offend the other coaching friends I’d made in my decade-plus in Lansing, I kept that answer within the roommate circle for a long time – until I decided Okemos' Dan Stolz and Lansing Everett's Johnny Jones were so incredible their colleagues would understand my choice.

I could’ve never picked between them. Their styles different, the results were the same. Both had stars over their decades, but I also saw both do more with less and in ways that regularly went unmatched during the 13 years I was a twice-weekly watcher of high school hoops for the Lansing State Journal.

It’s only a coincidence that both decided to retire from coaching during this same summer. But it’s certainly a double loss for mid-Michigan specifically and the statewide basketball community as a whole.

So why were these guys my Dream Team combo?

  • Of course, they won a lot.

According to a report from local HOMTV, Stolz finished with a record of 428-99 at Williamston and then Okemos, where he took over for his father Stan in 1994-95. That win total is only eight more than Dad's, giving the family 828 wins over roughly four decades.

Tracking down Jones’ record wasn’t as easy. But based on the paper trail I’ve been running since I got my start in Lansing, he had 334 wins after the 2003-04 season, which likely means he too finished right around 400 – with a few hundred more leading the Vikings girls.

And they were the kind of standout high school players too whose stories had become legend – Jones for Battle Creek Central once taking down a top-ranked team by himself, while it was said Stolz could still dunk into his 40s after playing for his dad and the Chieftains back in his day.

  • They won at the highest levels.

Jones is one of only a handful who has won MHSAA championships with both girls and boys teams – his girls teams won Class A in 2000 and 2001 and his boys won Class A in 2004. Everett’s girls program, by the way, was near-winless just a few years before Jones took over and led it to its first run to a Final in 1999.

Stolz never got his MHSAA title, his Chieftains falling to Saginaw Arthur Hill 85-84 in the 2006 Class A Final – the only MHSAA boys title game ever to go two extra periods. But against what many locals considered long odds, Stolz led Okemos from the cozy Class B-dominated Capital Circuit into the highest division of the Capital Area Activities Conference, where the Chieftains continued to win against the likes of Everett, Lansing Sexton, Lansing Eastern, Holt, Grand Ledge, East Lansing and Jackson in what is arguably the toughest league in the state.

Another interesting “by the way:” Stolz did lead Okemos’ softball (1999) and girls tennis teams (1993) to MHSAA championships.

  • They won by doing the things others weren’t.

Jones’ girls teams were loaded with talent – a number of players went on to major college programs – but they were unstoppable because of a fullcourt press that handcuffed opponents and set a trend that others like Lansing Waverly and East Lansing also used to win Class A titles. Jones' best boys teams had an all-state post combo of Derick Nelson and Goran Suton, but still had to contend with Grand Ledge’s Al Horford (now of the Atlanta Hawks) two and three times a season.

And, it must be noted that Jones was one of fewer than 20 coaches who continued coaching both the boys and girls teams even after the girls season was moved from fall to winter for 2007-08.

Stolz similarly had his share of good players – Johnathon Jones maybe the best of all. But again, playing in a league with a number of other similarly-talented players (and in the postseason against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Kalin Lucas and others), Stolz was unmatched in Greater Lansing when it came to gameday strategy. His teams always had a plan, and frequently made it work when the odds seemed stacked against -- which made apparent upsets hardly surprises at all.

Stolz has been replaced by Jeff Wonch, who led Bath to the MHSAA Class C title in 2007. He most recently coached at Potterville. Jones' replacement is former Everett star Desmond Ferguson, who played briefly in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and was a volunteer assistant for the Vikings last season.

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.)