Kimmerer Sets Sights on Hale Record & More

December 9, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

HALE — Joseph Kimmerer’s heart swelled with excitement as he raced toward the basket on a fast break.

The freshman point guard appeared to be destined to record his first points with the Hale varsity boys basketball team on a layup. Unfortunately for Kimmerer, a hard-charging player from Posen rattled him just enough to cause Kimmerer to lose focus for a split second.

“There was somebody coming up behind me and a lot bigger at the time,” said Kimmerer. “I was scared of that, and I was excited for my first points and just blew it.”

Kimmerer has not had much trouble scoring since that miss. In fact, points have come in abundance over the past three years. He finished with 14 in that first game against Posen, reached the 1,000-point club midway through last season, and with a career total of 1,228 points stands just one 3-pointer from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer — surpassing the record set by Chad Brandt in 1992. His first chance to set the record will come tonight against Rogers City.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” said Kimmerer. “All the hard work and teammates who have helped me along the way. Coaches, family, everybody supporting. It’s going to mean a lot.”

Kimmerer’s dad, Joe, has seen Joseph’s scoring prowess up close as the head coach of the Eagles, getting a sideline perspective on his son’s physical and athletic development from being a 3-point marksman as a 5-foot-9 freshman to the complete offensive package now as a 6-foot-2 senior.

“He was a spot-up shooter,” said Joe. “Didn’t like a lot of contact. Always could make free throws but never got to the line much. Now he is a kid that goes to the rim hard, looks for contact, wants contact, wants to go make that three-point play at the free throw line. He’s also gotten to the point where his athleticism and his strength have caught up to the skills he had.”

Joe Kimmerer also understands the magnitude of what his son has done on the basketball court, having been a 1,000-point scorer during his own playing career for Hale as well as a 25-year coaching veteran for Hale’s boys or girls basketball squads since the late 1990s.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Joe said of his son’s pending school scoring record. “But the accomplishment that I think stands out even beyond that is there has never been a player at our school that has played for four straight league championships. We’re at three in a row now. We’ve got a very good opportunity to put our fourth in the book. That accomplishment might stand out more to me, maybe because I’m the coach. To be able to say you won four league championships. That’s a pretty good honor, and he would be the only one who could say that.”

Indeed, the Eagles have had a good run in Joseph’s first three years on the varsity, winning 17, 13 and 18 games, respectively, while capturing three straight North Star League Little Dipper division titles.

Joseph is young for his grade, having turned only 17 on Oct. 10, but he’s always done things earlier than most. He got his introduction to the gymnasium as a 2-year-old while his dad conducted practice. When he got old enough to start playing, Joseph could be found shooting off to the side of the gym as Hale’s high school teams played nearby. By the time he was in fourth grade, he was on the court at Hale’s practices, getting a chance to compete against much older junior varsity or varsity players.

Joseph was ready to suit up for the varsity squad when he got to high school. Joe thought so too, but he erred on the side of caution, not wanting it to appear that favoritism was the reason his son earned a varsity roster spot. So Joseph started the year on the junior varsity.

“I thought I could (play at the varsity level) the whole time,” said Joseph. “I just had to prove myself at JV and get the call up. I just believed.”

Joseph was dazzling in his two games with the JV as overmatched opponents struggled to guard him, making it even more obvious the Eagles’ varsity could use his services.

“I knew going into that season that we needed a shooter,” said Joe. “Someone who could score for us on a kickout. We went into our first two games of the year, and we proved as a varsity team that we needed somebody like that. At the JV level he was doing things in those games that the rest of the players could look at and say, ‘We really need that.’ I look back and I wish I would’ve pulled him up and had him part of the varsity for those two games also, but it was also kind of a stepping stone for him, too, to show the guys. When he came up he was second on our team in scoring as a freshman in a year that we won the league and Districts. It kind of stated for itself right there.”

Joseph averaged 12.1 points per game as a freshman, then saw that grow to 18.6 points per game as a sophomore and 25.5 per outing last year as his game continued to blossom. He also managed to lead the Eagles in rebounding from his guard position last season with 11.9 per game and is in line to set the school’s career record in that category as well if he pulls down 125 boards this winter. He had 275 last season. Defensively, Kimmerer always draws the opponents’ top player regardless of size.

Scoring, though, is where Joseph has really left his mark. He’s done it in an efficient manner, too. Last year he shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, 53 percent from the field and 88 percent from the foul line.

“He has a possibility of being a 30-point-a-game guy,” said Joe. “It’s not because he’s going to take 35 shots. It’s just going to come because that’s his game. His speed, his size — everything has increased over this past summer. I think the game might come a little easier than it has in the past even.”

With that kind of year Joseph could reach the 2,000-point plateau, a feat reached by only 41 players in state history.

Joseph set a career high with 40 points in a game against Mio last year. However, the Thunderbolts have been a thorn in the Eagles’ side the last two postseasons, including handing Hale a 51-49 loss in last year’s District championship game.

“We split with them both years in the regular season, but once it gets District time it just doesn’t go our way,” said Joseph.

Besides being a stellar basketball player, Joseph is also a model citizen and student. He has a 3.8 grade point average, is part of the National Honor Society and can often be found in the gym mentoring kids in the Little Eagles youth program. It’s just Joseph’s way of giving back to a community that has taken a keen interest in the Eagles boys basketball team.

“We’re packing the gym every night,” said Joe. “People in the community who have no connection to the team are traveling to away games. We’ve got people in the stands at scrimmages, and it’s not just because of him. Our team is strong, and people have kind of latched on. They like the brand of basketball we’re playing. (Joseph) involves everybody in it. Guys who are on that (1,000 point) scoring list are making it back to games. They haven’t been back in the gym in 20 or 25 years or longer and they were at his game because they want to see him do it. I feel that’s going to happen here when we go to Rogers City. ... We’re going to get that group of people who really don’t have a connection, other than they played in the past, were on that list, or like basketball. They’re going to be there because of what we’re doing with three straight league championships, and he’s a big part of that.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016.

PHOTO: Hale’s Joseph Kimmerer poses with the ball he received after scoring his 1,000th career point last season. (Photo courtesy of Sports in Motion.)

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.)