Performance: Alpena's Chris DeRocher

February 1, 2019

Chris DeRocher
Alpena senior - Basketball

Alpena’s 6-foot-5 four-year varsity forward scored 29 points in last week’s 74-45 win over Sault Ste. Marie – and on the 29th point broke his school’s career scoring record on the way to earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” 

DeRocher surpassed the record previously set in 1972 by Butch Feher, who went on to play at Vanderbilt University and for a season with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. DeRocher sank a fourth-quarter free throw to lock up the record at 1,436 points, and he added 26 more to his running total in Thursday’s 70-55 win over Gaylord after entering the night averaging 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and three assists per game this season. The Gaylord victory put the Wildcats at 11-2 after the team won five games his freshman season and nine games apiece the last two winters.  

It’s been a record-setting school year for Alpena’s senior class: In addition to DeRocher’s milestone, Aidan Day set the school’s career soccer goals record, Logan Guthrie became its all-time leading career football rusher and hockey goalie Cooper Black now owns Alpena’s single-season shutout record on the ice. DeRocher also played baseball – he pitches and plays first base – and carries a 3.7 GPA. He’s unsure where he’ll attend college, but he aims to continue playing basketball and study business.

Coach John Pintar said: “I have been fortunate to have a great seat every night to watch Chris develop the last four years as both a player and a person. As a coach, you always want to see each player reach their peak potential, and Chris has certainly done that. He has started every game for us since his freshmen year. He came into the program right after we had graduated a senior class that had won two conference titles and went 41-5. There was a void in the program, and Chris was able to step right in as a freshman and instantly become a key player on the team that we could count on every night. … Any great player will tell you that winning as a team is why they play, not their statistics, and Chris has always embodied that belief. His number one goal is always the success of the team and not scoring records. The scoring has always happened within the team framework of our offense and his desire for team success. … This achievement didn't happen by accident; he has truly put in the time and effort to get to this point. He has had great support from his family and teammates along the way and I'm sure he would be the first to tell you that this couldn't have happened without them and their support. Chris has great character and is an excellent student. He has always represented himself and our school with class. I am extremely proud of what he has done and expect him to continue doing great things the rest of the season and in the future.”   

Performance Point: “It was amazing, just all of the people there,” DeRocher recalled of last week’s record-setting night. “After I made that free throw, and hugging my teammates, and hugging my coaches that I've been with for four years, it was just really amazing to think about breaking a 47-year record. … Last year when I hit the 1,000-point mark, it was like, ‘All right, so if I do what I have the past two years, I should be able to do this.’ It was never something that I went out and tried to do. If it came, it came. I just went into every game trying to play the best I could for our team, and I ended up being able to do it.”

4-year varsity education: “I think I’ve just learned to not force every shot. I’ve tried to get more people more involved. Because I’ve learned if I get my teammates more involved it’s going to draw people away from me, and it’s going to be easier to get points. Just learning the game, learning defenders (and) how they play me, improving my shooting.”

Our time to shine: “The past couple years we’ve gone through some struggles. We didn’t really have that many people ahead of us, so that wasn’t always the best thing. For two years (2015-16 and 2016-17), we only graduated two seniors. Now we’re up to our grade, and we’re showing that once you get a good group together and you have a strong core, it really does help and it really does win games. We’ve learned so much the last few years – most of our starters have started since sophomore year. It’s really showed, how well we’ve played together and how much we know each other and the chemistry we’ve had.”

Super seniors: “We have a really, really strong class, and a lot of kids are going good places. To be able to be that class that breaks all those records is really cool. You always want to win; you want to show these other schools you really are something. Our grade was always pretty good. … We’re all pretty good friends with each other, and we’re always rooting for each other.” 

Putting down roots: “My family owns a couple of businesses in Alpena, so I’ll probably go into that. I’ll end up coming back home. I like it here, I like everything it has to offer. … I like the area and I want to stay here.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

January 24: Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29:
Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15:
Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8:
Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Alpena's Chris DeRocher follows through on a free-throw attempt during last week's win over Sault Ste. Marie. (Middle) DeRocher controls a loose ball in the lane. (Photos by 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.)