Clarkston Everest Earns 1st Finals Win

June 11, 2016

By Scott Keyes
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Until Saturday, Clarkston Everest Collegiate had never won an MHSAA Finals championship in any sport during the school’s eight-year existence.

That all changed during a five-hour round of golf Saturday afternoon, as its boys team lapped the field en route to capturing the Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship at Forest Akers West on the campus of Michigan State University.

The Mountaineers fired a two-day total of 637 followed by Kalamazoo Christian (665). Muskegon Catholic was third at 685, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart fourth at 690 and Clinton rounded out the top five with a 692.

Everest Collegiate used a strong second day to run away from the field after firing a 317 to take a two-stoke lead into the second round. The Mountaineers were followed closely by Kalamazoo Christian (319) and Sacred Heart (328) during Saturday’s round.

Everest Collegiate coach David Smith credited the strong start in the opening round to his golfers focus heading into the Final. That, coupled with making clutch shots, allowed the Mountaineers to pull away late in the second round.

"The memories from this day will last a lifetime,” Smith said. “We will go down as the first state championship team in school history. It doesn't get any better than that. 

“It’s amazing,” he added. “This is such an amazing group of young men to be with.”

Everest Collegiate had never played the championship course until Friday. Smith was being honest when he said he didn't know what to expect before the opening round of play. But to see the team grow up this weekend nearly moved him to tears.

"You can teach the kids the basics of the game, but to watch them make shots in critical situations and just watch them grow as players is something you can't teach," Smith said. "My senior Tyler Rozwadowski came in and nearly won the whole thing as an individual player, and he never saw the course before until now. It's stuff like that which makes this victory even more impressive. I couldn't be prouder."

Taking the medalist honor was Lansing Christian sophomore Parker Jamieson, who fired a 71-76 two-day total of 147. Rozwadowski finished with 149 strokes, followed by White Pigeon's Jordan Olsen, Kalamazoo Christian's Colin Sikkenga and Collin Powers of Muskegon Catholic Central, who all tied for third at 154.

Jamieson, a Lansing native, is no stranger to the Forest Akers courses, and he played West as a veteran over the past two days. Needless to say he is already thinking about next year's tournament, as it will be played at Forest Akers East.

"I can't help not to think about coming back to Forest Akers next season and repeating," Jamieson said. "I really battled the heat out there Saturday, but so did everyone else. I focused on making good shots, making every shot count out there. It was definitely a grind."

Rozwadowski agree.

"I came into Saturday's round with a number in my mind that I wanted to shoot and I almost hit that number, but I came up a little short," Rozwadowski said. "I would have loved to have won the individual championship, but I wouldn't change anything winning a team title with my guys. This is pretty special."

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PHOTOS: (Top) The Clarkston Everest Collegiate boys golf team stands with its first MHSAA championship trophy in any sport. (Middle) Lansing Christian’s Parker Jamieson. (Click to see more from

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

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 [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) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)