Gremlins Add Title to Record-Setting Run

May 28, 2015

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

IRON MOUNTAIN – The Houghton Gremlins were hoping to defend their MHSAA title while also hitting around 310 Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 boys golf championship tournament. 

They easily achieved their first goal, winning their second straight crown with a 325 that put them 15 strokes ahead of perennial contender Marquette. The next four teams also were bunched, with Escanaba at 342, Gladstone 343, Negaunee 345 and Kingsford 350.

The Gremlins posted a school-best 297 two weeks ago at Houghton Portage Lake Golf Club, but coach Corey Markham warned them that approaching that mark would be difficult at challenging Pine Grove Country Club, which was founded in 1902 and ranks among the top five courses in the Upper Peninsula. 

"This is a challenging course. It is really difficult," Markham said of the hilly, tree-lined par 72 layout that stretched to 6,297 yards from the blue tees.

He was more than happy with how his squad attacked Pine Grove, with teammates Gunnar Stein and Brendan Longhini finishing 1-2 with 76 and 79 strokes, respectively. Only seven other players shot fewer than 85, including Houghton's Wyatt Liston, who had 83. 

That kind of depth put the Gremlins in good position to turn back any challengers. "They showed up and were solid. They were very impressive," said Markham, whose girls team won its fifth straight U.P. crown.

Markham said the success of both teams is the result of a strong junior program at Portage Lake. 

"The key is they get out and play and work on their games," he said. "They chip, putt, hit the (driving) range. They strive to get better.

"We have an awesome facility and Portage Lake caters to our youth. They get to play a lot of golf. That is a big part of our success." 

It also helps that the talent level is close. "They strive to beat each other. They're teammates but they still want to beat each other," he said.

Longhini is the only senior on the squad, which bodes well for the future. "They are the biggest golf nuts," said Markham. "You won't find many people out there more often than our kids. They are buddies. They love to play. They compete against each other every day for bragging rights." 

Stein, who posted a career-best 70 two weeks ago when the Gremlins carded that 297, is a junior. The Gremlins had a practice round Wednesday and learned some of the tricks to play Pine Grove.

"Hitting the fairways is key," said Stein, who hit nine or 10 to miss his goal of hitting all 14 par fours and fives. He missed Nos. 12 and 17 "by a lot, and I made bogey. Otherwise I missed them by five or 10 yards."

His tee shot on the 531-yard 12th landed on the left side rough and he had to punch out from between two trees that limited his backswing. 

Handling the undulating greens was also a key. He didn't sink a birdie but also didn't have any three-putt greens, with solid approach shots a key. "If you one-putt every hole it makes par a lot harder," he said.

Stein said the team's depth is a critical component to the overall success. "We qualify for our spots. It is like a tourney in itself. Qualifying is a tourney atmosphere," he said. "We're used to playing under pressure. You have to embrace it."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Houghton golfers stand with their MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Gunnar Stein of Houghton chips out of a tough lie between trees on the 12th hole at Iron Mountain Pine Grove Country Club on Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Final. Stein was medalist with 76 to lead the Gremlins to their second straight title. (Below) Channing Modschiedler of Menominee blasts out of the bunker on the 12th hole Thursday. He shot 89.(Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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.)