Performance: Gaylord's Brendon Gouin

May 25, 2017

Brendon Gouin
Gaylord sophomore – Golf

Gouin strung together four straight individual first places over the last two weeks to lead his team on a similarly stunning streak of success. From May 11-18, Gouin finished first at four straight 18-hole events, going lowest with a 68 at the Gaylord Blue Devil Open on May 16 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” His team, meanwhile, had won nine straight events through Wednesday and surged to No. 3 in the Lower Peninsula Division 2 coaches poll – impressive especially since the team didn’t make it out of Regionals a year ago.

That first 18-hole event was the Ogemaw Heights Invitational at the Dream Golf Course, where he shot a 77 to finish as co-medalist. Next came Gaylord’s turn to host the Big North Conference at Treetops North’s Tradition course, where Gouin fired at even-par 70 to finish first. He then did something that almost defied explanation – he switched irons between events, didn’t tell his coach, and then shot a 68 to win the Blue Devil Open at Tradition. Gouin added a first-place 76 at the Big North event at River’s Edge in Alpena to cap the personal run.

Gouin has averaged 78.8 strokes this spring over 13 events, often through tough weather typical to the north this time of year. He also wrestles at 103 pounds during the winter for an annually ranked team in Division 2 – see below for how that’s paid off in his golf game – and played soccer in the fall. As noted above, Gaylord didn’t make the MHSAA Finals last season, finishing only ninth at its Regional while starting three freshmen and a sophomore. Those then-underclassmen are starters again, and Gaylord is the likely favorite at next Thursday’s Regional at Lincoln Hills in Ludington.

Coach Tom Johnson said: “The exciting thing about Brendon is he is just a sophomore. He has no fear on the course. He always seems to work his way out of trouble no matter the circumstances. One bad shot does not lead to another. And he always wants to be the medalist in every tournament we play, knowing that his success is the best way to help out his team’s goal of trying to win every tournament they play in. What I really like about him is that he is never satisfied and works extremely hard to be successful. … The beauty of this team is that Brendon is surrounded by some really good young players that push him to excel to his best. We have sophomore Kyle Putnam that averages 80.3, sophomore Joe Kowatch averages 84.0 and junior Nick Rowley averages 82.1. The best for this team, hopefully, is yet to come. Their potential is unlimited.”

Performance Point: “The day before I ended up shooting a 70, my grandpa (Jim Gilbert, a former tour pro) asked, ‘What’s the number today?’ And I said 68,” Gouin recalled of the Blue Devil Open round. “I went out and shot 68, and it was the lowest round (303) we’ve had as a group, as a team. Last year at our first tournament, we had three freshmen and (shot) our best team score. It was a 315, and we never beat that all year, so to go out this year and beat it more than once was just great for us. … Everything (for me) clicked for a while. I was striking the ball great, my putting was very good, and I had confidence on the course. I was playing aggressively, going right at the pin and trying to do that every time.”

Pressure player: “For some of us, there might be more pressure. I’m different from all the other players; I like pressure. I like the feeling of knowing I have to do good.”

Attack mode: “The way I look at it, if I’m in trouble I don’t look anywhere. My mental (outlook) is I’m not making a par, I’m making a birdie. I’m very aggressive; my grandpa said he’s never seen anyone play so aggressively. It’s very different, my style of playing. A lot of it came from wrestling. I’m not very fearful. When I used to do snocross racing, I’d do anything.”

Grappling with golf: “(Wrestling) got me physically prepared, and mentally. Coach (Jerry) LaJoie is such a great coach. He got me mentally prepared for golf; if you’re not there to win, you shouldn’t be there at all. He’s helped me out so much in every possible way. Even if he knows it or not, he still did.”

On the rise: “We’re really a young team still. Our top four are all below juniors; we have a junior as our oldest. We’re still growing, and we’re all clicking. We have a lot of talent, and we’re starting to get better. We have two or three in the 70s; next year we’ll have three or four in the 70s. We’re going to have a good shot at getting to the top of state … but nine (wins) in a row doesn’t mean anything going into Regionals.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize 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. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
May 18: Hannah Ducolon, Bay City All Saints softball – Read
May 11: Mason Phillips, Salem track & field Read
May 4: Lillian Albaugh, Farwell track & field Read
April 27: Amber Gall, Shepherd track & field  Read
April 20: Sloane Teske, East Grand Rapids tennis Read
March 30: Romeo Weems, New Haven basketball Read
March 23: Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark, Pittsford basketball Read
March 16: Camden Murphy, Novi swimming & diving Read
March 9: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central wrestling Read
March 2: Joey Mangner, Chelsea swimming & diving Read
Feb. 23: Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe North gymnastics – Read
Feb. 16: Dakota Hurbis, Saline swimming & diving – Read
Feb. 2: Foster Loyer, Clarkston basketball Read
Jan. 26: Nick Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling – Read
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTO: (Top) Gaylord's Brendon Gouin watches one of his drives at the Blue Devil Open. (Middle) Gouin follows an iron shot. (Photos courtesy of Gaylord Herald Times.)

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.)