Veteran Comets Prepping for Title Run

By Pam Shebest
Special for

March 27, 2018

KALAMAZOO – Golf, barbeque and honoring Martin Luther King Jr. are on the agenda for Kalamazoo Christian’s boys golf team during spring break.

The six varsity players, coach Brian Seifert and their families are headed to Memphis next week.

“We plan to take in a couple of golf courses down there and also have the opportunity to play the TPC Southwind that hosts the FEDEX St. Jude Classic, so we’re excited about that,” Seifert said.

“We’re going to be at the Martin Luther King Jr. 50th anniversary of his assassination on the actual day, April 4, so it’s a little bit of an inspiration trip along with the golf to get us focused for a big run on the year.

“We’ll be down there to play some golf and eat some barbeque.”

Three of the Comets, who as a team finished third at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final last year, had a bit of a delay in starting this season.

They were part of the K-Christian basketball team that lost in the Class D Quarterfinals last Tuesday.

While the rest of the golfers were already practicing, seniors Colin Sikkenga and John Cramer plus junior Ben Cramer did not pick up the clubs until Wednesday.

“The speeds are a lot different,” John Cramer said of the two sports. “After a little bit, you start to get used to golf again. The first week and a half or so, it’s a little tough to make that transition.”

Next sport, new home

Once they make that transition, the team will start the journey to what it hopes is another shot at an MHSAA title.

“It’s tough to win,” Sikkenga said. “It’s just two days of 18 holes. You’ve just got to get really hot those two days.

“That’s what it comes down to. Anyone can really win it. It just depends on how well you play those two days.”

Last season’s three other varsity golfers also are back: senior Derek Block and juniors Elijah Devries and Josh Bouma.

Although they lost their former home course when Thornapple Creek Golf Club closed last year, they moved to a closer one: Kalamazoo Country Club.

“That is pretty awesome,” said Sikkenga, a finalist for the coaches association’s Mr. Golf Award last year. “I’m excited. Hackett (Catholic Prep) would do their invite there, and I’ve done that since freshman year.”

The country club has not been home to a high school team in 40 years, according to Seifert.

“After 40 years, they said maybe this is the year to do it, and our ‘ask’ was at the right time,” he said. “It’s a matter of timing.”

Two of the golfers, Ben Cramer and Bouma, both caddy there in the summer and know the course layout very well.

“That will help,” Cramer said. “But most of us on the team have played the course quite a few times.”

Valuable experiences

Sikkenga and the Cramer brothers all started swinging the clubs at a very young age, but in different ways.

Sikkenga’s parents do not play golf, while dad Rick Cramer had a membership at Thornapple and started his sons in the sport. 

“I had the Little Tike’s blue plastic club and I just started hitting balls,” Sikkenga said. “I loved to hit the ball really far. I think that’s why I liked it so much.”

Hitting the long ball is just one asset that put the scratch golfer on varsity all four years.

“The thing about Colin that is good for everybody else in his leadership is that he is so patient playing golf,” Seifert said of his senior captain. “That’s a real important asset to have in golf because it just takes so long to get around, and you get groups that get stacked up on top of each other. 

“Nothing rattles him. That’s a real bonus when you’re playing golf.”

Sikkenga will attend Oakland University on a golf scholarship with an eye on a pro career.

“My goal since I’ve been little has been to play professionally,” he said. “It’s definitely a goal that is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.”

Oakland golf coach Nick Pumford talked about Sikkenga on the college’s web site.

"Colin brings a lot of national exposure and experience to our program,” he said. “Not only has Colin tested his game against the best players in the country, he's had success doing so.

“I'm looking forward to Colin carrying over that success and experience into our program next season.”

Besides playing their opponents, the Cramers also compete against each other.

“Oh yeah, there’s always a competition with my brother,” John Cramer said. “We always compare scores after the round. I usually win.”

But when a threesome includes their dad, “We’re pretty competitive because we’re all pretty much around the same kind of scoring level,” Ben Cramer said. 

“It’s all fun, but our dad usually wins. He’s better than both of us.”

Let the fun begin

While the brothers share camaraderie on the course, one thing they do not share is their clubs.

“His are too short for me,” the 6-foot-5 Ben Cramer said. “(John) is 5-7.”

Seifert calls John Cramer the Magic Man.

“He can get up and down from spaces that most people can’t,” the coach said. “He likes to scramble when he plays golf. It’s not uncommon for him to run together five, six long putts in a row for par or birdie just to keep the round going.

“Golf’s a matter of streaks sometimes. You get on a roll, and he can find those sometimes and put quality rounds together.”

It is also a mental game, Ben Cramer said.

“You have to be focused all the time when you’re around the ball. You have to focus on how far you’re hitting, what the wind’s doing.”

Cramer describes himself as the jokester of the team.

“I joke around a lot,” he said. “I lighten the mood. I’m never really sad.”

Seifert agreed.

“Ben carries us well with his humor,” he said. “The whole team is a load of fun to be with. For him, he’s so quiet and unassuming that you would never know if he’s having a good round or a bad round. It’s kind of like calling him patient. 

“He doesn’t get down on himself. I think that’s where I noticed him being the most improved last year. He got better with each shot. Even if he did hit a bad shot, the next one was right on the money.”

None of the three boys have had hole-in-one, but their coach, who is a pastor at Milwood Community Church, has had two.

“My mom taught me to play golf when I was 5, and I haven’t stopped since,” said Seifert, who grew up outside of Seattle.

“For a number of years I managed a golf resort, so I played a lot of golf that way.”

In addition to his two aces, “I also had a double eagle, an albatross,” he said. “I’ll take that.

“Golf’s meant to be having fun, and it’s hard to score when you’re not having fun. If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point doing it.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Christian’s Ben Cramer lines up a putt. (Middle top) Clockwise from top left: Kalamazoo Christian coach Brian Seifert, senior Colin Sikkenga, senior John Cramer and junior Ben Cramer. (Middle) Seifert, left, and Sikkenga survey the scene during play last season. (Below) John Cramer putts last spring. (Action photos by Daniel J. Cooke [top two] and Cheryl TenBrink, head shots by Pam Shebest.)

Saline's Williams-Hoak Named National Coach of the Year by LPGA Professionals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 20, 2022

The LPGA Professionals have named Saline High School golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak as its national Coach of the Year.

Williams-Hoak was among national award winners who were selected by the LPGA Professionals’ executive committee from a pool of Section Award winners, which were voted on by officers of those regional sections.

More on the award from LPGA Professionals:

The LPGA Professionals Coach of the Year Award was established in 1980 and is awarded annually to an LPGA Professionals member who is actively engaged in teaching and/or coaching golf at the collegiate or high school level.

LPGA Professionals Class A member Debbie Williams-Hoak knows what it takes to compete at the highest levels. She is a former LPGA Tour Player and track & field athlete who represented U.S. Track & Field in Russia and West Germany. She is a four-time Big Ten Champion, a member of the Ohio Track & Field Hall of Fame, University of Michigan Women’s Track Hall of Fame member and a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame as a player, coach and teaching professional. This year, she is being inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.

Having been a multi-sport athlete accustomed to competing at the highest level, Williams-Hoak brings something unique to her coaching style. She has successfully coached boys and girls golf for the past 16 years at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, and currently is serving as the first female president of the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association. Williams-Hoak feels proud that every girl on her team shot career lows while maintaining 100-percent academic eligibility this season, while her boys team placed second in the conference championship and qualified for its second-straight state Finals appearance.

She is dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of the game while empowering students through golf and hopes her example will pave the way for other women coaches to lead as well.

Williams-Hoak received the 2017 Sandy LaBauve Spirit Award, the most coveted honor bestowed by LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, for her continued dedication and passion for empowering girls through golf.  She was honored with the Midwest Youth Leader of the Year and Goldie Bateson Award two times, in addition to numerous recognitions as Coach of the Year from Saline High School.

She is deeply involved with the LPGA Professionals organization, which she currently serves as the LPGA Midwest Secretary since 2021. She has been site director for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf of Greater Washtenaw Country since 2015 and acted as an advisor for the Site Director Certification program in 2021. From 2018-2021, she worked as an expert committee member for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf.  She also coached at the LPGA Leadership Academies in Michigan over the last two years.

"I am extremely humbled by this award, as there are so many outstanding LPGA coaches in our association. What an honor to represent the LPGA, the state of Michigan and the game of golf as a coach,” said Williams-Hoak. “It is a privilege to work with so many wonderful players who make coaching so rewarding. I am also fortunate to have such great fellow coaches in Michigan and throughout the LPGA. Thank you so much for this very special recognition."

PHOTO: Saline golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak, far left, stands for the trophy shot with her girls team after the Hornets won the 2016 Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship. (MHSAA file photo)