Brother Continues to 'Play for Paige'

September 11, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Okemos' Josh Duren was 11 when his sister was diagnosed with cancer. Still, he understood most of what was happening and what it could mean.

At first, of course, he was sad. But it didn’t take long for Josh to realize that Paige, 8 at the time, would find a way to survive.

“There wasn’t a lot I could do,” said Josh, now a high school junior. “I tried to talk to her more, keep her close, let her know I loved her.”

Paige surely will know again Saturday when Josh wears her name on his back in one of the Chieftains’ biggest soccer games of the season.

Duren will suit up for Okemos’ boys soccer team against rival Mason for the third annual “Compete for a Cause” game Saturday night. All proceeds from the event – which begins with the junior varsity game at 5:30 and is hosted by Mason – will be donated to the CureSearch for Children’s Cancer and the Michigan State University Pediatric Oncology Clinic to benefit children receiving cancer treatment.

Paige – now a high school freshman – continues to thrive two years after completing treatment for multiple brain tumors that included multiple surgeries in addition to radiation treatments, blood transfusions and chemotherapy.   

Players for Saturday’s Okemos/Mason soccer games will wear jerseys adorned with names of those who have battled cancer. September is national pediatric cancer awareness month, and the first Compete for a Cause game was played in 2012.

“It’s really cool that I get to go out and play something that I love while spreading awareness for the need for more support, a cure for all cancer, especially pediatric,” Josh said. “I’m really excited to be able to go out and play for my sister.”

Those who follow MSU sports are likely familiar with Duren, who during her treatments formed close relationships with the Spartans football and men’s basketball teams, who in turn have worn purple “Play for Paige” bracelets in her honor.

Saturday’s event was the brainchild of Mason assistant coach Kevin Gunns, whose wife Sheri is a teacher at Okemos and taught Paige, and has undergone surgeries over the last decade because of thyroid cancer. This fall, Okemos' boys soccer team became a partner for the game, with Pam Duren – Paige and Josh’s mother – taking a large role in organization and fundraising.  

Okemos is ranked No. 1 in Division 1 this week, and Mason is No. 7 in Division 2. Roughly 800 fans attended last year’s “Compete” game between Mason and Eaton Rapids, and Kevin Gunns said more than 1,000 are expected Saturday. The game raised $1,000 the first year and nearly twice that amount in 2013 – but is on track to raise $10,000 this time.

It also will give the communities and their players opportunities to remember and recognize those who have battled the disease.

Josh may not have been able to help much as his sister suffered through her sickness. But he certainly learned from watching her fight.

Perspective gained

Okemos coach Brian Guggemos taught the Durens’ oldest son Noah as a sixth grader, Josh as a seventh grader and Paige two years ago as a seventh grader as well.

When Josh was in Guggemos’ class, Paige was in the latter half of her treatment. Guggemos knew the family was under a tremendous amount of stress. But Josh never showed it.

“Josh has always been a really hard worker in the classroom and on the soccer field. He did his work and was compassionate (toward) others,” Guggemos said. “Josh is one of those kids that other kids like to be around due to his demeanor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say a bad word about him.”

Pam Duren said her family was fortunate Paige was diagnosed when her sons were middle school age. The Durens befriended the family of Jaxon Davis, who underwent treatment at the same time as Paige and also have a daughter who was 2 years old at the time. When the Davis family returned home after treatment, Pam said, they’d been gone from the house so long that the little sister didn’t know things like where to find the bathrooms. (Teammate Anders Staky, a close friend of the Durens, will wear Saturday a jersey for Jaxon, who died in November, 2012, at only 5 years old.)

To Josh and Noah’s credit, both continued to excel while providing their sister with support.

Noah is a freshman at Miami University (Ohio) on academic scholarship. Josh carries a 3.8 grade-point average.

“It was very difficult when she was in treatment. It was very difficult for me as a parent knowing they were kinda set aside,” Pam Duren said. “You just don’t have time, and they both responded by trying to do things perfectly all the time. And that made me sad in a way because … it’s almost like they missed a piece of their childhoods. But they really stepped up in every way Mom and Dad hoped.”

Josh clearly is a talented soccer player starting at midfield for arguably the top team in the state.

In his first season on varsity, he’s also brought life experience few others his age have acquired.

Duren admitted watching his sister’s fight made him grow up a little faster in some ways. But it also taught him correct priorities.

Many middle schoolers might consider friends most important at that point of growing up, with family and school sprinkled in. But family, faith, health and school became Duren’s priorities. 

And he gained further appreciation for his sister's will. 

“I watched her go through what she did, watched her battle, and it taught me a lot of things,” he said. “I learned how tough she is.”

Pitch perfect

Sports are a big deal in the Duren home. Although Noah didn’t play soccer, it’s a favorite of both Josh and Paige, who also played eighth-grade basketball last season at Kinawa Middle School.

Paige also plays midfield, and well, Josh said. If either is in the backyard working on skills, the other usually comes outside to help. He’s seen her talent close up.

And Josh has noticed her talent beginning to shine through again. “She still has the mind for soccer,” he said. “It’s just her body is trying to get back into shape so she can compete.”

It was both unexpected and amazing, the support his family received from MSU athletes, coaches and administrators – and Josh said that support clearly helped his sister get through her treatments.

Saturday he, his teammates and their opponents will have an opportunity to give as well as learn a little more some of the lessons that Paige’s ordeal brought close to Josh’s heart.

“It definitely was life-changing,” Duren said. “(I’ve learned) to never take anything for granted. It made me learn what’s really important in life, and what’s not important.”

For more on Saturday's event, click for "Play for Paige" on Facebook. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Josh Duren is a junior midfielder for the No. 1-ranked Chieftains. (Middle) Okemos and Mason players will wear special jerseys Saturday that include the names of those they are honoring. (Below) Josh, Paige and Noah Duren pose in front of the Hollywood sign during the family trip to the Rose Bowl last winter. (Photos courtesy of Duren family.)

Storch Returns to Retirement After Elevating Alpena Teams From Cellar to Contenders

By Tom Spencer
Special for

December 16, 2022

It wasn’t long ago that Alpena boys and girls soccer opponents took their long bus rides to play the Wildcats expecting an easy win, and most likely by securing the victory by the eight-goal differential rule, commonly known as the “mercy rule.”

Worse yet, the Wildcats also had to take those trips across the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, as well as northern and southern journeys of two hours, dreading thoughts of experiencing yet another shortened game.

Those expectations started to change in 2011, when Tim Storch, arguably the most decorated coach in the history of Michigan high school soccer, took the reins of the Wildcats’ boys and girls programs.  

Storch made the move after retiring from Troy Athens as a teacher and coach of the Redhawks’ boys and girls soccer teams.

Slowly but surely, Alpena’s mercy losses disappeared – and wins over their Big North Conference opponents became reality. Under Storch, the Wildcats went from the cellar to challenging for titles.

But now, Storch is showing some mercy on the Big North – perhaps an early Christmas present. The conference schools won’t see him on sidelines any longer. He’s retiring – again.   

Storch is doing so after leading the Wildcats to wins over all conference opponents except Traverse City West. The Wildcats did get a tie this fall against the Titans, one of the BNC schools that regularly makes a deep postseason run, as Alpena stayed in the league title race most of the season.

“When I came to Alpena it was about trying to make the program relevant in the school, the community, the area, the BNC and northern Michigan,” Storch recalled. “We got to that point after some growing pains. 

“Early on we took our lumps, and we were mercied by everybody,” he continued. “By the end we were competitive with everybody.”

Storch, who started the Athens soccer programs from scratch in 1981, won eight Class A or Division 1 Finals titles with the Redhawks. He’s near the top of the lists of the winningest boys and girls soccer coaches in the state. The last of his 1,109 wins was a 3-1 victory over Bay City Western during this fall’s postseason.  

The Wildcats also beat conference opponent Cadillac in their District opener. They finished 14-6-3 on the season.   

Storch will be dearly missed in Northern Michigan, veteran Petoskey boys and girls coach Zach Jonker pointed out. Jonker’s Northmen picked up a victory over Alpena in the Division 2 District Final – also Storch’s last game. 

"Tim has had a legendary career as one of the most influential figures in Michigan high school soccer over the past 40 years while having an enormous impact on thousands of student-athletes,” Jonker said. “Over the past decade, Tim helped to dramatically raise the overall level of play in the Big North. 

Storch, holding the microphone, elevated the Wildcats’ girls and boys programs since taking over both in 2011. “He is one of fiercest competitors I have ever coached against, but he is also one of the most genuine and empathetic coaches I have ever encountered,” Jonker continued. “I feel fortunate to have been able to build a competitive relationship with him and call him a friend."

Storch’s last game with the Alpena girls also was a District Final, a 3-0 loss May 31 to West.

Storch is proud of what the Wildcats accomplished, noting logistics — unlike in southeastern Michigan — were a big challenge.

“We were an island,” Storch said. “We were big school in the middle of nowhere. 

“We couldn’t get together and have any kind of summer program with other communities because they didn’t have soccer, and if they had soccer they were at a Class D or C level that was way beneath what we were playing in the Big North.”

Storch’s tenure, which included six years serving as the Wildcats’ athletic director while coaching, drew accolades from his coaches and athletic directors. In addition to Jonker, Gaylord AD Christian Wilson, and West boys head coach and girls assistant coach Matt Griesinger gave high praise.

They are among those who will miss the successful coach.

“Tim leaves Alpena in better shape than when he arrived, and that is the true mark of a great coach and administrator,” Wilson said. “He has been an outstanding representative of Alpena High School, both as a soccer coach and as an athletic director. 

“Tim brought a level of stability and expertise and was well-thought of by players, coaches, and community members.”

Griesinger, who has led the Titans to considerable postseason success and upheld BNC dominance since taking over the West program eight seasons ago, was particularly impressed with Storch’s energy and passion for his players evident in every match.

“Tim is one of the most respected coaches in the state, and what he has done for the soccer communities in both Troy and Alpena is not just commendable, but also something that every high school coach should hope to emulate,” Griesinger stated. “Storch is a stand-up guy, and all of us other coaches in the BNC should consider ourselves lucky that our journeys in the sport overlapped.”

Storch is leaving Michigan high school sports as they face a shortage of referees and qualified coaches. He’s not certain of the exact reasons for it, but he points to time constraints and pressures faced on and off the field.

And, he knows the days of a teacher starting a career, coaching sports and sticking with it are long gone.

“My wife has always said I was a dinosaur,” Storch said with a chuckle. “Back in my day, even if you had family and kids, you still made time for coaching. 

“Coaching was part of my fiber — it kind of defined me.”

Storch is quick to point out “soccer coach” was just one of three hats he wore, along with history teacher and friend.

“I’m Mr. Storch to my students,” he recalls telling his student-athletes at Athens. “I’m Coach to my kids, and I am Tim to my friends.

“They are three different hats; I learned how to wear them and how to balance them.”

Storch looks back to all the friendships he’s made around the game of soccer – with former players, fellow coaches, and referees – with excitement for the future.  

He is also keeping in mind former players, referees and coaches who have passed on.

“It is kind of humbling when I think back all the years (to) coaches, referees and players I have interacted with,” he said. “We’re all here for a finite time. 

“We need to make the most of it and hopefully leave the place a better place when we leave.”

Tom 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) Recently-retired Alpena soccer coach Tim Storch, left, talks things over with one of his players. (Middle) Storch, holding the microphone, elevated the Wildcats’ girls and boys programs since taking over both in 2011. (Photos courtesy of Therese Shaw.)