By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Their games were fueled by typical sibling rivalry. To Lee Chatfield, the endings were humorous. To his two little brothers, more like cruel.
Sixth-grader Paul and fifth-grader Aaron regularly would take on their senior brother on a makeshift soccer field in the family’s back yard. They’d play games to 10, the two youngest brothers against a standout on the Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian varsity.
Lee would let them score nine goals before dribbling circles around his siblings. Paul and Aaron would yell at each other to somehow block Lee’s path, but to no avail. Inevitably tears would fall.
“Maybe I was being a baby,” Aaron said. “He would let us get up and then come back and beat us, and he’s laughing while we would just cry.”
But on that backyard soccer field, Aaron Chatfield also learned how to compete. And there’s no question it paid off during one of the most accomplished careers in MHSAA soccer history.
Chatfield scored his 173rd career goal on Sept. 21 against Elk Rapids. He’s pushed that total to 178 heading into this weekend’s games against Fife Lake Forest Area and North Muskegon. A Second Half High 5 recipient this week, Chatfield has 45 goals this season after scoring a career-high 56 in 2011.
“Up until seventh grade, he couldn’t lose a game and not cry,” said Lee, also Northern Michigan Christian’s coach the last three seasons. “It built a little chip on his shoulder.
“But it’s always been God-given (talent). And Aaron has worked tremendously hard to hone the gifts God has given him.”
All in the family
To set the record, Chatfield passed 2009 Dearborn graduate Soony Saad, who went on to lead the NCAA with 19 goals as a freshman at the University of Michigan in 2010 and now plays for Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer.
Chatfield learned about Saad as he was pursuing the record, but admitted he isn’t familiar with most of the others on the MHSAA all-time goals list.
However, there are a few he knows better than anyone – there are five Chatfield brothers total, and three more also are among the most prolific scorers in MHSAA history.
Entering this season, Nathan Chatfield was second on the career goals list with 170, scored from 2001-04. Spencer was tied for 12th with 121 goals from 1998-01. Paul is tied for 19th with 109 goals during a career that ended last fall. Lee was a sweeper, so his game was stopping goals instead of scoring them – but he did a fine job at that as well.
Aaron, being the youngest, tried to pick up certain qualities from each. Nathan, the second-oldest, was “a natural goal-scorer, probably the fastest. He would just outrun people,” and holds the MHSAA record with 272 career points, although Aaron needs only five more to match him.
Oldest brother Spencer “could dribble like no other.” Paul was “built differently than all of us … but he could double scissor you up. He’s very physical.” Lee was “more like me; he was the best defender,” and Aaron played in the back from third through eighth grades.
“I would like to think I’m more of a mix of everybody,” Aaron concluded.
“Almost everything I do, I’ve learned from them. The way that they play, people say all the time that I remind them of my brothers.”
He can play with anyone
The best compliment – and a strong representation of how Chatfield matches up statewide – comes from Petoskey coach Zach Jonker.
The Northmen have made two recent trips to the MHSAA Finals and regularly load up their schedule with top-ranked teams from Divisions 1 and 2 including East Kentwood, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Warren DeLaSalle and Bloomfield Hills Lahser. Petoskey also regularly scrimmages Northern Michigan Christian.
“He’s the most dangerous individual we’ve faced all season. When he received the ball against us, we kinda held our breaths,” said Jonker, who also knows the Chatfields well through the club program. “He has a great combination of speed with the ball and power. He has great balance and he’s tough to knock off the ball. And he’s got another gear; he can explode by (defenders).
“We double teamed the guy, and we haven’t had to give any individual we’ve played all season that kind of attention.”
Chatfield joined an Eagles varsity in 2009 that had only three seniors. Not only did he start immediately, but he also was named a co-captain.
Last season’s team became an incredible story, advancing to the Regional Final on a 24-game winning streak before losing for the first and only time of the fall, 2-0 to eventual MHSAA runner-up Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Chatfield scored in every game but that last one.
He also has cut his teeth playing for his club team, the Petoskey Lakers, and his teams are a combined 24-2-2 during their last three seasons playing in the Michigan State Premier Soccer Program. Chatfield scored 1.9 goals per game last club season, down from 2.5 the season before. There is interest from a number of colleges, and he is looking at options of all sizes, from Division I to NAIA.
Chatfield has logged plenty of miles to see strong competition, and one game as a sixth grader left Lee with the impression that big things were on the way.
“There was one moment when I was standing on the sideline, and he did a spin move and split two defenders with a scissor. At that moment, I thought this kid has got it,” Lee said.
“He’s always been tenacious. He’s a natural-born competitor. He’s anything but a prima donna. He just wants to win.”
PHOTO: Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian's Aaron Chatfield dribbles through defenders during a game earlier this season (Photo courtesy of the Petoskey High School soccer program.)
SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)