Ludwig's Dedication to High School Pitch Energizes Clarkston's Title Pursuit

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

September 15, 2022

CLARKSTON – It would be a bit much to say they have been full-scale recruiting pitches for Clarkston senior Richie Ludwig, but let’s just say there have been strong nudges each time the high school soccer season has rolled around.

Greater DetroitBefore each season, Ludwig has gotten some minor overtures from coaches at various academies trying to lure him to their organizations and away from high school soccer. 

And these aren’t some low-key academies, as several are affiliated with Major League Soccer organizations. 

“I usually get a text or two and calls from a couple of different coaches,” he said.

The coaches essentially are saying, “Hey, if you happen to change your mind about that high school thing, you know where to reach us.”

Each time, Ludwig has essentially responded saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” 

You certainly can’t blame the academies for trying. 

A wondrously skilled and fast player, Ludwig should be on the short list of Mr. Soccer Award candidates this year, if not the favorite. 

Entering Tuesday he had 13 goals and nine assists already this season, and he’ll play next for Michigan State. 

But the fact he’s in the midst of his fourth year of high school soccer is news in itself, given his talents. 

Besides just loving high school soccer and playing with his friends, there are two other reasons why Ludwig has shunned prominent academies.

One, he plays on a club team, Nationals Soccer Union based out of Shelby Township — where one of the coaches is his dad, Rich — that has traveled the country to tournaments and events.

“Really, I’ve gotten all the scouting and recruitment needed at my club nationals,” Ludwig said.

Second, Clarkston plays in what annually is one of the state’s best leagues, the Oakland Activities Association Red, where nightly there are games against other prominent club standouts, future college players and state-ranked teams. 

It’s not like he’s missing out on developmental opportunities in high school.

“What I get out of high school is a good social environment while also getting to compete with a couple of my buddies,” Ludwig said. “Even though it may not be at a level as high as a club team is playing at, I can still push myself to be able to play at the standards I want to play at the next level.” 

Ludwig primarily plays as an attacking midfielder or a center forward, and while he is a natural goal scorer, Clarkston head coach Ian Jones said he’s a creator wherever he is on the field. 

Even if he is assigned to be in the middle of the field, Ludwig will go wide to create numerous scoring opportunities. 

“He almost creates more opportunities by not being involved,” Jones said. “He finds spaces. He creates space for other people, so his understanding of how to create space not just for himself, but other people, is the biggest improvement I’ve seen. He just has a knack of seeing things before they evolve.” 

Ludwig said he has worn a Spartans jersey “ever since I came out of the womb.”

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” he added.

Before that though, he hopes to leave high school by making history for Clarkston.

This year marks 15 years since the best team in Clarkston history made a run to its only MHSAA Finals in 2007, where the Wolves lost in the Division 1 championship match to East Kentwood.

Ludwig said he and other players have turned into historians a bit this year, studying up on that team and hoping to go one step farther so they can lay claim to being the best in school history.

“Our coaches have talked to us about some of those things they did,” Ludwig said. “The little things off of the field even. They have just told us the little things we need to pick up on to make that run.”

If a run at a Finals title doesn’t happen, Ludwig won’t have any regrets about sticking with high school for all four years given the memories he’s made and what he’s accomplished.

But if the Wolves do contend, it’ll make turning down those small overtures from academies worth celebrating more than all the goals he has scored combined.

“He’s a pretty loyal boy,” Jones said. "I think he has the ambition to do something in high school that hasn’t been done before.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at keithdunlap78@gmail.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS Clarkston’s Richie Ludwig (10), an all-state Dream Team selection last season, is a likely contender for the Mr. Soccer Award this fall. (Photos courtesy of Richie Ludwig.)

Petoskey to Raise Cystic Fibrosis Awareness, While Standout Rises Above It

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

September 23, 2022

There are lots of ways to increase awareness for cystic fibrosis (CF) involving the color purple – or violet, as many perceive it to be – which is the color designated to represent the rare genetic disease.

Purple ribbons, necklaces, stickers, window sticker cling, key chains, wrist bans, magnets, bracelets, safety lights are among them.

To the Petoskey High School soccer program, purple has been primarily the color used to represent May as cystic fibrosis awareness month, as well as the shade of a team warm-up jersey and even an extra soccer uniform to wear during soccer tournaments.

That will change Saturday, Oct. 6, when Elks Rapids and Petoskey meet on the turf at Northmen Stadium. 

When they come to Petoskey next weekend, the Elks will be in their visiting white — the same jerseys worn by the Northmen in that early-season match up. But the Northmen will not be wearing their traditional blue home jerseys. They will be wearing purple, ready to play in what has been dubbed the “Purple Game” in a drive to increase awareness for cystic fibrosis and help the approximately 30,000 Americans living with it.

The game is focused on awareness, not on any one individual living with it. The disease has robbed many people of tomorrows – progressively limiting their ability to breathe and tragically shortening life.

However, Kurtis Mainland, one of Petoskey’s leading scorers this year, is one of those living with CF. He was diagnosed at DeVos Children's Hospital with the life-threatening disease at 8 months of age.

It will be just another game for Mainland. His parents Megan and Ken will be there as well as his older brother Corbin, as he always is. Sister Mackenzie is likely to be there too. Kurtis is looking ahead to the Big North Conference title chase and another postseason run.

And unless you know Mainland or know he wears number one, you likely have no idea he lives and plays with CF. 

He’s happy to help raise awareness for the disease with his purple jersey.  He doesn’t let the disease control him and playing soccer is normal for him, as is watching for his parents and coach Zach Jonker.   Mainland has been coached by the Jonker since he started participating in Petoskey Youth Soccer some 10 years ago, a fact bringing comfort every practice and every game to Mainland’s parents.

Mainland, second from left, shows Petoskey’s purple jersey, with his family (from left) Ken, Megan and Corbin Mainland. Jonker and Kurtis’ parents know that while the player wearing the purple jersey sporting “1” may not score against the Elks, he will do the work in the midfield that may to lead the Northmen to another victory

Mainland will be focusing on nothing more than getting the win. He’s much more concerned with the team’s battles than his own, and has no interest in drawing attention or standing out.

“The only time I really notice I have CF is in the mornings when I do my treatment, and at night when I take my medicine,” he said. “We just have to do what we did at Elk Rapids last time, and we will win it.”

Mainland has five goals and five assists as the Northmen are off to a 10-5 overall and 4-1 Big North start.  They have a chance to move into first place in the conference with a rematch against Traverse City West on Monday — also at home. West is 4-0-1 and beat Petoskey 2-1 in the first meeting.  A trip to Alpena, which tied West on Thursday, also will occur before the Purple Game.

He’s having a stellar senior year despite CF and having to recover from a nose surgery this summer stemming from an accident on a trampoline the year before.

For Mainland and his parents, the prescription drug Kalydeco has become a miracle of sorts. It’s helped him live a normal life, which is all he really asks. He’s well aware other teams, players and referees don’t notice he lives — and plays the game — with the life-threatening disease.

“It has allowed him to play soccer and be as active as he can be, and is without the reduced lung capacity,” his father said of the medication. “There are people that look at him on the soccer field and have no idea he has cystic fibroses.

“He has the mindset nothing will slow him down,” Dad continued. “He doesn’t want anything to slow him down including cystic fibroses.”

Mom offers another perspective shared by the Mainlands, who prefer to look at their son as having a title, rather than a disease.

“We say he has cystic fibrosis, but cystic fibrosis doesn’t have him,” she said. “It doesn’t define who he is and what he can and cannot do.”

Senior day for the Northmen is yet to come. Purple Game organizers are looking to create a greater awareness of CF, not necessarily to put the spotlight on the midfielder battling it.

“I am not one to go out and advocate for it and be very public about,” Mainland said. “I just go out like a normal kid.

“I just play the game I love, and I’ve always played like that,” he continued.  “I don’t really notice it.”

Jonker, who also teaches as Petoskey High School, agrees.

Kurtis Mainland works for possession while shielding off an opponent. “It has never hindered his ability to play and contribute,” Jonker said. “He is a fantastic young man coming from a family dedicated to serving the community.

“This is the end of his four years, so we thought we’d raise a little awareness about CF and not specifically about Kurtis’ situation.”

Ken Mainland will be doing the announcing at the Purple Game, just as he’s been doing for years.  Megan will coordinate concessions.

Kurtis Mainland is an Eagle Scout as well and his badge-earning projects were improvements to the Petoskey Youth Soccer Association’s Click Road Complex, a site of some of the Northmen home games.  It is also a place where Kurtis referees youth soccer matches.

He also serves in a leadership position for the Blue Crew, the student section supporters of Northmen athletic teams. He was on the ski team in middle school, and he’s a golfer during the offseason.

The Mainlands, who sees themselves as no different than any other soccer parents, will have their eyes on everything Saturday.

Onlookers say there is no way anyone with prior knowledge would know Ken is Kurtis’s father as he does his PA work. As for Megan, perhaps maybe not the case.

“We love the sport,” Megan said. “It has made him grow in so many ways.

“Once he was diagnosed — yeah it was a hit — but it was almost we were relieved because we had answers on how to help our son now,” she continued. “And, we kind of went forward and we didn’t change much.”

The Petoskey/Elk Rapids matchup will be the second meeting this season of the two soccer teams noted historically for long postseason runs. They often meet twice a year, but not in the postseason though as they are in different divisions. Petoskey won the first game this fall 1-0 in Elk Rapids, which has rebounded from a 1-5-1 start to a 9-7-1 overall record today.

Kickoff for the Purple Game is 11:30 a.m. The announcer will let the game attendees know why Petoskey is wearing the special purple jerseys.

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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) Petoskey’s Kurtis Mainland winds up for a shot against Gaylord this week. (Middle) Mainland, second from left, shows Petoskey’s purple jersey, with his family (from left) Ken, Megan and Corbin Mainland. (Below) Kurtis Mainland works for possession while shielding off an opponent. (Top photo courtesy of Dylan Jespersen/Gaylord Herald Times, middle courtesy of Zach Jonker and below courtesy of Drew Kochanny/Petoskey News-Review.)