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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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 [email protected] 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.)

Working Together, with Neighbor's Help, Schoolcraft Teams Making Selves at 'Home'

By Pam Shebest
Special for

September 19, 2023

SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.

Southwest CorridorIf 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.

Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. “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.

Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey.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.

Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job.“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 ShebestPam 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.)