Marshall Standout Nears Finish of Fight

By Pam Shebest
Special for

November 17, 2015

MARSHALL — February 1 is a red-letter day for Andrew Shippell.

However, the Marshall senior doesn’t have a huge celebration planned — not yet, anyway.

As a freshman in the fall of 2012, Shippell and his Redhawks teammates were pumped as they headed into the Division 2 Boys Soccer Districts.

But Shippell had been dealing with pain in his shoulder. It went away, but when it returned in his other shoulder a week later, his mother, Theresa, took him to the doctor to have it checked.

When the doctors got the results of his blood counts, they wanted the diagnosis confirmed, so the Shippells ended up at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo on Oct. 19, 2012.

“They knew before we went over that his blood counts looked like he had leukemia, but they wanted that confirmed by the oncologist,” Theresa Shippell said. “We knew by midnight that we were in for a long haul.”

Thankfully, the journey is nearly complete.

February 1, 2016, is the day Andrew is scheduled to end the maintenance phase of his chemotherapy and will be chemo and pill-free for the first time in three years.

‘Reasons to fight’

His diagnosis back in 2012 was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and all of a sudden the soccer team was without its leading scorer.

“I just didn’t think it was possible,” his dad, Dale Shippell, said. “That kid, as strong as he was, being taken out like this was ridiculous.

“His eighth grade year, just three months prior to that, he was breaking school records in track and field. Seeing him lying in that bed after having his port put in was just devastating.”

That season, Marshall won the District title but lost in the Regional Semifinals.

“I really believe we won districts for Andrew,” said senior Alec Kraushaar, Andrew’s longtime friend and teammate. “We came together.

“We weren’t the best skilled team, but we fought and we had a reason to fight. We wanted to let Andrew know we had his back in this.”

Instead of heading back to Marshall following the 4-3 double overtime District win at Coldwater, the team went straight to Bronson Methodist.

“Alec and the whole team came up to see him after they won districts,” Dale Shippell said. “He literally was just out of recovery when they walked into the room with the trophy.”

Shippell was back on the soccer and baseball fields by his sophomore year and ended his high school soccer career this fall the way it started: with a District title.

The Redhawks lost 2-0 to Plainwell earlier this month in the Regional Semifinals.

“I think he played more minutes than he did all season in our very last game against Plainwell,” Marshall’s first-year coach Hans Morgan said. “I told him he was the best player on the field that day.

“I pushed him as long as I could push him because we needed him out there. His fitness was never less than anyone else’s. He’s a very, very talented player.”

Even though he never played 80 minutes straight, Shippell led the team in scoring this season. He and Matt Terry scored nine goals each, and Shippell added a team-high 14 assists “so he blew everybody out of the water in terms of total points,” Morgan said.

'A scary word'

Looking back to their freshman year, Kraushaar remembers the impact Shippell’s diagnosis had on the team when it first heard the news.

“I was at practice,” he said. “Coach Tony (Tartaglia) got a call and had us huddle up. He goes, ‘I have some news. Andrew has been diagnosed with leukemia.’

“My reaction at first was ‘What’s leukemia?’ Someone said cancer. I immediately thought the worst. I broke down. I remember going to the bench and just sitting there and crying. What else could I do? Districts were that week.”

Said Theresa Shippell: “I have two boys and that was probably the worst news I’ve received my whole life. You think of the cancer. It’s not a pretty word. It’s a scary word.”

Andrew Shippell said his first thought was whether he would survive, but the doctors quickly assured him that the leukemia was found early enough and was treatable.

His parents also were assured that his twin brother, Ben, should not be affected.

“We asked the oncologist right away and he said no because fraternal twins don’t tend to have the same diagnosis,” their mother said.

During Andrew’s freshman year, the teen kept up with his school work via the Internet so “I’d be able to graduate on time with my class,” he said. “My teammates supported me through everything and made sure I’m pushing as far as I can go. They know my limit and, if not, I’ll let them know.

“Some teammates would cook food and bring it by the hospital and visit me at the hospital and make sure I was entertained instead of just sitting in a hospital bed watching TV.”

That first year, “One of the teachers (girls cross country coach Steve Wissink) had hair down to his shoulders and he cut it to raise money.

Students also sold “Andrew Strong” bracelets.

Morgan said he did not know about Shippell’s leukemia when he took over the coaching job this year.

He had a meeting with Shippell and Kraushaar during the summer to talk about the team and its goals.

“In the middle of the conversation, Alec mentioned Andrew’s going through chemo and recovering from leukemia,” Morgan said. “My jaw must have hit the floor because I had zero idea whatsoever. It was surprising, to say the least. It’s shocking he’s done so well. 

“I remember I tried to save face a little bit that day and talked about how good it was that I knew it now and how we might have to manage minutes, play him in short bursts or something like that.

“Other than a few e-mails that Andrew might be late to practice that day because of medical stuff or practicing with their shirts off because you could see where the port was, outside of those two things, I would have had no idea.”

Looking back, looking ahead

Since his freshman year, “He’s had about 15 spinals since he was diagnosed where they treat his brain with a chemo,” Theresa Shippell said. “He’s had shots in the leg.

“He’s had three- and four-day stints of chemo through his port for 24 hours at Bronson, then flush it until his counts were back to normal. Usually two to four days there. He’ll be on pills (between 3 and 27 pills a day depending on the day) until February.”

In February, the port comes out but he will be checked monthly the first year and periodically over the next five.

“I’m looking forward to it,” his dad said. “I just want to see him as him again without the extras. This year, he was his freshman year all over again and it was great to see.”

The athlete could not play baseball his freshman year and was on the junior varsity team as a sophomore. This season will be his second on the varsity squad.

Playing second base and shortstop, Shippell “is in the heart of a really good class,” said baseball coach Trevor Kelley, who resigned this year to coach at Albion College. “Watching him practice and prepare, you can see he has tremendous ability.

“Because of his medical issues, he didn’t come back so easily. Once he got confidence, his playing time began to increase and he became a starter.”

The journey has been a learning lesson for many.

“I just wanted to get back to my normal life and not let it affect me,” Andrew Shippell said. “I learned that you definitely have to push through some obstacles in life and no matter what gets thrown your way, you have to keep going and look at the bright side.”

Said Kraushaar: “Now he seems like his own self. For (the soccer team) to finish the way we started was by far amazing. Both of us had great seasons.

“I learned that being a friend, being there for each other, the small things, they go a long way. You have to be there, have to let them know you care. That means a lot to people in more ways than you can realize.”

Kraushaar’s brother, Kurt, a junior on the soccer team, said he was only in eighth grade when he heard the diagnosis and did not know anything about leukemia.

“I knew cancer was a deadly disease,” he said. “You hear how people are fighting it but you don’t expect it to happen so close to home, to one of your friends.

“It was hard knowing what Andrew was going through. Just being there for someone, knowing they have it worse than you. You can’t look at your bad things because there’s someone who has it worse.”

Shippell has a suggestion to anyone else going through medical challenges: “Just make sure you let your family and friends give you all the support they can and don’t block anybody out.

“Keep involved in activities and don’t shut down and let your life stop just because you’re diagnosed with such a horrible illness.”

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 continues to freelance for covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Andrew Shippell (7) works to control the ball during one of Marshall's soccer games this season. (Middle) Clockwise, from top left: Andrew Shippell, Theresa Shippell, Alec Kraushaar, Dale Shippell. (Below) Andrew Shippell picks up a grounder; he'll play his second season on the varsity baseball team next spring. (Action photos courtesy of the Shippell 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.)