Skyline Soars to 1st Finals Championship

March 10, 2018

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

YPSILANTI – The groundwork was laid Friday.

But the celebration was years in the making.

At the conclusion of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Boys Swimming & Diving Finals at Eastern Michigan University, Ann Arbor Skyline coach Mo-Jo Isaac performed a near-perfect back flip off the 3-meter diving board – something she’s been doing for years when her teams accomplish something special.

The occasion certainly called for the coach to take a dip in Jones Natatorium Saturday afternoon. The Hawks cruised past the competition, scoring 274 team points to top the field and bring home the first MHSAA championship in program history.

“Whenever my girls teams (at Skyline) would accomplish a milestone, or something big would happen, that’s kind of what we do,” said Isaac, who’s in her second year coaching the boys program. “Today, I had kind of forgotten about it, but a bunch of our girls were here to cheer on the guys and they were like, ‘No, Coach Mo-Jo, you’ve got to jump.’ ”

Skyline picked up wins in five of the meet’s 12 events, with senior David Cleason leading the way with a pair of individual titles. He was tops in the 200-yard individual medley, winning in a time of 1:49.81. He also bested the field in the 500 freestyle, where he edged out Livonia Stevenson’s Ben Rojewski with a time of 4:30.50.

Cleason’s teammate, Michael MacGillivray, was second in the 200 IM, while winning a title of his own in the 100 breaststroke (55.01). Both Cleason and MacGillivray were members of the team’s winning 400 freestyle relay, with senior Samuel Jyawook and junior Kyle Tschannen. Their winning time was 3:04.99, beating out runner-up Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and third-place Harrison-Farmington Unified.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Cleason, who accounted for 40 points by himself and helped his team earn 50 more in the two relay events he swam. “Me and Michael (MacGillivray) have been dreaming about winning that 4x100 free relay and winning the team title for so long and now that we’re seniors, doing it and winning it in our last swim meet, it’s perfect.”

Skyline’s final individual event championship came in the 1-meter diving event. Junior Henry Schirmer repeated as champion, scoring 503.85 points to outdistance runner-up Cade Hammond of Brighton, who scored 448.45.

“I feel like we won the meet yesterday, even though no one scored a point,” Isaac said. “We talked about doing it as a team, and we couldn’t do it if everyone wasn’t there for each other. We were on fire yesterday and we qualified really well.”

Holland West Ottawa, which entered the Finals ranked No. 2 in the state behind Skyline, lived up to its ranking by finishing second with 207 points. The Panthers won two of the three relays and saw junior Derek Maas capture the 100 backstroke title. Maas, who finished runner-up in the event a year ago, left nothing to chance Saturday, winning in a time of 50.23, better than a second ahead of runner-up Parker Wasielewski of Livonia Stevenson.

Maas joined teammates Julian Barrios, Ryan Langdon and Khadin Soto on the Panthers’ winning 200 medley relay team (1:31.91). Langdon, Barrios, Jacob Boersema and Sam Smith took top honors in the 200 freestyle relay in a time of 1:24.54.

Forest Hills Central junior Henry Schutte repeated as champion in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events. His time of 20.01 in the preliminary Friday set an all-Division MHSAA Finals record in the 50. He nearly duplicated the feat Saturday, finishing with a winning time of 20.04. Zeeland’s Austin Mills was second in the 50, while Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Adam Orringer-Hau was runner-up to Schutte in the 100.

“I am beyond happy with everything I did today,” said Schutte, who helped his team to a fourth-place finish. “I have to thank my coaches, my family, my teammates, shoot, even the people in my races. We’re all pushing each other to do our best, and every race is so fun. I love it.”

Orringer-Hau, the top seed in the 200 freestyle, won the event in a time of 1:38.66. He was third at last year’s Finals.

Four-time reigning team champion Birmingham Brother Rice had its streak end, but not without a fight. The Warriors finished third, behind Skyline and West Ottawa, with 154 points. Senior Alex Margherio captured the lone individual title for Rice, winning the 100 butterfly in a time of 48.43. Howell’s Henry Bauer was second in a time of 50.09.

Northville finished fifth overall with 141 team points, with Ann Arbor Pioneer (131), Detroit Catholic Central (127), Saline (116), Zeeland (100) and Harrison-Farmington (81) rounding out the top 10.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Skyline's Henry Schirmer rotates through one of his dives on the way to repeating as LP Division 1 champion Saturday. (Middle) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central's Henry Schutte looks to the scoreboard as the other competitors in the 50 finish their sprints. (Click for more from

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 4, 2024

Aaron Thomas easily could have decided that swimming wasn't going to be part of his life.

Mid-MichiganThe DeWitt senior could've pieced together some combination of his other entertainment interests to fill his time. For instance, he could have spent more time with friends or immersed himself in video games. Or maybe devoted more time to a flirtation with golf or playing trumpet in the school band. Thomas also could have gained a head start on college and his ultimate goal of a degree in biomedical engineering.

Considering the lifetime of challenges he's faced in swimming, those seemed more tenable options.

Instead, Thomas chose the tougher path.

"My life is swimming," he said. "I've been in water so much, I've never looked back."

By "looking back," Thomas means ignoring a disability that would have turned many youngsters away from the pool. He was born without 65 percent of his pointer finger on his left hand and with a thumb that's only about 90-percent intact. The other three fingers stop at the top of the knuckle. As DeWitt coach Brock Delaney explains, much of a swimmer’s success comes from the power of fingers and subsequent strength in the hands – and without that combination, swimmers are at an immediate disadvantage.

But rather than letting those obstacles keep him high and dry, Thomas has excelled and finished this season with a historic first. He qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in the 200-yard individual medley and finished 29th and also competed in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition event and topped all divisions with a time of 54.07 seconds. In doing so, Thomas became the first competitor to swim that combination at a Finals meet.

Thomas additionally this winter made DeWitt's Century Club of swimmers who have amassed 100 points in a season for the second time, and he has earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) Paralympic All-American honors in the 200-yard freestyle (1:56.64), 200 IM (2:08.21), and 500 free (5:11.58). He also competes in Paralympic swimming as part of the Mid-Michigan Aquatics Club.

To some, the quest for those achievements likely would seem a long and difficult path. But to Thomas, it's business as usual. A disability? What disability, offers Thomas, whose ultimate goal is swimming in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always loved swimming," he said. "When I'm in the water, I never worry about anything. I just feel free."

Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. And Thomas has found a way to even the playing field, Delaney said.

"He's such a hard worker who has made up for a left-hand deficiency," Delaney said. "He's legit, a strong kid who loves to swim. "

But determination can take a swimmer only so far. Delaney said Thomas, classified as an S10 swimmer for Paralympic events, has developed physical strategies to increase his performance. In the backstroke, for instance, Thomas swims with his left hand underwater to help in propulsion. For speed, Thomas tries to keep his body on his "power side."

The rest, Delaney said, is simply heart.

"He moved here from Alma between his eighth grade and freshmen years," he said. "If not our hardest worker, he's in the top three. He's got something not all athletes have."

Thomas said one of the chief reasons he spends so much time around pools is the type of person he finds there. He describes people who combine encouragement and understanding with a will to compete despite any perceived physical shortcomings. What he's learned from them not only explains his swim career, but teaches valuable life lessons as well.

In fact, Thomas' career plans, beginning at Hope College in the fall, include securing a degree in biomedical engineering with an ultimate plan to help build prosthetics.

"Getting to know people in the prosthetic field really interests me," he said. "Swimming and prosthetics have been a nice tie-in with school. Prosthetics ties it all together for me."

Thomas said he can think of only a single instance where he questioned whether he should follow his love of swimming. But that thought quickly passed, and he's thrown himself into the sport ever since.

"I wouldn't trade my disability for the world," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities. The whole club and school thing and getting to the state meet never would have happened.”

Thomas will swim at Hope, and his goal is to qualify for the 200 IM at the Los Angeles Paralympic games. Thomas estimates he's within 15 seconds of qualifying in that meet's long course event.

"It's achievable," he said. "For sure it's doable."

Whether he makes it to Los Angeles or if his swim career quietly winds down, Thomas, who describes himself as competitive, said he still will have gained something for which everyone strives, athlete or not.

"Water has always been a safe spot for me," he said. "I think I've always used it as kind of a break from life. It helps clear my head.

“I've always been taught that you get out of work what you put into it. Work always pays off in the end. I've always remembered that.”

PHOTOS (Top) Aaron Thomas races for the DeWitt swimming & diving team. (Middle) Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. (Photos provided by the DeWitt swimming & diving program and Thomas family.)