There are to be no ties worn Saturday at the memorial service for George Richardson. He didn't like funerals, so Algonac Muskrats and Michigan State Spartans gear is encouraged.
And while some sadness is inevitable, people should be having fun telling stories of the longtime Algonac coach, who made it his mission to make sure all his athletes – whether in middle school or high school, in cross country, track, basketball or football – enjoyed themselves while under his tutelage.
“He enjoyed life, and he lived it to the fullest,” said Algonac cross country and girls track & field coach Dan Shafer, a longtime friend of Richardson’s. “George would want it to be a happy time, not a sad time. We won’t ever really be able to measure the impact he had, just because it’s so vast and over so many decades. He had a great impact on our community. To say that Algonac will miss him, that’s an understatement.”
Richardson, who was battling cancer, died on April 26. He was 76 years old and is survived by his wife of 50 years, Diane, his two children, Anthony and Lynn, his mother Martha, and his sister, Mother Maria of Jesus. The memorial service will be from 7-9 p.m. at Algonac High School, and the family has asked any expressions of sympathy take form of contributions to the Algonac athletic department.
It’s fitting that even in death Richardson is giving to Algonac athletics, as he gave more than any amount of money could cover during his life.
Richardson, a Detroit native, graduated from Michigan State University in 1963 and spent his first two years out of college teaching in Battle Creek. In 1964, he took a job as a physical education teacher at Algonquin Middle School in Algonac, and he remained in that position until retiring in 1999. He also began coaching in 1964, and his final season as a coach was the spring of 2017 when he coached the middle school boys track & field team at Algonquin.
His coaching duties included football, basketball, cross country and track at various levels.
“He was a guy, and I’ve heard several people say this, he never had a bad thing to say about any kid he taught or coached,” said Shafer, who began coaching at Algonac in 1977. “He loved kids and loved working with kids, and the kids loved him back.”
One of the main reasons the athletes loved Richardson was his way of making practices fun while still preparing them to succeed in their sport.
“He’s very motivating, but he makes sure not to push the young kids too far,” said 2016 Algonac graduate Morgan Beadlescomb, a four-time MHSAA Finals champion in cross country and track. “He really focuses on teaching his athletes to enjoy running rather than being serious competitors at 11 years old, making sure they don’t burn out. He was very, very good at making all of us enjoy running. All the cross country kids loved running. We’d end practice sometimes and play two-hand touch football. We were doing little things you wouldn’t expect, and we all enjoyed it and didn’t really know we were working out.”
His approach helped feed athletes into the high school programs who were ready and excited to compete.
“We had a lot of success in track and cross country, and that’s something he should get a lot of credit for,” Shafer said. “He got them enthused about the sport, but didn’t run them to death to the point they were hating it. He really pushed that enthusiasm for the sport. Winning is great, but improving and having fun, that’s the key. Those kids would come out because they liked cross country in middle school, and because they liked track in middle school. He knew his stuff, too. He could coach all the events.”
Without Richardson, Algonac’s middle school cross country program may not have continued to exist. Shafer said that when the funding for the coaching position was cut in the 1990s, Richardson continued doing it for free to keep the program alive.
“He was a very giving person,” Shafer said. “I haven’t heard anybody say a negative word about him.”
Beadlescomb, who won the MHSAA Division 2 cross country titles in 2014 and 2015, and the MHSAA Division 2 1,600 meter titles in 2015 and 2016, now runs at Michigan State. Shafer said Richardson was always very proud of Beadlescomb, and that he had alerted him to the future star when Beadlescomb was just a sixth grader.
“George called me the first day of middle school practice; he said right from the get go, ‘I think he said he’s going to be your best runner ever,’” Shafer said.
Richardson and Beadlescomb have kept in touch, and Beadlescomb said they last talked a little more than a month ago.
“He stayed in touch, even when I was in college, and that was also something special,” Beadlescomb said. “He was always very supportive. I feel like he had some influence on everybody. He was their coach in one way or another.”
Even when he wasn’t coaching, Richardson was a constant presence at Algonac athletic events, whether it be standing along the fence during football games or volunteering his time at a track or cross country meet.
He was always there for Algonac, and while Shafer said he doesn’t know how many people will show up for the memorial service, he expects it will be a special night.
One person who will be there is Beadlescomb, who said he wouldn’t miss it despite being in the most crucial part of his track season at MSU.
“He’s the reason that I’m at Michigan State,” Beadlescomb said. “He’s the reason that I’m running competitively, essentially. I owe it all to him. He’s the reason that I’m able to run and still like to run. It’s important to me. I definitely need to be there.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTO: Coach George Richardson, far right and back row, takes a photo with his 2016 Algonquin Middle School boys track & field team. (Photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)