Week 1 of this football season, as is annually the process, was filled with teams grabbing our attention with strong and often unexpected first impressions.
Bay & Thumb
East Lansing (1-0) at Fenton (1-0), Thursday
Both were among Week 1 winners to give the strongest notice, with Fenton defeating Midland Dow in a big way and East Lansing going on the road and downing Portage Central. The Trojans won last year’s matchup 33-7 on the way to finishing 7-4 overall, but this also looks early like a much-improved Tigers team from the one that ended 2021 at 4-5.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Lake (1-0) at Cass City (1-0), New Lothrop (1-0) at Chesaning (1-0), Frankenmuth (1-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (0-1). FRIDAY Detroit Catholic Central (0-1) at Davison (1-0).
Southfield Arts & Technology (1-0) at Clarkston (0-1), Thursday
Southfield A&T made perhaps the most stunning entrance of all Week 1, defeating Detroit Cass Tech 56-54 in overtime with junior quarterback Isaiah Marshall throwing six touchdown passes and running for two more scores. Up next are the Wolves, who lost 28-21 to Davison last week but won last season’s Southfield matchup 56-27. Sidenote: The last six years these two were in the same Oakland Activities Association division, and this season they are not.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Parma Western (1-0) at Detroit Country Day (1-0), Croswell-Lexington (1-0) at Richmond (1-0), Rochester Adams (1-0) at Rochester (0-1). FRIDAY Muskegon (1-0) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (1-0).
Portland (1-0) at DeWitt (1-0), Thursday
The Raiders have won both recent meetings between these Lansing area powers, in 2019 and then 20-17 a year ago on the way to the Division 5 Semifinals. Portland opened with a big win over Ovid-Elsie, while DeWitt – the reigning Division 3 runner-up – put up an especially strong defensive performance in defeating Haslett last week at University of Michigan. With both expected to do big things again, this one should benefit both in playoff points whichever team comes out on top.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Mason (1-0) at Holt (0-1), Standish-Sterling (1-0) at Ithaca (1-0), Williamston (1-0) at Lansing Catholic (0-1). FRIDAY Midland (1-0) at Mount Pleasant (1-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Oscoda (1-0) at Maple City Glen Lake (0-1), Thursday
The Owls joined the Northern Michigan Football League last fall, playing in the Legacy division, and this will be their first matchup with the annually-contending Lakers as Glen Lake moved to the Legacy this season. Oscoda missed the playoffs last year for the first time in five, but finished on a four-game winning streak and opened last week with a solid win over Houghton Lake. The Lakers are coming off a similar situation, having won their final three regular-season games last fall to reach the playoffs at 4-5, but they’re coming off a defeat against Kalkaska.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Kingsley (1-0) at Gaylord (1-0), Frankfort (1-0) at Mancelona (1-0). FRIDAY Lapeer (1-0) at Traverse City Central (1-0), Cheboygan (1-0) at Boyne City (1-0).
Southeast & Border
Traverse City St. Francis (1-0) at Jackson Lumen Christi (0-1), Friday
These two were both one win away from facing each other in last season’s Division 7 Final, as both saw their seasons end in Semifinals on opposite sides of the bracket. They very well could meet twice this season – St. Francis is ranked No. 2 and Lumen Christi No. 3 in Division 7, with the latter coming off a 12-7 loss to top-ranked New Lothrop. The Gladiators, meanwhile, opened with a league win over Ogemaw Heights.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Saline (1-0) at Ann Arbor Huron (0-1), Reading (1-0) at Grass Lake (1-0), Constantine (1-0) at Hudson (1-0), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (1-0) at Ida (0-1). FRIDAY.
Centreville (1-0) at Schoolcraft (1-0), Thursday
The memory of Schoolcraft’s uncharacteristic 3-5 finish a year ago is fading quickly after a major shut out last week of Comstock, and defeating the Bulldogs would further add momentum to the fresh start. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 6 in Division 8 coming off a solid win over Union City, and they defeated Schoolcraft last season 28-7.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Plainwell (1-0) at Coldwater (0-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (0-1) at Kalamazoo United (0-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (1-0) at Portage Central (0-1), Hudsonville Unity Christian (0-1) at St. Joseph (0-1).
Negaunee (1-0) at Calumet (0-1), Thursday
It took just one week for the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper race to get really interesting, with reigning co-champ Westwood falling to Houghton and last season’s third-place finisher Negaunee taking a nice step by defeating 2021 fourth-place finisher Iron Mountain. Calumet was the other co-champ last fall and also lost last week, but nonleague against Gladstone. Negaunee’s 35-21 win over the Copper Kings last fall helped Westwood eventually share the title; this time, a Miners win would make Negaunee a strong favorite just two weeks into the season.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY West Iron County (0-1) at Bark River-Harris (1-0), Kingsford (1-0) at Gladstone (1-0), Iron Mountain (0-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (0-1), Grayling (1-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (1-0).
Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0) at Rockford (1-0), Thursday
This might be the statewide game of the weekend, as these two perennial powers meet for the first time since 2018. Rockford is ranked No. 4 in Division 1, coming off a big win over East Grand Rapids. Mona Shores is No. 2 in Division 2 after a similarly-solid performance against Wisconsin’s Manitowoc Lincoln. Obviously the rosters have completely turned over, but the Sailors did own a 3-2 advantage in five games against Rockford from 2014-18.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Byron Center (1-0) at Grandville (1-0), Muskegon Oakridge (1-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (1-0). FRIDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (0-1) at East Kentwood (0-1), Zeeland West (1-0) at Cedar Springs (0-1).
Breckenridge (1-0) at Merrill (1-0), Thursday
Despite watching its enrollment fall 30 percent over the last six years, Breckenridge became one of the strongest teams in 11-player Division 8 going 56-11 from 2016-21 before making the move to 8-player this fall. The Huskies edged Fulton 40-36 last season and now get a familiar opponent in Merrill, which played in the same league as Breckenridge from 2016-19 before switching formats. The Vandals opened last week with a significant shut out of Webberville.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (1-0) at Indian River Inland Lakes (1-0), Camden-Frontier (1-0) at Pittsford (1-0). FRIDAY Newberry (1-0) at Munising (1-0), Au Gres-Sims (1-0) at Rogers City (1-0).
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PHOTO Redford Union’s Kyren Ware (7) breaks through the Pewamo-Westphalia defense during last week’s 26-6 victory that broke the Pirates’ 16-game winning streak. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)