With Labor Day behind us, all Michigan high schools are back in session – and just in time for league competition to begin for several conferences across the state.
Bay & Thumb
Armada (2-0) at Croswell-Lexington (2-0)
The way this season has begun – and the way last season ended – makes this matchup look like a potential title-decider in the Blue Water Area Conference. Croswell-Lexington was last year champion, thanks in part to holding off co-runner-up Armada 30-14 in the final game on the league schedule. The Pioneers have outscored their first two opponents this fall by a combined 95-14, while Armada made a loud statement immediately with a 28-27 season-opening win over Marine City, last season’s Division 5 runner-up.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Marlette (2-0) at Ubly (2-0), Grand Blanc (1-1) at Saginaw Heritage (2-0), Traverse City Central (1-1) at Davison (1-1), Hemlock (1-1) at Millington (2-0).
Livonia Churchill (1-1) at Belleville (2-0)
Belleville is off to another strong start this fall coming off last season’s Division 1 championship. But tonight’s matchup could help the Tigers do one better this fall in their repeat attempt. Churchill last season won the Week 3 meeting 28-21, handing Belleville its first regular-season loss since 2016 and only loss of 2021. But the Chargers must bounce back quickly to make this game another classic after seeing a seven-game winning streak against Westland John Glenn end with a 21-20 loss last week.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Clarkston (1-1) at Rochester Adams (2-0), Utica Eisenhower (2-0) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-0), DeWitt (2-0) at Detroit Catholic Central (1-1), Warren Michigan Collegiate (2-0) at Detroit Country Day (2-0).
Fowler (2-0) at Bath (2-0)
The Bees are off to their best start since 2017, already avenging one loss from when the team finished 2-7 a year ago. But this matchup could tell a lot more about where Bath is headed in 2022. The Bees fell to Fowler 47-14 last season and will be seeking to break a five-game losing streak to the Eagles. Fowler has opened with wins over 2021 playoff qualifiers Carson City-Crystal and Petersburg Summerfield, both by 20-plus points.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Saginaw Nouvel (2-0) at Ithaca (1-1), Fowlerville (1-1) at Mason (2-0), Pewamo-Westphalia (1-1) at Dansville (2-0), Durand (2-0) at Ovid-Elsie (1-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
St. Ignace (2-0) at Frankfort (2-0)
The Saints own one of the best rebound stories of the early going after finishing 2-7 a year ago and winning one game in 2020. They’ve outscored their first opponents by a combined 74-6. Granted, both opponents are winless so far this season and were winless last year as well, but Frankfort will give St. Ignace a better idea how it measures up in what should be a super-competitive Northern Michigan Football League Legacy division. The Panthers have followed their best finish (6-4) since 2017 with a pair of big victories including last week over 2021 playoff qualifier Mancelona.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Mount Pleasant (2-0) at Cadillac (1-1), Boyne City (2-0) at Grayling (1-1), Charlevoix (2-0) at Mancelona (1-1), Bay City Western (1-1) at Traverse City West (1-1).
Southeast & Border
Napoleon (2-0) at Manchester (2-0), Saturday
This Saturday showdown presents some interesting possibilities as both look to rise in the Cascades Conference. Napoleon was a contender into October last season before losing the final two games on the league schedule, but was in play in part thanks to a 20-18 win over Manchester in Week 3. The Flying Dutchmen have factored into the race a couple of times since their league title season of 2015, and edged reigning Cascades champion Addison 29-26 last week to re-enter the mix.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grosse Ile (2-0) at Milan (1-1), Hanover-Horton (1-1) at Addison (1-1), Hastings (1-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (0-2), Centreville (1-1) at Sand Creek (1-1).
Lawton (2-0) at Constantine (1-1)
Lawton is off to another solid start coming off last season’s run to the Division 7 championship game, and additionally the Blue Devils have won 12 straight regular-season games and 25 of their last 26. All but two of those 25 wins were by double digits – with the lone loss to Schoolcraft in 2020 – but Lawton also hasn’t played Constantine since 2017. The Falcons saw their 15-game regular-season winning streak end with a 22-20 loss to reigning Division 8 champion Hudson last week. Before that, no regular-season opponent had come within single digits of catching Constantine since the second game of 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Schoolcraft (2-0) at Kalamazoo United (2-0), Battle Creek Lakeview (1-0) at Portage Central (0-2), Plainwell (2-0) at Sturgis (1-1), Allegan (2-0) at Berrien Springs (2-0).
Gladstone (2-0) at Menominee (1-1)
The Maroons regained the Great Northern Conference title last season, sharing it with Kingsford, but earned that claim also because they were able to survive a 35-34 challenge from Gladstone. Menominee has won three straight in this series, but is coming off a rough outing last week against an opponent from Illinois. Gladstone, meanwhile, is off to its third 2-0 start in four seasons but looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 2017. There’s a little more reason for excitement this time though – both of those first two wins came against 2021 league champions.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Houghton (2-0) at Iron Mountain (1-1), Cheboygan (1-1) at Sault Ste. Marie (2-0), Ishpeming Westwood (0-2) at Calumet (0-2). SATURDAY Gaylord (2-0) at Marquette (0-2).
Zeeland East (0-2) at Zeeland West (2-0)
On first glance, this might not seem like much more than the next chapter in a rivalry. But there is some near-uniqueness to this rivalry – it’s one of the few in Michigan where the schools are next door to each other. West has won the last four meetings, including a matchup during the 2019 playoffs, and has rocketed to wins over Stevensville Lakeshore and Cedar Springs – two playoff teams from last season. East’s losses, however, also have come to 2021 playoff qualifiers – Williamston and Spring Lake – and the Chix lost to the Lakers by just seven points.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (2-0) at Byron Center (1-1), East Kentwood (1-1) at Grand Haven (1-1), Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0) at Spring Lake (1-1), Ludington (2-0) at Fremont (2-0).
Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-0) at Norway (2-0)
Two-time reigning Division 2 champion Powers North Central has set the pace lately in the Great Lakes Conference West. But the league is full of contenders. The Jets are ranked No. 1 this week, but Crystal Falls Forest Park is No. 3, Lake Linden-Hubbell is No. 5 and Norway could make its way into the Division 1 top 10 with a win over the Lakes. The Knights won last season’s meeting 30-8 and have opened this fall outscoring its first two opponents by a combined 102-12. Lake Linde-Hubbell’s margin is a similar 119-30.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) at Pittsford (2-0), Bridgman (2-0) at Mendon (1-1), Merrill (2-0) at Fulton (1-1). SATURDAY Marion (2-0) at Mesick (2-0).
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PHOTO: A trio of Muskegon defenders bring down an East Kentwood ball carrier during the Big Reds’ 20-14 season-opening win. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
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.)