By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Born into a multiple-generation U.S. Military family, Eddie Ostipow understood early the honor in serving one’s country.
His father, Mike, did so in Vietnam. Grandfather Alex Ostipow – now 90 – was part of the D-Day Invasion of France during World War II, then taken as a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, and earned three purple hearts while deployed from 1942-46.
Tonight, as the Orioles’ football coach leads his team against Eaton Rapids, both will take the field with him – symbolically at first, and then down from the stands with a larger group of veterans and active-duty soldiers who will be honored for their contributions to this country.
Mike and Alex Ostipow's names are among those that will be worn on both teams’ jerseys as part of their “Victory for Veterans” game to benefit the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home for Children based in Eaton Rapids.
Funds raised from the purchase of those jerseys and other donations all will benefit the National Home, which was built in 1925 and provides a variety of services to military members and their families, including housing when a family member is deployed. Total, the schools raised roughly $6,300 for the home, which receives all of its funding through donations.
“The kids don’t always understand what those people sacrificed for the freedom we have to even play football on Friday nights,” Ostipow said. “It’s close to me. (And) for me, selfishly, I’ll be able to honor my grandfather.”
Kickoff is 7 p.m. Both teams will wear camouflage jerseys featuring the names of military personnel that were purchased with donations of $100. Charlotte players were given the opportunity to wear the names of family members. For those who did not have names to wear, jerseys were sponsored by teachers and other members of the community.
Charlotte 2002 graduates Nick Cantin and Matt Lamoreaux will serve as honorary captains – Cantin is in the Air Force and Lamoreaux serves in the Navy. After the game, players from both teams will present their jerseys to the service members or their families who they honored.
This cause was a natural for the Orioles. On the Friday before Memorial Day each spring, Charlotte hosts a school-wide round table of veterans, who speak candidly with students about their war experiences. And this opportunity allowed both communities to donate to an effort close to home – both schools are in Eaton County, and Eaton Rapids is only 11 miles from Charlotte.
Ostipow had heard of the home previously – in fact, his grandmother had visited the facility while his grandfather was deployed. But until he began researching for tonight’s event, he didn’t realize the variety of services it provides.
His student teacher, former Eaton Rapids quarterback Matt Marriott, is the son of one of the home’s facility managers. After a series of meetings with Marriott's dad, representatives from the home and Eaton Rapids’ administration and coaches, the plan was hatched.
The Orioles received a bonus when their local National Guard recruiter heard about the effort, and the Guard paid for $2,500 of the $2,800 it would have cost to print the Orioles’ jerseys. That meant $2,500 more that Charlotte could donate to the home.
Click to learn more about the VFW National Home for Children.
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
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 can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)