Beecher Becoming a Football School Too

November 14, 2012

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half


FLINT — Basketball is a source of pride at Flint Beecher, with a tradition of excellence that includes four boys and two girls MHSAA championships.


Courtney Hawkins is as proud as anyone, having played on the 1984-85 and 1986-87 championship teams.


But hoops mania is also a source of frustration for Hawkins, the school's football coach and athletic director.


Where basketball is king, other athletic programs can sometimes suffer, as more and more kids are persuaded into specializing in one sport and playing in travel leagues outside of their high school season.


If you want to get Hawkins up on his soap box, ask him about the effect AAU basketball has had on the overall athletic program at Beecher.


Mr. Hawkins, the floor is yours ...


"It kills me to watch some kids who, you know just from the stuff they can do athletically, would be a heck of a football player or could contend for the state championship in the 100 meters or high jump," Hawkins said. "It's absolutely sickening. There are only so many basketball scholarships. They still haven't figured it out. Every year when basketball season is over, there are a number of kids who won't get scholarships, because there are so few. Every single year, there's a handful of boys -- every year -- who come to me and say, 'Coach Hawkins, I wish I would've played football and track.' It's happened seven years in a row and it will happen this year.


"AAU basketball is great. It makes everything seem so good. They get to travel across the country. AAU basketball is big business. It's not the best for every kid, especially when they tell these kids they're going to be the next LeBron James and the next year I see them at the store."


Hawkins needs only to offer up himself as an example of how an athlete can have success beyond high school while still playing multiple sports as a prep. He was an all-stater in football, basketball, and track and field before focusing on football at Michigan State University. Hawkins went on to play nine seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL. He was a key member of MHSAA championship teams in basketball and track.


Beecher's reputation as a basketball school may finally be changing, albeit slowly.


Hawkins has only two members of last year's Class C championship basketball team on his football roster, but hopes that the team's first-ever run to the MHSAA Semifinals opens some eyes among hoopsters around school.


Beecher (8-4) will face Detroit Loyola (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Division 7 Semifinal at Fenton High School. The Buccaneers get a Second Half High 5 this week after overcoming a 3-4 start to make the playoffs as an additional qualifier at 5-4 before winning three postseason games for the first time.


Beecher hopes to become only the fourth team with four losses to win an MHSAA championship. The Buccaneers can look to nearby Flint Powers Catholic, last year's Division 5 champion, for proof that it can be done.


"I didn't want to tell the team that, because they don't like other teams, but I looked at Powers coming in 5-4 and thought, 'Why can't we do the same thing?'" said senior Kermit Craig, a defensive end and tight end.


Beecher is in the playoffs for the sixth straight year, but this was the most unlikely team to advance this far. Beecher's other playoff teams won at least six games, including a 9-0 squad in 2009 that was bounced in the first round.


"Yeah, I'm surprised, but one thing we do is work hard every day," said senior Eric Cooper, a wide receiver and free safety. "I just came to practice every day motivating all the guys to work hard, keep their heads up, and we're going to get a blessing. That's what we got."


The Buccaneers squeaked out a 21-20 victory over Mt. Morris on Oct. 12 to begin their current five-game winning streak. Their crowning achievement so far was knocking off defending Division 7 champion Saginaw Nouvel in the Regional Final, 19-15. Now they're one victory away from a trip to Ford Field.


"I guess with the youth and the fact we snuck in at 5-4, it's surprising that we went this far," Hawkins said. "But with that being said, the way that they've worked and the way they've stayed committed, it's been one of my best groups from that standpoint. I've had some groups that had more success early in the season. This team has great senior leadership. We have some young kids who are just phenomenal in terms of following the senior leaders. They're very coachable, very good kids. This is my first year of having some kids who don't want to play basketball. My starting quarterback, (freshman) Marcus Wright, said, 'Coach, I'm a football player.' We don't get many of those here at Beecher."


There was a time when playoff appearances, let alone trips to the Semifinals, seemed more unlikely than what this 5-4 team has achieved in this postseason.


Hawkins returned to his alma mater in 2006 to take over a program that had 11 straight losing seasons. After a 2-7 inaugural season that saw considerable improvement, Beecher has gone 45-20 while playing as the smallest school in the Genesee Area Conference's Red Division.


"We had to change the attitude," Hawkins said. "There were a lot of people who were, 'We play basketball at Beecher.' That was the approach. Then there was the losing attitude throughout the whole football program. The first year, we were 2-7. We were in a lot of games, but you could see the losing attitude from being beat down all those years. We as a coaching staff stayed on them."


The fact that Hawkins would return to the community after an NFL career gives him considerable credibility with his players.


"That means a lot," Craig said. "Most people look up to him as a father. He came to build the program and led us to where we are now. I learned a lot from him. As a young man, I look up to him. If I have problems, I go to coach Hawkins and talk to him about it. He's more a man than a football coach. He leads you to the right way."

PHOTO: (Top) Beecher linebacker Tyrik Wicks (20) wraps up Saginaw Nouvel's Ryan Sullivan (4) as sophomore Mike Herd (15) also pursues during last weekend's Regional Final. (Middle) Flint Beecher coach Courtney Hawkins, who also played at Michigan State and in the NFL.  (Click to see more from the Regional Final at

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)