'Coaching Bug' Still Drives St Mary's Porritt

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 19, 2015

ORCHARD LAKE – George Porritt never seriously considered entering the coaching profession when he graduated from Hillsdale College in 1979 with a degree in both parks and recreation and physical education.

At age 14 he had worked part time in the parks and recreation department in Independence Township, a few miles south of Clarkston where he grew up. With that experience, Porritt thought he had found a career path.

But a year after graduating from college, Porritt, like most in their early 20s, was looking for work – any kind of work. During the fall of 1980, Dan Fife, the head varsity boys basketball coach at Clarkston, hired Porritt as his freshmen coach. The next school year he became an assistant football coach, along with current head coach Kurt Richardson, under Walt Wyniemko at Clarkston.

“I got the coaching bug,” Porritt said.

And he’s been a coach ever since.

Competing in the Detroit Catholic League Central, considered by many the state’s best football conference, is a challenge every year. Butting heads with legendary coaches such as Al Fracassa (now retired) at Birmingham Brother Rice and Tom Mach at Detroit Catholic Central is a daunting task, but Porritt and St. Mary’s have proved worthy adversaries.

The Eaglets are coming off a 12-2 finish and Division 3 title, their fifth under his leadership.

Most who follow high school sports link the name Porritt with football. It’s understandable.

In 1986, St. Mary’s hired Porritt as a teacher, and that summer he became a varsity assistant football coach under Rob Haeger.  Porritt replaced Haeger in 1989.

His record heading into this season is 234-66, which ranks 10th among active coaches. Since 2006, St. Mary’s has reached the MHSAA finals six times. He’s coached 15 players who have gone on to play in the NFL.

There’s more. His brother Rich is the offensive coordinator at Clarkston. His uncle, Bob Porritt, coached at Okemos and a cousin, Rob Porritt, coached at Haslett and Perry.

George Porritt loves coaching football, and it’s likely he’ll coach few more seasons.

But there’s something Porritt loves more than football, and that’s being a part of St. Mary’s.

He’s been the school’s athletic director since 1989, and the year before he was hired as the varsity basketball coach. He coached basketball for 22 seasons (he took six years in the mid-90s off to help his wife, Terry, raise their three children) before he retired from that position this past July.

Porritt’s success in football often overshadowed his success as a basketball coach. He coached the Eaglets to the Class B title in 2000, they reached the Class A Semifinals in 2006 and his teams won 10 Catholic League Central titles, six league championships, 12 district titles and six regional titles. His career record is 336-180.

When asked why he stepped away from basketball, Porritt said he pondered that move two years ago but continued on because of his relationships with the coaching staff and, of course, the players.

In the end he got out of coaching basketball to spend more time with his family. His son Kenny lives in Maryland and he and his wife are expecting their third child. His daughter, Marilyn, graduated from University of Oregon and recently moved to Nashville, Tenn., to begin working for Vanderbilt University. The Porritts’ third child, Mason, is a senior at Grand Valley State University.

Terry Porritt travelled from Maryland and Tennessee earlier this month to visit her children, leaving her husband at home to coach football. Family time is precious, and the Porritts plan to spend more time with their family in the years to come.

But don’t expect George Porritt to leave St. Mary’s. Though he’s not coaching basketball, he’ll be at every home game because of his duties as athletic director. And aside from long road trips, he’ll be at the away games, too.

“I enjoyed my coaching at Clarkston,” he said. “And I wanted to get a teaching job there. But getting into education was tough then, as it is now.

“I love St. Mary’s. When you drive on this campus, it’s an awesome place to be. I want to work here as long as I can. I’ve met so many great people. Msgr. (Stanley) Milewski was awesome. (Headmaster) Larry Reeside has been tremendous. He inspired me and taught me so much. Then there’s the kids.”

Porritt mentioned one player, in particular, on the team this season as being a special person. His name is Josh Ross and his brother, James, plays for University of Michigan. Josh Ross is a 15-year-old junior but one of the team leaders, and he's already received scholarship offers from Michigan State, U-M and Notre Dame. Porritt said Ross is a no-nonsense type of player and one who helps maintain discipline, on the field and off.

Total, the Eaglets will return five starters on both offense and defense. Senior quarterback Brendan Tambone is back and joined by returning starting running backs Brandon Adams and Justin Myrick; Adams scored the lone touchdown in last season's MHSAA Final. Others of note include junior receiver/defensive back Kaylee Hamlee, who has offers from a handful of Big Ten programs, and 6-foot-5, 275-pound two-way lineman Cameron Kolwich, who will sign with Northwestern this fall. 

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area but also contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at tmarkowski@statechampsnetwork.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary's football coach George Porritt huddles with one of his players during last season's Division 3 Final. (Middle) Porritt watches a play unfold against Coopersville during his team's 2000 championship game win. (Below) Porritt receives last season's champion's trophy from Muskegon running back and MHSAA Student Advisory Council member Jared Pittman and the Representative Council's Orlando Medina, athletic director at Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse. 

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

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 pamkzoo@aol.com 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.)