Community Backs Maple Valley's Surge

August 13, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

VERMONTVILLE – It’s almost with disbelief that first-year coach Marty Martin considers the recent history of his once-feared Maple Valley football program.

“It’s been nine years since we’ve had a winning season,” said Martin, who was part of the team’s first outright league title as a senior in 1983. “It gives me goose bumps to think about that.”

But he’s had similar reactions to the outpouring of neighborly support his program has received as it works to start a revival.

Members of the community, made up of about 3,500 residents, have donated $46,000 to go with $15,000 allocated by Maple Valley's school board for the purchase of new equipment that will be used this fall. Some was necessary to fit an influx of players, but the additional funds allowed the program to update and replace some of its older gear as well. 

Confidence. Comfort. Swagger. The players anticipate a little more of all three when Maple Valley opens against Fowler on Aug. 28 outfitted in new uniforms over new shoulder pads and with new helmets topping them off.

Those good feelings come with heightened expectations, of course – which are welcomed by a program that made the playoffs seven of eight seasons and played in an MHSAA Final during the stretch preceding its recent struggles.

“It’s coming back. You can feel it,” Maple Valley senior Isiah Garn said. “On the field, the coaches are expecting more … not letting you short yourself. And the community is jumping in on us; there is so much support there. Everyone wants us to be a success again.”

Dressed to impress

Martin is deeply rooted in the school. His father was a 1953 graduate of the former Vermontville High and started middle school basketball and football and summer league baseball programs in the community before also coaching at the new Maple Valley High School after it opened in 1963. Marty played football for Dan Watson on the Maple Valley varsity after playing junior varsity for Guenther Mittelstaedt, who followed Watson and led the varsity to a 173-70 record over 24 seasons through 2008.

After playing two years of baseball in junior college, Martin came back to the community to work as a postal worker and coach, and under Mittelstaedt helped the Lions to their first playoff appearance, in 1987. He remained on Mittelstaedt’s staff through 2000, then coached a year at Battle Creek St. Philip, four years at Battle Creek Lakeview where he also taught after earning his degree, then with Mittelstaedt again for two years at Lakeview in Montcalm County.  

Martin returned to teach at Maple Valley a year ago and became only the third varsity football coach in 30 years during this offseason.

Maple Valley is a little different place than even a decade ago. The school’s enrollment briefly passed 500 during the 2007-08 school year but fell to just over 370 students as of this spring – and Martin said there are fewer than 70 seniors in this fall’s class. The community’s economics also have changed, he added, with fewer families farming or enjoying jobs with General Motors in Lansing or Kellogg in Battle Creek.  

Near the top of his to-do list was simply getting more players back into the program. Maple Valley had 40 last year, which at least worked for the amount of equipment the school had in stock.

But 69 students signed up to play this fall and 54 ended up at practice this week – good news, except for the helmet supply.

In addition to new helmets to outfit the new players, Martin also surmised eight more would need to be replaced at the end of this season, followed by 12 more needed after 2016 and 13 after 2017.

Instead, Martin began investigating if his program could get a better price by replacing the entire supply in bulk. After considering two helmets, he worked with his Riddell representative to get a deal on the helmets that included discounts on shoulder and girdle pads as well. The school board responded with its contribution – and then the community came on strong to help the rest of the way.

Martin was called out of class one day to receive a $5,000 check. Then came $1,500 from one family and $3,500 from another. He was at a graduation open house this spring when someone placed a $1,000 check in front of him. Longtime residents, some retired, gave $100; some who had graduated from Vermontville High or the other former school in Nashville, donated a few hundred as well.  

Martin’s team spent parts of the summer (and will this Saturday as well) providing muscle to local service projects, but he’s never asked the community for financial help for the program. It just made sense to provide, said 1992 grad and former player and assistant coach Paul Adrianson, whose local business Hickey Electric was among the first to contribute.

“We want people to see the game of football doesn’t just necessarily survive. We think it can thrive if you put safety first or good fundamental education on it,” Adrianson said. “It can be a great sport for our future. … We really feel that if we get all behind and lead as a district and doing safety first, we think that’s going to set a positive trend for the game of football.”

Safety first

Maple Valley is one of 70 high schools statewide taking part in a pilot sideline concussion testing program sponsored this school year by the MHSAA. The Lions will work with XLNTbrain Sport, which incorporates baseline testing done at the start of the season to assist in return-to-play decisions after possible head injuries at practices and during games.

In addition, the Riddell SpeedFlex helmets Maple Valley purchased include the InSite Impact Response System, a series of sensors that alert sideline staff after a player’s helmet sustains what is considered a significant impact. That player will then be evaluated by training staff; Maple Valley also has a trainer this fall for the first time in 15 years, Martin said.

“That was our initial thing. We want our kids to be the safest kids,” Martin said. “We want to be one of those leaders; we want to get this district, this community, out front so everyone in the state of Michigan and the United States knows in this area that people care about their kids to the extent they’re willing to invest $27,000 in purchasing helmets.”

The helmets require reconditioning each offseason and new batteries for the InSite sensors – to the tune of $2,200. But another donor stepped in with $22,000 – enough to keep the new helmets ready to wear for a decade.

“This community identifies with this football team,” Martin said. “So they were ready for a change, and they were looking for this opportunity. I’m very blessed and humbled to think they’re showing trust in my leadership and my coaching staff and in the fact we can turn things around.”

His players have heard the stories of successes past, some before they were born. They’ll try to extend the “look good, feel good” cliché into their play on the field this fall as they work to write a restart into Maple Valley’s winning history that goes with the other renovation projects that are popping up at the school and on its grounds.

“I think there’s going to be tons of people coming out,” senior Brock Weiler said. “It’s the new coach, everything getting re-done in the school. I think the pride’s coming back.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Maple Valley huddles during offensive drills at Wednesday afternoon’s practice. (Middle) Coach Marty Martin leads the Lions through agility work. (Below) Maple Valley will wear new helmets this fall thanks in part to community donations.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom 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 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) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)