Cvengros Leaves Lasting Impact

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 1, 2014

Retired Associate Director Jerry Cvengros, who served at the Michigan High School Athletic Association for more than 13 years after three decades at Escanaba High School, died Monday evening in Lansing. He was 80.

As lead assistant to Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts from August 1988 until retiring in January 2002, Cvengros served as director of football and briefly hockey in addition to coordinating the Program of Athletic Coaches Education (PACE), presenting annual in-service training for administrators and serving as MHSAA liaison to statewide principals, athletic directors and coaches associations. 

He came to the MHSAA after 30 years at Escanaba, where he taught, coached, served as athletic director and later principal during a tenure stretching from August 1958 through July 1988. While at Escanaba, Cvengros also represented Upper Peninsula Class A and B schools on the MHSAA Representative Council from 1983-88 and served as the Council’s president from 1986-88.

Cvengros received the MHSAA’s Charles E. Forsythe Award in 2000 in recognition of his many and significant contributions to interscholastic athletics.

“During his lifetime, Jerry Cvengros impacted every area of interscholastic athletics as a coach, athletic director, principal and then associate director of the MHSAA," Roberts said. “He was the perfect combination of fairness, toughness and diplomacy, able to draw on a vast knowledge of MHSAA rules and an understanding of educational athletics fostered by his various experiences.

“Jerry was known and respected statewide for his dedication, and his contributions have had a lasting impact.”

Cvengros built an elite football program at Escanaba as varsity head coach from 1962-84, leading the Eskymos to a 161-42-3 record, a Class A runner-up finish in 1979 and the MHSAA championship in 1981. That team remains the only Class A/Division 1 team from the Upper Peninsula to win an MHSAA football title. Cvengros was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and served on its original Board of Directors.

His 1979 team fell to Detroit Catholic Central 32-7, but he brought the Eskymos back to the Finals for a 16-6 win over Fraser two seasons later. Cvengros' championship lineup included quarterback Kevin Tapani, who would go on to pitch for the Minnesota Twins among five major league clubs, and tailback Dean Altobelli, who later played at Michigan State University. The title run included a 15-14 Semifinal win over Dearborn Fordson that included a savvy two-point conversion call by Cvengros, who wanted to avoid overtime after a late score drew Escanaba to within a point of tying the score.

As the MHSAA’s director of football, Cvengros was instrumental in creating the current playoff format that expanded the field from 128 to 256 teams beginning with the 1999 season. He also co-authored “Youth Football: A Complete Handbook,” a guide to coaching at that level.

Among many additional honors, Cvengros was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame and Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. The National Federation of State High School Associations twice awarded Cvengros with a Citation – the NFHS’ highest honor – for his service as a coach and then as a member of the MHSAA staff.

Since his retirement, Cvengros and his wife Shelley have continued to reside in Okemos.  A visitation will take place beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, April 7, at St. Martha Parish in Okemos, with a funeral Mass to follow at 11 a.m.

Cvengros was a 1951 graduate of Ironwood High School and went on to study and play football at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education and teaching from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a master’s from Northern Michigan University.

He taught English, history and physical education at Escanaba High School and also coached basketball and track and field. He became the school’s athletic director in 1970, added the duties of activities director in 1975 and became principal in 1983.

Cvengros is survived by his wife and children Michael, Steven and David, and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Lee Ann (Cvengros) Swasey in May 2013. 

PHOTOS: (Clockwise from left) Escanaba quarterback Mike Beveridge fires a pass during the 1979 Class A Final; Cvengros co-authored a book on coaching youth football; Cvengros was celebrated once more in Escanaba following his final season as football coach.

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.)