Detroit Embarks on Historical Weekend

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 27, 2015

DETROIT – Basketball used to be king in Detroit. Detroit Public School League teams like Detroit Cooley, Detroit Pershing, Detroit Southwestern and others won MHSAA championships and sent numerous players on to college to play at major universities like Michigan, Michigan State and others.

Recently the quality of basketball has taken a step back, and football has taken center stage.

This past March, Detroit Western International was the first PSL team to win the Class A boys basketball title since Pershing in 2009 and just the second since Detroit Central won the Class A title in 1998. This is a far cry from what is considered one of the glory eras in PSL history. From 1987-94, teams from the PSL won eight consecutive Class A titles.

(It should be noted that Detroit Renaissance did win Class B titles in 2004 and 2006, and Detroit Crockett also won the Class B title in 2001.)

In 2007 Detroit King was the first PSL team to win a football state title. For those outside of the city, it might not have meant that much other than a simple statistic. But for the PSL coaches who longed for respect statewide, King’s victory over Midland in the Division 2 Final was vindication.

When Detroit Cass Tech won back-to-back Division 1 titles (2011, 2012) a few years later, football fans across the state began to realize that what King accomplished in 2007 was not a fluke. Teams from Detroit were relevant statewide.

This weekend another first will take place. King will play for the Division 2 title (against Lowell) on Friday and Cass Tech will play for the Division 1 title (against Romeo) on Saturday. It’s the first time two PSL teams will play for MHSAA championships in the same season. Both games kick off at 1 p.m. at Ford Field.

The milestone is not lost on the coaches, Dale Harvel of King and Thomas Wilcher of Cass Tech.

Wilcher pointed to King and then-coach James Reynolds for taking the lead. King was the first PSL team to reach an MHSAA Final (1989 and 1990), and by doing so created instant credibility.

“King established what we could accomplish,” Wilcher said. “By winning the first state title, by winning both the PSL and then the state the same year.

“I don’t prepare my kids the same way. From day one I’m preparing for a state championship, Thanksgiving Day weekend, not for nine weeks. You have to condition a different way. You have to have a long-haul focus. The kids you started with might not be the ones you finish with. King High set that bar.”

Step aside for moment and realize what Wilcher said. Cass Tech and King is the most intense rivalry in the city. Emotions run high, and sometimes they boil over. But here is the coach from one team praising the other. In addition to the rivalry, there is mutual respect.

“It’s great,” Wilcher said of the two city powers playing for a title. “It’s great for the city.”

Regardless of what takes place Friday, Harvel said he, his staff and players will be at Ford Field in support of Cass Tech.

And Harvel said it’s not just about King and Cass Tech. What will take place this weekend will affect all PSL schools: their players, coaches, student body and alumni.

“It’s a factor with our school system,” he said. “It’s a pride factor even if you don’t play for Cass or King. The alumni for all public schools are represented.”

Harvel said even though most point to the 2007 championship season as a turning point, it was the teams that lost in the Class A Final in 1989 and 1990 that started it all. Some forget that back in 1989 there were just four MHSAA Finals champions, not eight, making King’s run all the more noteworthy. The next season the playoffs were expanded from four classifications to eight.

Coincidentally, each team has had two difficult playoff games and two one-sided affairs on their way to Ford Field. King (13-0) trailed Detroit U-D Jesuit, 24-21, in a Pre-District before winning, 35-24, and King led Detroit East English 7-0 after three quarters before pulling away for a 26-12 victory in a Regional Final.

Cass Tech (11-2) blew past its first two opponents by the combined score of 84-20. In the Regional Final it trailed Macomb Dakota 10-0 before coming back for a 16-10 victory. Last week, the Technicians held on to defeat Canton 48-41 on a snow-covered field at Troy Athens. Canton had possession on Cass Tech’s 40 for the last play of the game.

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 and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTO: Detroit Cass Tech (green helmets) and Detroit Martin Luther King, here in the Detroit PSL Final, give the league two MHSAA finalists for the first time. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)

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.)