By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
The long shadows of “midcentury modern” coaching legends have mostly disappeared from the gridirons of Michigan.
One more vanished in late October at the age of 96.
Bill Maskill was once the winningest football coach in Michigan high school history, chalking up the majority of his victories at Galesburg-Augusta. One of only six who could claim such an honor – coaches are first counted after reaching 200 wins – he received his start in coaching at Sheridan High School (now known as Central Montcalm since the Sheridan and Stanton school districts merged in 1963). In 1980, he became only the second coach to compile 200 varsity victories as a coach, and in the fall of 1982 he surpassed Muskegon Heights’ coaching legend Oscar E. ‘Okie’ Johnson on the victory list.
Maskill’s coaching accomplishments – and their historic significance – are a reminder of a change in eras. Michigan prep sports in the pre-playoff days were filled with coaches with Swiss-Army like skills, as many were expected to coach multiple sports at their respective schools. The gridiron season was unlike today’s in many ways, and the differences are reflected in a variety of manners within the state record books.
Coaching and player season performances up to the creation of the MHSAA Playoffs in 1975 were constrained by the schedule. In general, nine games was the max. (With the playoffs, a season can extend up to 14 games.) Maskill’s victory total now ranks 16th overall in Michigan high school history, as there are 63 coaches with at least 200 varsity wins. Two coaches, John Herrington of Farmington Hills Harrison – the state’s current leader – and Al Fracassa, long of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, amassed more than 400 varsity victories during their careers. In both cases, more than 65 victories were earned during the postseason.
The MHSAA postseason was approaching its eighth year of existence when Maskill passed Johnson as the winningest football coach in state history. To that point, Maskill’s Rams had twice qualified for the playoffs – the first time in 1976, and again in 1980 – but had yet to win a game during the postseason.
But he stayed atop the state’s football wins list for more than a decade – and later found playoff successes as well, more crowning achievements for a coach whose many wins came after turning around both programs fortunate enough to employ him over a combined 44 seasons.
A Rough Start
Maskill’s career, at least in his eyes, was nearly derailed during his first season at the helm.
“The year was 1949, and Bill Maskill was in his first year as varsity football coach at Sheridan High, about 50 miles north of Lansing. He thought it would probably be his last. His team did not win a single game. ‘A couple of times, I thought of throwing in the towel,’” Maskill told Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press in October 1982, when he surpassed Johnson in victories.
There was little likelihood that Maskill would be dismissed as coach after that disappointing season. But it took a few years for his Redskins to become competitive.
“Previous to his work there, Sheridan had not played football and there was little interest in the game,” noted the Battle Creek Enquirer in the spring of 1957, when Maskill was announced as the new football and baseball coach at Galesburg-Augusta High School. “He built up interest to the point that during the past five years, Sheridan has won the Montcalm County League championship once and finished second for four years. During this period, the team’s overall record was 31 won, 9 lost and 2 tied. In baseball, he had one county championship, finished second twice and third twice.”
A 1941 graduate of Detroit DeLaSalle, Maskill had been a hard-plunging fullback on the football team who also boxed in Catholic Youth Organization tournaments. Following graduation, he initially enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1942, receiving his freshman numerals from coach Wally Weber, but only after a year at prep school near Pittsburgh.
“I screwed around a lot in high school and couldn’t get into Michigan,” he told McCabe years later, laughing. “They sent me to this prep school, and I couldn’t believe all the studying I had to do. It was the best thing to ever happen to me.”
He ended up at Michigan State, where he earned a varsity letter from coach Charlie Bachman in 1944 and his bachelor’s degree.
“He was hard of hearing; he had it bad,” recalled Bob Ludwig of Muskegon, a football teammate with Maskill in the backfield for the Spartans in 1945. “Our quarterback would mouth the words of the play to him.”
Over time, Maskill had multiple operations in hopes of correcting the issue.
The attempts improved his hearing, according to Maskill, “to about six percent. And that’s the truth. But there are some advantages. The kids can cuss at me and I don’t know it.”
The disability never stopped him. He told McCabe that the only thing he ever wanted to be in life was a football coach: “I just liked playing football, and that made me want to coach.”
Another Rough Start
At Galesburg-Augusta, he inherited a team that finished with a single tie amid eight losses the year prior to his arrival. Improvement certainly wasn’t reflected in the standings in Maskill’s first year in charge. The Rams completed the eight-game season without a victory or a tie to show for their efforts. That changed in year two, as G-A finished with a 7-1 mark. The only loss was to unbeaten Bangor, 40-21, in the season finale. In 1959, Maskill and his stable of assistants had completely flipped the table, as the Rams ended with a perfect 8-0 mark.
“Galesburg-Augusta blasted Bangor, 27-0, before a crowd of more than 2,500 fans at jam-packed Angell Field in Kalamazoo … in a battle between the Kalamazoo Valley’s unbeaten football teams. Bangor’s great 21-game winning streak simply collapsed before the high-powered running attack as the Rams rolled to their seventh straight victory of the season,” wrote Dick Kishpaugh in his coverage for the Enquirer. Kishpaugh would later be known as Michigan’s authority on high school sports.
A week later, the Rams trounced a solid Paw Paw team on the road, 33-7. They finished third in the United Press International season-ending Class C-D rankings behind Charlevoix and Cassopolis.
That was the first of eight G-A squads to finish the regular season undefeated for Maskill. The next four would each be named mythical state champions according to the polls.
His 1962 team allowed only 14 points across eight games to end the year as Class C-D champion ahead of St. Joseph Catholic according to The Associated Press poll of Michigan sportswriters and sportscasters.
Maskill’s 1966 and 1967 Rams squads each finished unbeaten and untied in nine contests. The 1967 team scored a school-record 389 points on the year, and held opponents to a mere seven points – a touchdown and an extra point scored by Springfield in a midseason 27-7 triumph. The 1970 team also finished with a flawless 9-0 mark, topping the 1967 team’s offensive output with 408 points on the season.
Maskill’s 1976 team ended the regular season 9-0 and was one of only four teams to advance to the Class C postseason in place during those earliest days of the MHSAA playoff system. G-A immediately was eliminated by Flat Rock, the eventual champion.
The media spotlight came to Galesburg-Augusta in 1980 for a regular season-ending contest with Constantine. A victory would give the veteran coach another perfect regular season and push Maskill’s career win total to 200. The week played out under television station coverage and multiple newspaper reports.
“More than 120 of Maskill’s former players were on hand, some wearing varsity letter jackets that were nearly 20 years old. All trotted onto the field, according to their graduation years, during halftime festivities,” said Bob Byington in the Enquirer. “… The warmest embrace and greeting were reserved for Maskill’s son, Bill Jr., an assistant coach at the University of Louisville. The younger Maskill drove in from Kentucky to surprise his dad …”
The Rams won 28-6 to finish 9-0, qualifying for the MHSAA Playoffs for the second time in school history. The team ranked fifth in the final AP poll. A loss to White Pigeon in the opening round capped the season.
Despite impressive 8-1 records in 1981, 1982 and 1983, the Rams didn’t return to the playoffs until 1985. There, they won their first postseason contest, downing Hudson, 21-6, in a Pre-Regional. G-A fell the next weekend to eventual Class C titlist Lansing Catholic Central.
Lansing Catholic would again eliminate the Rams from the postseason the following year.
We Have a Lot of Heart
The MHSAA approved an expansion to the football playoff system in 1990, doubling the classifications from four to eight, which in turn doubled the number of annual qualifiers. While the Rams finished the regular season with a single defeat, they were unranked in the weekly press polls. Thanks to the changes to the playoff system, they were in the tournament, but weren’t expected to go far.
Rumors had circulated that this – Maskill’s 40th year as a head coach – would be the last go-around for the 67-year-old veteran coach. The first-round opponent was No. 4-ranked Dansville. With the Rams trailing 17-0 with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter, the result didn’t look promising.
But Jason Meek would have none of that. The Rams started their comeback with a trick play – a halfback pass by Meek off a lateral for a touchdown reception by Rusty Smith. It was followed on the next possession by a 27-yard TD reception by Meek from reserve quarterback Dave Lemmien. A pair of 2-point conversions by Rick Tyson had cut the lead to 17-16. Tyson scored the game winner on a one-yard touchdown run, set up by an interception by Meek that capped a 14-play, 59-yard drive – all rushes – that burned 6:53 off the clock. The defense shut down Dansville for the remaining six minutes of the contest.
A week later, the Rams lined up against No. 1 Schoolcraft, the two-time reigning Class C champion which was riding a 16-game win streak. The Eagles had lost only three of their last 57 games.
Galesburg-Augusta stunned all prognosticators with a 15-13 win before nearly 5,000 fans.
The Rams ran the ball 52 times, with Tyson handling the ball 28 occasions for 78 yards including a 19-yard TD that opened the game’s scoring. Schoolcraft tied the game at 7-7 just before the half, then opened a 13-7 lead on its second drive of the second half.
“It took all of us to do it,” said G-A junior fullback Paul Zimmerman, who scored the game-tying touchdown, and winning 2-point conversion on nearly identical plays with 4:01 remaining in the game.
Again, like the previous week, the Rams’ defense rose to the occasion, shutting down the Eagles for the remaining minutes.
“They kept the football,” said Larry Ledlow, coach of Schoolcraft about the second half. “Our defense was on the field much too long.”
G-A would win its Week 12 Semifinal contest with Clinton, 22-7, to advance to its first MHSAA Final. Corky Meinecke wrote a career-respective feature on Maskill that appeared in the Free Press on the day of the game:
“Just about everyone who loves, respects and admires Bill Maskill … figures he’ll announce his retirement sometime after the Rams play Muskegon Catholic Central … in the Class C championship game at the Silverdome. The timing couldn’t be better. Getting the Rams (11-1) to the Silverdome was the last notch on a heavyweight coaching belt that includes four mythical state titles … and five playoff appearances. He is the winningest football coach in state prep history …”
Weighing into the pending decision was a surprising aspect few ever considered.
“Maskill never figured he’d run out of players before he ran out of desire,” wrote Meinecke, “but that appears to be the case. Of G-A’s 24 players, only six are underclassmen. The school did not field a freshman team and the junior varsity – comprised of mostly freshmen – forfeited its last two games because it could not suit up enough players.”
“A normal person would retire,” said Ken Buelow, Maskill’s assistant for all but three of the coach’s seasons at G-A and Sheridan. “But you have to remember, Bill is not a normal person. You’re talking about one hell of a human being here.”
“We don’t have size, we don’t have quickness and we don’t have speed,” Maskill said to Meinecke about this team that was perhaps the most satisfying of his career. “But we have a lot of heart.”
The Rams lost to MCC.
Maskill’s decision still took time. In August 1991, the G-A administration officially announced that the district would not field a varsity football team that coming fall.
“We do not have the numbers,” said athletic director Alex Forrester at the time. “It has nothing to do with money. … We do not have enough players.”
G-A chose to sponsor only a JV team that season. Instead of walking away, Maskill chose to stay on.
“I’ve never not coached a varsity,” he told Mark Bradley of the Enquirer. “I won’t know how to coach at the junior varsity level. But coaching is coaching, whether it be at the varsity or junior varsity level.”
He had retired from teaching following the 1980-81 school year and was one of 30 individuals inducted into the inaugural class of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in April 1983. In October 1986, the school district honored him by naming the G-A football field in his honor. Without Maskill walking the halls and recruiting, fewer and fewer kids came out for football. After a year leading the JV, in July of 1992, he officially stepped aside from coaching. Forrester, one of his longtime assistants, took charge.
Maskill had purchased a tire company after he retired from teaching, and that became his focus.
In October 1994, over 12 years after Maskill had passed Johnson on the win list, Marysville’s Walt Braun passed Maskill in total wins. Leo “Smokey” Boyd of Saginaw Nouvel overtook Braun on the list in 1996. In turn, Fracassa topped Boyd in 2001, and Herrington bettered Fracassa’s total in 2017.
The “Ram Family”
The floor-to-ceiling mementos from his career that Maskill shared with Meinecke during their conversation were a feature of a party that Maskill would host annually.
“… It was not unusual to have 200-plus (former players, coaches, and new and old friends) there to celebrate the man they knew as ‘Coach’,” wrote Bill Broderick in a heartfelt article in the Enquirer, announcing Maskill’s passing.
Several years back, Buelow, his old assistant coach, had organized a group to create “a would-be Galesburg-Augusta football museum” in Maskill’s basement.
“… I was shocked when I heard,” said Bill Maskill, Jr., to Broderick concerning his Dad’s passing. Head football coach at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, since 2002, Bill Jr. had earned all-state honors at quarterback as a senior at G-A in 1966. "He went out and walked a mile on Monday. We all thought he would live forever."
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Bill Maskill Sr., here during the 1980-81 school year, was the state’s winningest high school football coach all-time after his final varsity season in 1991. (2) Maskill, shown here during the 1954-55 school year, played football and earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State. (3) The 1959 Galesburg-Augusta team finished 8-0. (4) The 1966 Galesburg-Augusta team was named a mythical state champion by media rankings. (5) Maskill took his team to the MHSAA Finals for the first time in 1990, when it finished Class C runner-up. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom 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 [email protected] 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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)