Like father like son, like grandson.
The Grignon football family continued its progression in the coaching ranks this season when Alex Grignon got his shot at being a head coach. Grignon was hired in June as head coach at Walled Lake Western to replace Mike Zdebski, who resigned to take a coaching position in Arizona.
Alex Grignon, 31, represents the third generation from a family of past and present high school head football coaches. And one can’t talk football in Wayne County communities like Dearborn and Lincoln Park without mentioning the Grignon family.
Ted Grignon was the athletic director and head football coach at Lincoln Park in the 1980s. His two sons, Ted and Jamie, played football at Dearborn Edsel Ford and then in college – Ted, a quarterback at Western Michigan University and Jamie, a safety at Grand Valley State. Jamie Grignon is in his third stint as Lincoln Park’s head coach. He was hired in 1994 and stepped aside after the 1999 season, but never left the sport as he went to Dearborn High as an assistant under Dave Mifsud in 2000. Grignon went back to Lincoln Park in 2013 as the head coach and, after taking another brief hiatus, came back last season and remains in that position.
His two sons, Andrew and Alex, played for Mifsud at Dearborn; and in 2004, Alex’s senior season, Dearborn reached a Division 2 Semifinal before losing to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 6-0. It marked the first time the program advanced that far in the MHSAA Playoffs.
Andrew switched sports and played lacrosse in college (at Grand Valley), but his younger brother stuck with football. After playing four years at Northern Michigan, Alex was a graduate assistant there working with the offense before joining his father’s staff at Lincoln Park.
The Railsplitters have had their struggles of late, starting this season 0-3 and last making the playoffs in 2015. But in 2013, with Jamie as the head coach and Alex as the defensive coordinator, Lincoln Park ended a 66-game losing streak by defeating Taylor Kennedy, 34-20.
After five seasons at Lincoln Park, Alex went to South Lyon last season as the offensive coordinator, and this season he made the big jump. Walled Lake Western is one of the top programs in the Detroit area and a member of the Lakes Valley Conference, and Grignon has the Warriors off to a 2-1 start.
“He was proud that he was the third generation (of head coaches),” Jamie Grignon said. “When he coached with me, it was a growing process for him. There isn’t anyone who works harder than Alex. Whether it’s watching film, working with the kids after practice or what. He’s full-go.”
Like father like son. Jamie is not one to toot his own horn, but when he was the defensive coordinator at Dearborn people in the Downriver area, and in other football strongholds in the county, knew Mifsud had one of the best coaches calling his defense.
Mifsud is in his sixth season as the head coach at Parma Western after serving 16 in the same position at Dearborn. He was an assistant coach at Dearborn for four seasons before being named head coach in 1997.
Remember those dates. Before Mifsud was able to hire Grignon, the two met as adversaries on the field. Lincoln Park defeated Dearborn, 14-0, during Dearborn’s homecoming, no less, in 1999. That was Grignon’s last season during his first stint at Lincoln Park.
Mifsud didn’t have to twist Grignon’s arm to join his staff at Dearborn. Grignon’s oldest son, Andrew, was set to play for Mifsud in 2000. Alex is two years younger, so Mifsud was secure knowing the Grignons had his back.
“I was in my fourth year when Andrew came through, I hired Jamie and Keith Christnagel, who’s the coach at Woodhaven now,” Mifsud said. “We grew up together, the three of us, as coaches. We racked our brains learning the ropes. I always coached the offense. Keith had the offensive and defensive lines and Jamie the defense. The working relationship with Jamie was excellent. We split up the special teams, though he probably did more there.
“People know of Jamie, and he worked his tail off. On Sundays I’d stop by, you know, just to drop some film off or just to touch base, and his entire dining room would be spread all around with notes on breaking down the other team’s offense and such. Jamie’s a high-energy guy. He’s always thinking.
“Looking at Alex, yeah, I think they are similar. They can’t sit still. They’re always looking for something better. What a great hire (for Walled Lake Western). Alex is so great with the kids. He’s young (31). He’s got great football intelligence. Jamie was like that. He would tweak things in practice. He’d never be satisfied. Alex has that. He’s Jamie but at a different level.”
Mifsud and Jamie Grignon both said that what makes Alex a cut above is his leadership. As good as Alex was athletically as a player, his father said it was his leadership qualities that set him apart.
Mifsud recalled a story, a 2-3 week period, actually, during the 2004 season. The staff had yet to elect captains, and as preseason practices wore on Mifsud and his staff were taken aback by the actions of three seniors, Alex among them.
The coaches didn’t have to blow a whistle to start practice. Those three would have the players ready.
“I looked at my coaches,” Mifsud said. “And said those are our captains.”
Alex said he never thought about being a leader. It just came naturally. He grew up watching football from the sidelines, and later as a water boy, and then at home watching his father gather notes and dissect film footage.
“I was on the sidelines my entire life,” he said. “The leadership, you see it. You watch the players. You know what it takes to be a leader. I tell my players at Western, people want to be led.
“As a youth you don’t realize what level dad is coaching at, but you remember going to coffee shops exchanging film. I’d have my ninja toys with me, and the next minute I’d be holding dummies. Dad didn’t push us. He wanted us to do what we wanted to do. Heck, I was a big-time soccer player. I didn’t start playing football until middle school. For two years I did both.”
By his freshman year, Alex was all in for football. His was one of best classes the school has had for the sport, and Alex recalls that 40-50 of his classmates showed their dedication by increasing their work in the weight room.
Playing with his brother for two years and with his father for all four only made Alex more determined.
“I can’t talk football and family without getting emotional about it,” he said. “Watching your dad work 18 hours on the weekend, turning the pages of his legal pad, he was always doing something. I remember eating eggs for breakfast every day and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch to try and get as much protein in our bodies. I’d get up as a child, and he’d be on his third cup of coffee. He never stopped. He saw us wanting to be around the game, and he helped in any way he could to make us better.
“Everything I know, I’ve seen him do.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Walled Lake Western coach Alex Grignon is in his first season as head coach at Walled Lake Western. (Top middle) Alex, left, and father Jamie Grignon when Alex was assisting Jamie at Lincoln Park. (Middle) Current Parma Western and former longtime Dearborn coach Dave Mifsud. (Below) Alex and Jamie Grignon, when both were coaching Lincoln Park, and Alex with his family now as coach at Walled Lake Western. (Photos courtesy of Grignon family; Walled Lake Western photos by Teresa Presty Photography.)
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.)