Forest Park Tradition Gains Another Title

November 18, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MARQUETTE – Fans wearing black and red chanted “U.P. Power” while their favorite team ran for nearly 500 yards without throwing a pass Saturday at the Superior Dome.

This was Crystal Falls Forest Park football. And it didn’t matter how many players were on the field.

The Trojans, in their second season of 8-player, added a fourth MHSAA football championship running away early and often on the way to a 54-12 win in the inaugural 8-Player Division 2 Final.

The way Forest Park won, it could’ve been Ford Field or Pontiac Silverdome – where the Trojans made most of their first 13 championship game appearances. They gained an 8-Player Finals record 481 yards on 52 carries and set another record with eight rushing touchdowns.

The championship was the program's first since 2007.

“Last week, we watched 2007 states in our class, and (Saturday) was just like it,” Forest Park senior running back Connor Bortolini said. “We just stick to running the ball, and that’s what we do.

“The 2007 guys, some of them came up to us before the game, told us ‘Good luck.’ And now it’s our turn to do that.”

Senior Peter Ropiak had 275 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, sharing the backfield load with Bortolini, who totaled 196 yards and four rushing scores. Junior Calvin Post added the eighth rushing touchdown on a 1-yarder with 6:02 to play.

Bortolini scored the first just 1:47 into the game. Portland St. Patrick scored 1:26 later. And then the Trojans (10-2) put up the next 40 points, with Bortolini scoring four in a row total before Ropiak scored three consecutive.

The Trojans might have been the second or third best team in 8-player last season, but ran into Powers North Central in a Regional Final as North Central was finishing its second straight perfect season. Forest Park opened this fall 1-2, but then won its final nine games to return to the state’s elite.

“These kids don’t know the difference between 8-man and 11-man. They are out there competing. They’re out there being the best that they can be,” Trojans coach Dave Graff said. “For them to turn the page here, and do it in style where you have a sophomore middle linebacker who bench presses 115 pounds and runs a 5.5 40, a corner who’s 5-foot-5 and runs a 5-5 40. We’re doing it with people who are young, inexperienced, and yet they come out and get better every week. And they just have a new tradition, an 8-man tradition at Forest Park, and it’s good for them.”

Bortolini and Ropiak did their damage behind a line of junior guard Jacob Peterson, junior center Hal Hoenig, senior guard Robert Ponchaud and senior tight end Jonah Logan. All four weigh in between 205-240 pounds. St. Patrick has only one player tipping above 190.

“They’ve got some big bodies and they’re pretty simple – they come downhill at you,” St. Patrick coach Patrick Russman said “It’s a great scheme for them. We’ve just got to work on getting a little bigger.”

And the Trojans’ defense cannot be forgotten. St. Patrick gained only 169 yards on 43 plays, and the 12 points were the second-fewest the team scored this season as the Shamrocks averaged 35 per game. The inability to move the ball on offense kept the pressure on the defense – a lot to manage against such a productive attack.

The Shamrocks (11-2) were playing for their first football championship since 1992 and in their first Final since 1997 after reaching the Semifinals for the third time since switching to 8-player in 2012. Their only other loss this fall was to Division 1 semifinalist Bellevue.

“Just being around these kids and the seniors especially, all of them, they’re such great leaders off the field. It’s going to carry over for us,” said Russman, also the school’s athletic director. “They’re really good football players on the field, obviously, but the things they’ve done off the field have just been life-changing for the coaches and kids around it.

“So you hope they continue all those things going into their next sports, and we’ll build on it next year.”

Junior Tanner Lawson threw for 125 yards and a touchdown for St. Patrick, connecting with senior Will Simon on a 19-yard score in the first quarter. Senior Isaiah Smith added a fourth-quarter 1-yard rushing touchdown. Smith had 13 tackles and Simon had 11, while junior linebacker Paul Cook added 10.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Connor Bortolini charges toward the end zone for one of his four touchdowns Saturday. (Middle) A Trojans defender wraps up Portland St. Patrick’s Ned Smith. (Photos by John Johnson.)

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.)