By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A few scenarios remain unique to high school football’s opening weekend, the newest of which begins again tonight all over Michigan.
If the casual fan with no ties to a particular team is going to check out a game, this is probably the time.
And while there are great matchups and major storylines all nine weeks of the regular season, this first one features so many that East Grand Rapids vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central – which eventually could be remembered as one of the best games in the state this entire season – arguably isn’t the biggest this weekend in the Grand Rapids area alone.
Each week, Second Half will give you an idea of top games to watch near your community, or the extended surrounding area.
I’ve broken down the state into seven regions – hopefully you’ll be able to figure out which is where by the nicknames, or at least the games I’ve listed under each. I’ve done so by where the game will be played.
Click on Score Center to see game dates and times, and after the clocks run out, final scores from all over the state.
Detroit Cass Tech vs. Birmingham Brother Rice
This Saturday night matchup is the final game of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State, which will host six Detroit-area matchups on opening weekend. And it will be tough for any game before November at Ford Field to match the prestige of this opener featuring the reigning MHSAA Division 1 and 2 champions. The last time Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell dressed for the Technicians, he threw five touchdown passes as a freshman in last fall’s Division 1 Final win over Detroit Catholic Central. Brother Rice quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria also is back after leading the Warriors to the Division 2 title, although they must replace graduated standout running back Devin Church. But Brother Rice can counter Campbell and an offense loaded with Division I college prospects with linebacker Jon Reschke, who has committed to Michigan State.
Others that caught my eye: Midland at Canton, Dearborn Fordson at Macomb Dakota, Warren DeLaSalle at Ann Arbor Pioneer, Bloomfield Hills Andover at Bloomfield Hills Lahser, Rochester Adams at Clarkston.
Southwest and Border
Battle Creek Central at Kalamazoo Central
This is one of the longest-running football rivalries in MHSAA history and will move into a tie for eighth all-time with this 109th straight meeting. Battle Creek Central leads the series 59-45-4, although Kalamazoo Central won 28-22 last fall. The Bearcats are hoping to open with their first win since 2010, while the Maroon Giants have gone 4-5 in each of the last four seasons and hope to push for their first playoff berth since 2004.
Others that caught my eye: Carleton Airport at Adrian, St. Joseph at Marshall, Portage Central at Battle Creek Harper Creek.
Pewamo-Westphalia at Lansing Catholic
While the Saturday night game in Detroit features two teams that won titles at Ford Field last season, this matchup features two teams that finished as runners-up in their respective divisions – Division 7 and Division 5 – and are hoping to get back to Detroit with much different lineups. Both graduated standout quarterbacks and their best defenders from 2011, but both also will test new players early and often against top competition. Each plays in a tough league and will also face a reigning MHSAA champion later this fall. The Cougars get Division 7 champ Saginaw Nouvel next week, and the Pirates finish the regular season against Division 8 winner Mendon.
Others that caught my eye: Brighton at Novi, Jackson Lumen Christi at Chelsea, Mount Pleasant at DeWitt, Mendon at Fowler.
Lowell at Rockford
Last season, these two renewed a rivalry that previously had ended in 1973, before the playoff era had begun. These days, the Red Arrows and Rams are two of the state’s annual elite. Lowell won the 2011 game 28-7 on the way to its sixth straight season with at least 10 victories and the runner-up finish in Division 2. But Rockford won 11 straight after last season’s loss, and similarly has won at least that many games in seven of the last eight seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central at East Grand Rapids, Holt at Hudsonville, Orchard Lake St. Mary at Muskegon.
Bay and Thumb
Richmond at Marine City
New Marine City coach Ronald Glodich begins a new era but with hopes of similar success as had by retired coach Anthony Scarcelli, who led the Mariners to eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins and last season’s Division 4 runner-up finish. But Glodich will start with an immediate test in Richmond, which is coming off two straight losing seasons but improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011 and before the down streak made the playoffs 10 times in 11 seasons.
Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Swan Valley at St. Charles, Bay City Western at Flint Northern, Montrose at Reese.
Ishpeming at Iron Mountain
There was a not-so-recent past when Ishpeming struggled to win this annual opening night matchup – Iron Mountain has been the victor in 15 of the last 20. But these two have split the last four openers, and both won District championships last season after Iron Mountain won and Ishpeming finished second in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit Denby at Marquette, Ishpeming Westwood at Stephenson, Pittsford at Iron River West Iron County.
Lower Up North
Traverse City St. Francis at Kingsley
Traverse City St. Francis isn’t in a league this season, but is playing six of the same opponents as in 2011 – when it advanced to a Division 7 Semifinal. The Gladiators open against Kingsley after beating the Stags 57-8 in last season’s opener. But Kingsley won six of its next eight games after that loss to make the playoffs, and were only a combined 12 points from an 8-1 finish.
Others that caught my eye: Elk Rapids at Mancelona, Manistee at Ludington, St. Ignace at Charlevoix.
PHOTO: Mendon and Fowler played for last season's Division 8 championship at Ford Field, and meet again Friday at Fowler in the season opener for both. (See more at Terry McNamara 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.)