By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It's coach speak for sure, but true all the same: First, teams focus on winning the league title. And after that, bigger things tend to take care of themselves.
Many across Michigan started that quest last weekend. But for most of the rest, the first steps toward a conference championship will come tonight.
Need a game to watch? No problem. See below for what's playing near you. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center for updated scores and standings
(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)
Muskegon (2-0) at Rockford (1-1)
After four seasons of defining the O-K Red as arguably the best league in the state, these two are now split up as Muskegon moved to the O-K Black this fall. But there will continue to be a share of statewide eyes watching this one. The Big Reds put potential playoff opponents back on notice by opening with a 21-14 win over reigning MHSAA Division 3 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary, and Rockford came back from a tough opening loss to Lowell by shutting out Holt last week, 22-0.
Others that caught my eye: East Kentwood at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Grand Rapids Christian at Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, Grand Haven at Lowell, Montague at Muskegon Oakridge.
Dearborn Fordson (2-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (1-1), Saturday
The Detroit Catholic League Central also has annual claim as the state's toughest conference, so wins are at a premium for that league's teams -- and DeLaSalle has its work cut out tonight. Fordson has opened with victories over 2011 playoff teams Macomb Dakota and Redford Thurston, and fell to the Pilots only 31-28 a year ago. Quarterback Shane Morris and company will be hoping to shift momentum after last week's 49-13 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius -- and with Birmingham Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central up next.
Others that caught my eye: Romeo at Macomb Dakota, Rochester Adams at Oak Park, Cincinnati Moeller at Detroit Catholic Central (Saturday), Detroit Renaissance at Detroit Cass Tech.
Hurley, Wis., (2-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0)
Hurley actually plays more teams from Michigan than from its home state, and has opened by dominating two of them by a combined score of 90-13. Forest Park just missed a ninth-straight season with at least 10 wins last fall in part because it lost to Hurley 33-16 -- the Trojans' only loss of the regular season. In fact, Forest Park has lost two of its last three against the Midgets, which probably gives this the sense of a rivalry game for the home team located only a few miles from the border.
Others that caught my eye: Bessemer at Baraga, Iron Mountain at Iron River West Iron County, Calumet at Ishpeming, Stephenson at Norway.
Southwest and Border
Dowagiac (2-0) at Plainwell (2-0)
The upstart Trojans are hoping to break a six-game losing streak to Dowagiac, although for the first time during that string they are no longer in the same division -- the Wolverine B split into North and South this fall. Still, this would be significant for a few reasons: Plainwell is 2-0 for the first time since 2001 and after finishing 0-9 only two seasons ago, and a win tonight would give the team its first 3-0 start since 1998. For Dowagiac, it's a chance to be 3-0 for the first time since 2006, and this potentially is its toughest test until the Wolverine B South finale against Edwardsburg on Oct. 12 or a week earlier against Three Rivers.
Others that caught my eye: Sturgis at Battle Creek Harper Creek, Olivet at Schoolcraft, St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, Coloma at Paw Paw.
Bay and Thumb
Millington (2-0) at Frankenmuth (2-0)
For a few decades, this was THE GAME in the Tri-Valley Conference East just about every season. But the Cardinals have won four straight and at least 10 games total in each of the last three seasons, and often that sort of one-sidedness drains some of the mystique. In this case, that's doubtful. This matchup decided the league title again last fall, and Frankenmuth is 2-0 for the first time since 2007. But if the Eagles score tonight, it will be a first against Millington this season. The Cardinals have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 92-0.
Others that caught my eye: Comstock Park at Bay City John Glenn, Lapeer East at Lapeer West, Saginaw at Midland Dow, Alma at Freeland.
Lower Up North
Cadillac (2-0) at Petoskey (2-0)
Petoskey has won three of the last four Big North Conference championships, with that lone lapse in 2009 -- when Cadillac finished one game ahead to claim the title. The Northmen were first and the Vikings tied for second last season, and this could be the decider again. Petoskey won big last season, 63-24, but Cadillac is 2-0 for the first time since 2006.
Others that caught my eye: Benzie Central at Frankfort, Manton at McBain, Johannesburg-Lewiston at Mancelona, Elk Rapids at Traverse City St. Francis.
Lansing Sexton (0-2) at Grand Ledge (2-0)
Sexton is anything but a typical 0-2 team; the Big Reds, who played in the Division 4 postseason in 2011, opened this fall with a loss to Division 1 power Plymouth before falling to Monroe by a point for the second straight season. Now comes another much larger school in Grand Ledge, which beat Sexton 14-0 last fall. The Comets began this season with a 40-30 loss to East Kentwood, but aren't having much trouble scoring -- the came back with a 31-10 win over Holland West Ottawa and are led by multi-talented quarterback Jalen Brady.
Others that caught my eye: Pewamo-Westphalia at Laingsburg, Portland at Corunna, Burr Oak at Portland St. Patrick, Morrice at Webberville.
PHOTO: Warren DeLaSalle quarterback Shane Morris attempts to break away from two Ann Arbor Pioneer defenders during their opening-night game, a 35-7 DeLaSalle win. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)