A Game for Every Fan: Week 3

September 12, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This week has some of the best of everything for the Michigan high school football fan.

Two powers meet again in one of the most followed rivalry games in the state. Two neighbors face off in another that should draw an entire town. On perhaps a sadder but immediately urgent note, two more will meet again but for the final time.

See below for some of the best games to see in every corner of the state this weekend, and be sure to monitor all the scores at the MHSAA Score Center.

West Michigan

Rockford (2-0) at Muskegon (2-0)

Most seasons, this is arguably the most anticipated regular-season matchup in Michigan. And the excitement was tempered only slightly by Muskegon’s move to another division of the O-K Conference in 2012. Rockford holds a 4-2 advantage in the regular-season series since it began in 2007, but four of those games have been decided by eight or fewer points and Muskegon won last season, 21-9. The Big Reds, also last season’s Division 2 runner-up, have opened with big wins over Grand Haven and reigning Division 3 champ Grand Rapids Christian. Rockford’s slate has been similarly impressive – double-digit wins over Utica Eisenhower and Holt.

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Mona Shores (2-0) at Caledonia (2-0), Grand Rapids West Catholic (0-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (1-1), East Grand Rapids (2-0) at Holland West Ottawa (1-1), Ravenna (1-1) at Montague (1-1).

Bay and Thumb

Lapeer West (2-0) at Lapeer East (2-0)

These two schools will merge next fall, making this the final matchup between the rivals. West owns a 28-10 edge in the series dating to 1975, including seven wins in the teams’ last eight against each other. That said, East has bounced back from last fall’s three-win showing and outscored its first two opponents by a combined score of 51-0. West is playing this fall for a third straight playoff berth but this week for its first 3-0 start since 2009.

Others that caught my eye: Birmingham Brother Rice (2-0) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-0), Essexville Garber (2-0) at Frankenmuth (1-1), Bay City Western (1-1) at Saginaw Arthur Hill (2-0), Freeland (2-0) at Saginaw Swan Valley (2-0).

Lower Up North

Traverse City Central (1-1) at Traverse City West (1-1)

The Nowak-Olson Memorial Trophy is again on the line with these rivals having split their last eight games against each other. This matchup also could go a long way toward deciding the Big North Conference champion. Central won 42-28 last season and finished undefeated in the league, while West settled for a second-place tie. Both rebounded from opening-night losses to win their first league game last week.

Others that caught my eye: Petoskey (2-0) at Cadillac (2-0), Traverse City St. Francis (1-1) at Elk Rapids (2-0), Suttons Bay (0-2) at Kingsley (1-1).

Upper Peninsula

Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0) at Hurley, Wis. (2-0)

These two have built quite a rivalry in the Great Western Conference. At least one has won the league title over the last three seasons, and twice during that time they shared it – last season with Bessemer in a three-way split. The Trojans haven’t been tested yet, but Hurley had to fend off a challenge last week from Lake Linden-Hubbell in an eventual 30-20 win.

Others that caught my eye: Gwinn (1-1) at Manistique (0-2), Marquette (2-0) at Sault Ste. Marie (1-1), Powers North Central (2-0) at Lake Linden Hubbell (1-1), Kingsford (2-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (0-2).

Southwest and Border

Kalamazoo Central (2-0) at Portage Northern (2-0)

The Maroon Giants are back in some conversations they’ve missed out on the last few seasons thanks to their first 2-0 start since 2008 that could become their first 3-0 kickoff since 2004 – also the last season Kalamazoo Central made the playoffs. Portage Northern has beaten the Giants in eight straight, however, including 48-0 last season.

Others that caught my eye: Saugatuck (2-0) at Decatur (2-0), Plainwell (2-0) at Dowagiac (2-0), Portage Central (2-0) at Mattawan (1-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0).

Greater Detroit and Southeast

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-0) at Utica Eisenhower (1-1)

Chippewa Valley also has made its way back into the spotlight with its first 2-0 start since 2006 that’s included wins against regular playoff qualifiers Romeo and Dearborn. The good news for the Big Reds is they beat Eisenhower by two touchdowns in 2012 – which has be a confidence builder heading into a rematch with a rival that lost to a powerful Rockford team on opening night and is expected to be in Macomb Area Conference Red mix again.

Others that caught my eye: Warren Woods Tower (2-0) at Madison Heights Madison (2-0), Oak Park (2-0) at Rochester Adams (1-1), Harper Woods Chandler Park (2-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (1-1), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-0) at Clinton (2-0).


Grand Ledge (0-2) at Lansing Sexton (2-0)

The surging Big Reds have made this game the no-brainer best in this area this week. Sexton has opened with solid wins over Chelsea and Monroe, and the smallest school in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue now takes on the second-largest school in the entire Lansing area. Keep in mind the Comets’ start didn’t come against slouches; East Kentwood and Holland West Ottawa are among the strongest programs on the west side of the state. But Grand Ledge has to feel some urgency heading into a competitive league schedule.

Others that caught my eye: Fowlerville (1-1) at DeWitt (2-0), Portland (2-0) at Lansing Catholic (0-2), Haslett (1-1) at St. Johns (1-1), Charlotte (2-0) at Eaton Rapids (1-1).

PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth (blue helmets) handled a solid Saginaw Heritage team last week, but gets another challenge this weekend in Birmingham Brother Rice. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)