GR Catholic Central Unveils New Home

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

August 23, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS – Former Grand Rapids Catholic Central football player and current assistant coach Kyle Shelton didn’t know if he would ever see the day – the day when the football program would have a place to call home. 

And it wasn’t until he witnessed shovels digging dirt that Shelton knew it was going to become a reality.

Cougar Stadium was unveiled to the community over this past weekend, the crown jewel of a nearly $10-million project at the Cougar Athletic Trails (CAT) athletic complex.

“It’s long overdue, that’s for sure,” said Shelton, a 1999 Catholic Central graduate. “It’s nice from a functional standpoint, having a surface always ready for practice, which we haven’t had in the past, and to have all of our teams in one spot, which we haven’t been able to do.

“From a teaching standpoint, we have brand new team rooms where we can watch film, and that’s just the football side of things.”

Cougars senior running back Antonio Strong may be biased, but ranks his new digs among the tops in the area.

“It’s one of the best complexes around, and I think one of the best in the state,” he said. “It felt like it was meant to be.”

Last week, the CAT was re-dedicated and blessed. It was the first of several events throughout the weekend to celebrate the facility’s re-opening. 

Several thousand people braved severe weather Saturday to attend the first Catholic Central Hall of Fame induction while getting a glimpse of the new turf field and surrounding amenities. 

“This place is amazing,” fifth-year Cougars varsity football coach Todd Kolster said. “I think it’s second to none, and it shined pretty brightly on Saturday night when the weather was bad. We had probably over 3,000 here during a tornado getting ready to hit just to see the place.

“It’s just awesome for our community to have a place to call home. It’s awesome for our kids to call this home.”

While a majority of football programs boast home stadiums or fields, Catholic Central has never been among them.

The school is celebrating its 110th birthday this season, and this is the first time in school history it will have a place to call its own.

For more than a century, Catholic Central has had to travel and play its home games at other venues.

Houseman Field in downtown Grand Rapids was where the Cougars played a majority of their “home games.” In recent years, they’ve had to travel to surrounding schools, including Grand Rapids Christian and Ada Forest Hills Eastern, to play.

It will be an entirely new experience for the Cougars when they host East Grand Rapids on Friday to open the 2016 season.

“We don’t have to get on a bus to play football,” Kolster said with a smile. “It will be different in how it impacts our schedule. What do we do for a home game now? Before we didn’t have much time. It was school, then we went to chapel, and then we came out here for a walk-through before getting on a bus and leaving. That was every week.”

The freshmen and junior varsity football teams played at the complex in past years on a makeshift field, but the varsity didn’t due to lack of lights and space.

Last season during construction, all three teams were bused to games.

“There wasn’t a single time last year that we didn’t get on a bus to play a football game,” Shelton said. “Last year was trying in that respect. Game days, (it) now saves us a good hour in travel time to a football game.

“We finally have a place to call home. We have a home that we can take pride and hopefully a tough environment for teams who come here and play. A home-field advantage so to speak, something we’ve never had.”

Catholic Central athletic director Trevor Hinshaw remains awestruck by the sight of the school’s decorated surroundings.

“It’s unbelievable, and I get goose bumps every time I walk out here,” Hinshaw said. “It’s a pretty amazing facility, and we are beyond blessed to call it home. To have no more home games on the road will be weird, but I think we will get used to it quickly and come to appreciate our new reality.”

The tradition of Catholic Central was not forgotten in the process. A plaza honoring legendary football coach Ted Sowle sits on the concourse, as do plaques commemorating past MHSAA championships.

Other influential people in the community from days past also are recognized throughout the stadium.

“It’s important that our kids understand the traditions that came before them and the people that came before them to make this happen,” Kolster said. “I’ve talked to guys that I’ve coached, and they’re sad they don’t get to play here, but excited for the guys who are and for the future of our school. Those guys laid the foundation for us to play here.”

Friday night will mark another historic date in school history, and the players are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to play their first “home game.”

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Strong said. “I’ve been waiting for this all year.”

“It’s going to be live here,” senior cornerback Mike Brown added.

Hinshaw said the undertaking of hosting the first game involves a lot of logistics, but he hopes to cherish the moment.

“Ultimately, I want to make sure that through the stress I find time to enjoy the experience as well,” he said.

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him atdream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Players work out on the freshly-completed Cougar Stadium turf. (Middle) The stadium scoreboard overlooks plaques dedicated to past GRCC champions. (Below) Gates will open for a varsity game for the first time Friday. (Photos by Dean Holzwarth.) 

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

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 pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)