By Dennis Grall
Special to Second Half
CARNEY — The football players dutifully go through their drills in blistering heat, showing energy and enthusiasm as they tackle what is basically a brand new sport.
Carney-Nadeau High School returns to the high school gridiron tonight for the first time since 1973, with an assist from some Upper Peninsula schools and another team known for its green and gold colors, the Green Bay Packers.
The 8-player team visits Ewen-Trout Creek for the first of eight road games this season. The small northern Menominee County school does not have a football field.
Actually, until around Thanksgiving 2015, the school did not have a team. Some parents approached the school about instituting football last fall, with the recent inception of the 8-player game playing a big role.
Helping fuel that fire was neighboring Powers North Central, which switched from 11-player to 8-player for the 2015 season and romped to the division’s MHSAA championship to complete a 13-0 season.
Jim Belec, who helped bring the football idea to school officials, became head coach and quickly picked up Dan Koffman as an assistant for the self-funded program.
Then the work began. And as the pieces started falling together, C-N students began showing interest in playing the sport.
Belec, who coached the youth football Sharks in nearby Stephenson, said, “You’ve got to have a lot of patience” working with players who have little or no experience. “You have to remember it is their first time out here, but at the same time you’ve got to remember you have to catch them up.”
He installed a basic offense and defense. “If you can’t do the basics, you don’t have much to stand on,” said Belec as he watched his players run through various drills. “They’ve got the want-to.”
He said basic drills included safety features such as keeping the head up while going in for a tackle and reminding defenders to wrap their arms around the ball carrier. “You can definitely tell the kids who have played in the past and who haven’t,” he said.
About half of the 17 players have some experience, including three who played at North Central under a co-op arrangement.
“I’m realistic. Starting off we have a lot to learn,” said Belec. “I hope we are far enough along to be competitive right off the bat.”
That wasn’t the case when the Wolves played 11-player football from 1970-73, when they posted only one win before dropping the sport. They played the 8-player game for a couple of years before that period, before those opponents also moved to 11-player football.
“Our first goal is to have fun,” said Belec, noting some players expressed playoff hopes while some hoped for perhaps two wins. “There are wins on the schedule to be had as long we work hard.”
The hard work and dedication have been on display since preseason practice began, but it will take live action to see how much progress has been made. At the outset Belec said, “They would come off the ball and they would all stand up right away. Little things like that can be taught.”
The Wolves received some equipment and uniforms from nearby Menominee High School and from Rock Mid Peninsula High School, which dropped 8-player football after the 2013 season.
Most obvious is the equipment and gear donated by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Brand new gloves bearing names like Randall Cobb arrived along with shoes, shoulder pads, pants, thigh pads, knee pads, girdles and state-of-art helmets. “The ones (pants) with blood stains were valuable,” said Koffman.
The items were arranged for by Belec’s wife Cindy, who attended school in Stephenson with Sandy Roubal, who is the corporate giving coordinator for the Packers.
“It’s been motivating and exciting to have the Packers involved,” said Koffman. “They gave us sizes that would fit our kids (along with some shoes that were much too large).”
The self-funded program has hooked up with Donors Choose, a fund-raising operation that enables people to make donations toward specific areas. Sixteen new helmets were paid for right off the bat from those donations.
“Financially we are viable,” said Koffman, noting everything on their wish list has been donated. “We didn’t have to do anything. We’re still in awe. Everybody has been outfitted. We have just been thrilled.”
C-N superintendent Adam Cocco was sporting a huge grin while watching his new squad practice recently. His dad, Robert, was quarterback of the school’s last team.
He said it “seemed insurmountable” when Belec first asked about fielding a team last fall. “The more we looked at it, the more we chipped away. It kind of came together. It is all self-funded. That speaks to the level of support from the community.”
Tight end John Berg, one of the seniors, figured, “I might as well go for it because it is my last year of school.”
Tailback Dylan Kuehl said, “It was hard at first but we’ve pulled together, and the practices have gotten a whole lot easier.” A wrestler with the Bark River-Harris High School team as part of another co-op, Kuehl added, “We are setting high expectations for each other. It would be pretty cool if we could win four games.”
Fullback-linebacker Kyle Hammerberg played Pop Warner and junior varsity football at North Central. “I like helping everyone on the line fire off the ball,” he said. “I tell them to look at the ball and not listen to the count. If you watch football you feel it is a lot easier, but once you’re in the game it is a lot harder than you think.”
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTO: (Top) Carney-Nadeau work on agility during a recent practice. (Middle) Assistant coach Dan Koffman shows some of the donated equipment provided by the Green Bay Packers. (Below) The first Carney-Nadeau football team since 1974 will take the field this season as a self-funded program. The team includes: front row from left, Hunter DuPont, David Green, Alex Rhode, Bryce Montague, Arturo Rangel and Dylan Kuehl; middle, assistant coach Dan Koffman, Kyle Hammerberg, Brett LaFord, Norman Collins, head coach Jim Belec; back, James Imhoff, Jordan Belec, Calvin Haddock, John Berg and Jordan Lindstrom. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)
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.)