With Help, Football Returns to Carney

August 25, 2016

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 sportsdenesky@gmail.com 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.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom 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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)