By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
For a fading moment, we thought we saw the Big Dipper floating through the second floor of the MHSAA office Sunday morning.
Michigan’s northernmost high school in Calumet held the handle – but the only place the rest of the Region pointed was to questions about how we could come up with such a disjointed scenario for this season’s Division 6 Playoffs.
Below – as has become an annual tradition – we’ll answer that question and a few more about this year’s selection process.
Our mission Sunday was to map 213 automatic qualifiers for 11-player football – and a record 43 additional qualifiers with 5-4 or 4-4 records – plus our top 32 8-player teams across 10 divisions of playoffs that will conclude with the latter Nov. 17 at Northern Michigan University and 11-player Nov. 23-24 at Ford Field.
As often noted in the past, this process didn’t start Sunday morning – but months and in some cases more than a year ago when athletic directors began scheduling games for this fall. We make sure all are loaded into our system by early summer, and then follow every score/cancellation/forfeit/additional change through Week 9’s final games – including this season those for 46 teams from other states or Ontario that played Michigan schools and needed to be followed as well because their successes affected MHSAA teams’ strengths of schedule.
Now that the maps are drawn, we line up all that will come with the next five weeks of games including assigning officials, gathering potential Semifinal sites and continuing our work with our Finals hosts to create memorable experiences as teams play for championships.
So we’re off. For those familiar with our playoff selection process, or who have read this report in the past and don’t want a refresher on how we do what we do, skip the next section and go directly to the “Observations & Answers: 2018.” For the rest, what follows is an explanation of how we selected the playoff pairings during the morning hours Sunday, followed by how we made some of the toughest decisions plus a few thoughts on the breakdown of the field. Go to this page on MHSAA.com to see the pairings in full.
Our past: The MHSAA 11-player playoff structure – with 256 teams in eight divisions, and six wins equaling an automatic berth (or five wins for teams playing eight or fewer games) – debuted in 1999. An 8-player tournament was added in 2011, and in 2017 a second division of 8-player football was introduced.
The first playoffs were conducted in 1975 with four champions. Four more football classes were added in 1990 for a total of eight champions each fall. Through 1998, only 128 teams made the postseason, based on their playoff point averages within regions (four for each class) that were drawn before the beginning of the season. The drawing of Districts and Regionals after the end of the regular season did not begin until the most recent 11-player playoff expansion.
In early years of the current process, lines were drawn by hand. Dots representing qualifying schools were pasted on maps, one map for each division, and those maps were then covered by plastic sheets. Districts and Regionals literally were drawn with dry-erase markers.
Our present: After a late Saturday night tracking scores, we file in Sunday morning for a final round of gathering results we may still need (which can include making a few early a.m. calls to athletic directors and coaches). Re-checking and triple-checking of enrollments, what schools played in co-ops and opted to play as a higher class start a week in advance, and more numbers are crunched Sunday morning as the fields are set.
As noted above, this season there were 213 automatic qualifiers for the 11-player field by win total with the final 43 additional qualifiers then selected, by playoff-point average, one from each class in order (A, B, C, D) until the field was filled. There were only five Class D additional qualifiers with 5-4 or 4-4 (playing eight games) records from which we could choose – so with those five we added 13 teams from Class A and B and 12 from Class C.
Those 256 11-player teams are then split into eight equal divisions based on enrollment, and their locations are marked on digital maps that are projected on wall-size screens and then discussed by nearly half of the MHSAA staff plus a representative from the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association. Only the locations themselves are marked (by red dots) – not records, playoff point averages or names of the schools or towns. In fact, mentions of those are strictly prohibited. Records and playoff points are not part of the criteria. Matchups, rivalries, previous playoff pairings, etc. also DO NOT come into play.
The 8-player process is different for team selection and similar for designation of Regionals. We take the top 32 teams in 8-player based on playoff point average as our field, then re-sort those 32 by enrollment – the 16 biggest make up Division 1, followed by the next 16 in Division 2. There are no automatic qualifiers by record for 8-player.
Geography rules: This long has been rule number one for drawing MHSAA brackets in any sport. Travel distance and ease DO come into play. Jumping on a major highway clearly is easier than driving across county-wide back roads, and that’s taken into consideration. Also, remember there’s only one Mackinac Bridge and hence only one way to cross between peninsulas – and boats are not considered a possible form of transportation. When opponents from both peninsulas will be in the same District, distance to the bridge is far more important than as the bird flies.
Tradition doesn’t reign: Every group of 32 (or in 8-player, 16) dots is a new group – these 32 teams have not been placed in a bracket together before. How maps have been drawn in the past isn’t considered – it’s hard to say a division has been drawn in a certain way traditionally when this set of 32 teams is making up a division for the first time.
Observations & Answers: 2018
We always start with CONGRATULATIONS: And this season they go first to Detroit Community, Detroit Public Safety Academy and Dexter, which made the MHSAA Football Playoffs for the first time. Of 611 football varsities across the state, all but 12 have made the playoffs at least once. Rockford missed out on an automatic bid with a Week 9 loss, but received an additional qualifier berth to set the record by making the MHSAA Playoffs for the 24th straight season. Crystal Falls Forest Park (22 seasons), Stevensville Lakeshore (21), Macomb Dakota (18), Climax-Scotts (16) and Grand Rapids West Catholic (16) also extended their stays on the list for longest MHSAA playoff streaks.
Break the tie: We again had to break a tie (actually two for District rounds) as teams that will or could meet ended up with the same playoff point averages. Ties are broken by head-to-head competition first – if the teams played each other during the regular season – followed by opponents’ winning percentage as the second criteria and then a coin flip if those two won’t do it. Our tie-breaks this season both took place in Division 4 – Grand Rapids South Christian received a home game against Wyoming Godwin Heights this week and St. Clair will host North Branch if they meet in a District Final. There are more possible meetings of teams with same averages in later rounds, and those ties will be broken the same way.
What is up with Division 6: Last year I had a “worst map ever,” and two of them this year would be in contention. Division 6 is the first – but the explanation for how we came up with what we did is simple. Region 1 is made up of two Districts with six schools from the northern Lower Peninsula and two from the Upper Peninsula. So however the Districts were sliced, two Lower Peninsula schools had to go with the U.P. And we settled this one strictly by comparing highway mileages of those Lower Peninsula teams to Mackinac Bridge (again, the only way to travel between the peninsulas). In the end, we placed Elk Rapids (93 miles) and Traverse City St. Francis (124) with Escanaba and Ishpeming Westwood because they are closest to the Bridge – followed by Kingsley (126), Maple City Glen Lake (144), Beaverton (161) and Tawas (168). The optics are strange – it may look like Glen Lake is driving past Elk Rapids and St. Francis on the way to Beaverton this week and potentially Tawas next. But Glen Lake’s route still travels south of those two schools this week (and depending on its chosen route on the way to Tawas as well), making everything fit – strangely looking, but nonetheless.
Lake Huron tour: You could see most of the American side by checking out this week’s Region 2 games in 8-player Division 2. This map also looks odd – there’s a bridge crossing and a drive around Saginaw Bay. Yet, after drawing this at least two more ways, we settled here – although Region 2 looks a little odd, all four teams are east of I-75 and north of Bay City.
Get your zoom on: We don’t enjoy splitting up teams that live next door to each other, but sometimes it’s a must. In Division 7 we were able to keep all eight Detroit-area and southeastern schools in Region 4, but the distance between its Districts came down to a few miles along I-96. In Division 2, we had to factor in outliers Port Huron Northern and Temperance Bedford – and the resulting Districts ended up splitting Livonia Churchill and Livonia Franklin.
At the end of the day …
I include this every year, but we draw the maps not knowing which schools are represented by the dots. At one point Sunday morning, I was wrong about which division we were considering at the time – and that’s a good thing. For the map drawing portion, it doesn’t matter.
But now that we know who is going where, here’s a glance at some stories that might emerge this week:
• We’ve got rivalries, like Portage Northern at Portage Central and Birmingham Groves at Birmingham Seaholm in Division 2, St. Johns at DeWitt and Haslett at East Lansing in Division 3, Constantine at Schoolcraft in Division 6 and Waterford Our Lady at Clarkston Everest Collegiate in Division 8 – plus Kingston at Deckerville in 8-player Division 1. There are many more we could mention – and some potential feuds renewed in two weeks as well depending on who wins this round.
• The Macomb Area Red, generally considered one of the strongest leagues annually in the state, sent four of six teams to the Division 1 playoffs – and they’re all in the same District. Champion Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-0) takes on Utica Eisenhower this week, and with a win would face either Macomb Dakota or Romeo after defeating both by just seven points during the regular season.
• Perhaps the most intriguing opener statewide is River Rouge (8-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (7-2) in Division 3. Neither gets tested much during their league seasons, but both played tough nonleague opponents and the winner will be considered a favorite to make it to Ford Field.
• Farmington Hills Harrison holds the records for most MHSAA Finals appearances (18) and titles (13) and will play its final playoffs in Division 4 after finishing Division 3 runner-up a year ago. The school is closing next spring. Coach John Herrington is the winningest in state history with 441 wins and counting against only 111 losses (and a tie).
• There are a few annual powers not in the bracket this season – most notably Lowell, Muskegon Catholic Central and Menominee – and others like Rockford, Mendon and Grand Rapids West Catholic got in as additional qualifiers. West Catholic has won five straight Division 5 championships and opens at Hudsonville Unity Christian. The Falcons won the 2013 title after also entering as a 5-4 team.
• There are 34 teams entering the playoffs unbeaten, but only four Districts have multiple – Manistee and Reed City share one in Division 5, Traverse City St. Francis and Calumet in Division 6, Reading and Ottawa Lake Whiteford in Division 8, and Wyoming Tri-unity Christian and Morrice in 8-player Division 1. All of those potential matchups would happen in 11-Player District or 8-Player Regional Finals.
• This will be the eighth year of the 8-player tournament, and in Division 1 only Deckerville in 2012 has won an MHSAA championship in this format. In Division 2, reigning champion Crystal Falls Forest Park opens with 2015-16 back-to-back champion Powers North Central.
• In 8-player, three teams with 5-4 records didn’t make the field of 32, and two teams with 4-5 records advanced. This is the reality of measuring by playoff point average. Fife Lake Forest Area and Webberville are the 4-5 teams, and their opponents this season won more than 61 percent of their games. The three teams at 5-4 and one at 4-4 had opponents’ winning percentages between 38-56 percent.
Every school and every community can tell a story of making these playoffs, and over the next five weeks the fortunate will continue to write chapters filled with moments that will never be forgotten. We’re looking forward to watching them all unfold.
PHOTOS: (Top) The Division 6 map shows an odd-looking scenario with two Traverse City-area teams in the same District as two from the Upper Peninsula. (Middle) The 8-player Division 2 map shows how schools are connected to a District along the Lake Huron shoreline.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“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.
Guillean 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.”
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.
Gribler 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)