Kalamazoo Rivals 'United' for Football

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

August 24, 2015

KALAMAZOO — With a big grin, Isaac DeVries said he was relieved a year ago when he heard his Kalamazoo Christian football team was uniting with Hackett Catholic Prep for the next two seasons.

“My first thought was ‘I don’t have to play special teams’,” the K-Christian senior said, laughing. “There’s more people to play. Getting breaks every once in a while is always good.”

K-Christian junior Alex Visser echoed DeVries sentiments. 

“(Two years ago) we only had 13 players on the team, and that was tough,” DeVries said. “We had to play both ways the entire game. The idea of having more players on our team sounded real nice.

“It was different at first because you didn’t really know the (Hackett) kids, but once we got into the season, it was good.”

One year later, the feeling among the players is more than relief.

Despite graduating 22 players and returning only six letterwinners from 2014, the Hackett/Christian co-operative program – which goes by Kalamazoo United – has 22 players on the varsity and 26 on the junior varsity.

It’s coming off a 6-4 finish and appearance in the Division 4 playoffs. Prior to last season, K-Christian last made the playoffs in 2011, while Hackett last qualified in 2006.

The team’s helmets are black with a “U” on the sides – one half of the U green for Hackett, the other purple for Kalamazoo Christian. Instead of choosing Fighting Irish or Comets – the mascots for those schools – the team is called the Titans and made up nearly evenly of athletes from both.  

“The best thing is we’re all friends,” Hackett sophomore Keaton Ashby said. “As a team, we’re brothers. This is a family.

“Personally, I love how we all treat each other. We’re not Hackett and Christian; we’re Kalamazoo United.”

Low numbers at both schools led to the football merger, Hackett athletic director Mike Garvey said.

“(K-Christian AD Jerry Weesies) and I were concerned with the health and safety of the kids with so few numbers,” he said. “It’s hard to maintain a football program if you can’t provide a junior varsity program.”

Weesies said 8-player football was discussed and discarded.

While talking about combining the two rivals into one team, much of the concern came from parents.

“We initially knew we were going to get push back,” Weesies said. “We knew from both sides there would be some faith-based religious push backs. Also push back from the rivalry. We anticipated it. It was there initially and died quickly.

“What changed the course so quickly, once we started moving forward in spite of some of the push back, was the kids got along so well and so quickly started doing summer activities together that some of the parents said, ’Oh, look at my son. He’s happy. These are just kids.’”

As the victories started coming, that brotherhood strengthened.

None of last year’s players had previously experienced the playoffs. United lost to Eaton Rapids 36-0 in the first round, but that’s only made the players hungrier for success.

“It was great, sitting there at the (MHSAA playoff pairings show) watch party, watching to see who we were going to play,” Hackett senior Jacob Buchman said. “It was one of the best feelings in the world.”

While the players are brothers in football, that doesn’t diminish the rivalry in other sports.

DeVries, who also plays basketball, said it just makes their hoops rivalry more intense.

“Everyone wants to win that one, just to get bragging rights during football season,” he said. “It’s always fun playing Hackett in basketball and (to) see all the guys you know cheering against you.”

Three of the football team’s six returnees are team captains.

Patrick Koning was chosen by the coaches.

“He is a leader both in the weight room and in conditioning,” first-year head coach Jesse Brown said. “He’s a charismatic leader.”

The other two were chosen by team vote.

Buchman, a unanimous choice, “is the hardest worker and put in the most work over the summer,” Brown said. “He’s always uplifting, and people listen when he speaks.”

The third captain is Jordan Corstange, who “leads by his performance,” Brown said. “He’s very important with what he does on the field.”

The fourth will be chosen weekly by the coaches based on his performance.

“It could be a different guy every week or it could be the same one for a couple of weeks,” Brown said.

Ashby will lead the team at quarterback.

“He has a big frame and a strong arm,” Brown said. “He’s a very intelligent player, and that made the coaches’ decision unanimous.”

This year’s United team not only has a new coach but also a new affiliation: the Southwestern Athletic Conference. When the Kalamazoo Valley Association disbanded this spring after more than 65 years, United became part of the 20-team SAC and opens the season by hosting Decatur on Thursday.

The team will play in the SAC Division 1 with Coloma, Fennville, Watervliet and former KVA partners Constantine and Delton Kellogg

“The (SAC) merger has changed some things for us,” Brown said. “It’s schools that are comparable to the size of Christian and Hackett. The KVA became unbalanced with the size of schools.

”As the enrollment in Hackett and Christian was going down, others were going up. It’s hard to take a team with 17 to 25 kids going against one with 60.”

Koning said there will be adjustments to playing in a new conference.

“The difference is that with the KVA, it’s been there for a long time, as long as I can remember,” he said. “You knew what was going on with each team.

“Some teams would run the same formation every year. This year, we don’t know much about each team, so it’s just going to be adapting to each team we play.”

While the players might not be familiar with the SAC, Brown and three of his assistants played in the conference. Brown graduated from Martin High School, David Arrasmith and Rob Hardy from Gobles and Vinny Church from Bloomingdale.

“Some of our (13) coaches don’t know which school these (United) kids are from, and that’s a really neat thing,” Brown said. “You just can’t tell. They’re all stand-up young men.”

Summer conditioning and workouts take place at K-Christian, but the team’s home field is Soisson-Rapacz-Clason Field, which was shared by both Hackett and K-Christian football teams in the past.

A few players dropped out of the program when the teams merged.

“I play for the love of the sport,” Koning said. “Some people who didn’t love it left. We just love the sport. It doesn’t matter who you play with or how you get to play, you just play.

“I learned how easy it is to have chemistry with new people. The chemistry with both schools coming together. We really meshed, and this year was easier than last year because we already knew each other.”

“The team’s goal last season was to be successful,” Visser added. “There were a lot of people doubting the whole United thing. We wanted to just go out there and win some games and be successful.”

But this season, expectations are higher: “We want to make the playoffs again,” Visser said.

Ashby said he hopes the co-op team continues past this season.

“I think this is the greatest thing that Hackett and Christian has ever done,” he said. “We put ourselves out there every single day. Honestly, we are improving even more. This is a great opportunity to keep going with another contract.”

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 continues to freelance for MLive.com covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo United running back Jacob Buchman breaks through tacklers during a game last season. (Middle) Patrick Koning, a captain this fall, works out while spotted by teammate Isaac DeVries. (Below) Coach Jesse Brown is in his first season leading the program. (Top photo by Dan Cooke; others by Pam Shebest.)

Record-Setting Viney Gained Lifelong Confidence at Marine City

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

July 17, 2024

Olivia Viney didn’t have to look far for inspiration while taking on the challenge of applying to veterinary school.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 2015 Marine City graduate and record-setting placekicker simply drew from her own experience as a high school athlete.

“It just really taught me that I could do hard things,” Viney said. “I was very involved when I was in school. I did soccer, theater, travel soccer and then football. Especially with football, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That helped me to excel in undergrad. When it came time to get accepted to vet school, it was like, ‘This is what I have to do,’ and I did it. That was very confidence-building. It taught me that I really can do hard things.”

Viney, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 2019 and Michigan State Veterinary School in 2023, is now working as an associate veterinarian at Deporre Veterinary Hospital in West Bloomfield. 

Accomplishing her goals is nothing new to Viney, and not at all a surprise to those who watched her come through the Mariners athletic program.

“She was very serious, she was focused and she was dialed in,” said Dave Frendt, who coached Viney in both football and soccer at Marine City. “She knew what she wanted to accomplish, and she set out to do that. She was a fierce competitor and very driven. She was a good leader in that way where she was kind of feisty, but the team would follow that.”

Viney was an all-state soccer player for the Mariners, leading them to a pair of District titles and a Macomb Area Conference Gold title during her four years as a varsity player. It’s the sport she grew up playing, but the one she was most known for after graduation was football. American football.

The 5-foot-1-ish center attacking midfielder found herself in the MHSAA football record book after hitting all seven of her extra point attempts in the Mariners’ 2013 Division 4 Final victory against Grand Rapids South Christian.

“I think it makes sense,” she said. “There were lots of great soccer players, even that I played with. Great players that had gone through school, so I don’t think it’s weird that people remember me for that. When I talk with people, they’ll connect the dots – ‘Oh, you played football.’

“I was more accomplished as a soccer player and had more accolades. But I’m prouder of my football accomplishments, because it was really setting a pathway for girls that wanted to get into that. It’s so much more common now, or accepted. Even though it’s been almost 11 years since we won at Ford Field, I’m so proud of high school Olivia and what she did, the courage she had. She wasn’t scared of anything.”

Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. Viney joined Marine City’s football program as a sophomore, playing on the junior varsity squad. While she was there only to kick, she was all in when it came to practicing.

“Coach (Joe) Fregetto made me do tackling drills and drills in the mud – I really did earn my spot on the team,” Viney said. “I think it was mostly because he didn’t know what to do with me, so I guess just do everything that the guys do.”

She handled varsity kicking duties the next two years, setting the school record in 2013 for most extra points made during a single season – a record that still stands. Former Mariners coach Ron Glodich said that Viney actually never missed an extra point that season, as the four failed attempts were never even kicked.

It was her performance in the Division 4 Final that gained her statewide acclaim, as she hit 7 of 7 attempts, tying a record for most extra points made in a Finals game. It stood until a pair of kickers hit eight in 2022.

One record that never will be broken, however, is Viney becoming the first female to score a point at the Finals.

“Everything was so surreal, I was so nervous,” Viney said. “One of my most vivid memories was that day, or maybe the day before, Coach Glodich said, ‘Just so you know, when you get to the field, the goal posts are two feet narrower on each side. But that doesn’t matter if you kick it in the middle.’

“We got there and watched the team before us so we could get used to it, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so narrow.’ … Seeing myself up on the big screen was kind of almost a little embarrassing, because I knew people were talking about me being the girl. But once we were in the game, it was a lot like any other game. I was just waiting for my turn to go on the field and do my job.”

Viney later was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” – ironically, right below current U.S. Women’s National Team forward Mallory Pugh – but she wasn’t looked at any differently by her teammates, and she wouldn’t have wanted to be.

“That team was all about sacrifice for the team,” Frendt said. “For them to realize, ‘None of us can do what she does, so we better embrace it, because no one else can do it.’ They really made her feel like part of the team. They wanted to protect her, too. But she was tough. She wasn’t going to take anything.”

Viney went to SVSU to study biology and played for its club soccer team. During her time there, she volunteered at an animal shelter and made the decision she wanted to help animals in her career. She works in general practice at Deporre, and would eventually like to work in shelter medicine.

She and her husband Matt, who were married in May, live with their three dogs. She’s not far from home, and in the spring of 2023 she visited Frendt’s college and career readiness class to speak with students at her alma mater. Her presentation and the attention to detail and hard work she put into it, Frendt said, blew his students away. Not that it surprised him.

“That’s poured into her life after sports,” he said of her work ethic. “She just kept plugging away. She’s awesome.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Marine City’s Olivia Viney kicks at the 2013 11-Player Football Finals, also during her spring soccer season, and cares for one of her patients as an associate veterinarian. (Middle) Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Viney.)