Kzoo Rivals Unite to 'Crush Cancer'

September 14, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Kalamazoo football players clad in pink and teal took to Loy Norrix’s football field Friday for one of southwest Michigan’s most anticipated annual rivalry games – but also, with the help of some notable alumni, to continue to spread the word about cancer awareness.

Kalamazoo Central downed Loy Norrix 41-13 in the Cross-town Crush Cancer game, Central wearing pink jerseys symbolic of breast cancer awareness and Loy Norrix in teal signifying ovarian cancer awareness.

The jerseys were provided in large part by a donation by former Loy Norrix stars Tico and Todd “T.J.” Duckett, who served as "ambassadors" for the evening along with another past Loy Norrix star, Little John Flowers, past Kalamazoo Central football standout Duane Young and past Central baseball standout Kevan Hess. Both Duckett brothers, Flowers and Young starred at Michigan State before spending time in the NFL, Young and T.J. Duckett playing professionally for six seasons each. Hess was drafted by the Tigers out of Western Michigan University in 2009 and played three seasons in Detroit’s minor league system.

The teal jerseys had particular meaning for Tico and T.J. Duckett, as their mother Jackie Barham died after a fight with ovarian cancer.

“We chose a time such as this because of the anticipated large attendance and the potential for the greatest impact amongst our alma mater’s community members,” said the Duckett brothers in a statement leading up to the game. “Our own mother, Jackie Barham, would have celebrated more birthdays, if there was a cure for cancer. This is just one way that we can honor her memory.”

The jerseys featured the teams’ mascot names and also the Kalamazoo cityscape. Junior varsity players from both schools wore T-shirts with their dates of graduation and the cityscape as well as organizers set a theme of the entire community standing together for a common fight against cancer. The event was organized by a Kalamazoo Central parent committee headed by Terri Benton-Ollie together with administrators and other supporters representing both school communities.

Students from both schools were joined on the field at halftime by 50 cancer survivors from the community, and funds raised will be donated to the West Michigan Cancer Center

“We know that we must ‘tackle’ so many of our societal ills,” Benton-Ollie said. “Tragedy can be a disastrous one-moment incident or a phenomenon that must be reversed or a disease that lurks amongst us. Let’s create a ripple effect of continuous gestures and action that work in favor of the greater good and crush cancer.”

Click for more from Kalamazoo Public Schools.

PHOTOS: (Top) Former NFL player Duane Young speaks to the crowd during halftime of the "Crush Cancer" game. (Middle) Supporters and teams wore pink and blue signifying, respectively, breast and ovarian cancer awareness; the game's ambassadors were (from left) T.J. Duckett, Kevan Hess, Duane Young, Little John Flowers and Tico Duckett. (Photos by Walter Hall.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)