Lenawee Christian Earns 1st Title Triumph
January 16, 2021
By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON — Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Bill Wilharms liked his team’s chances going into the 8-Player Division 1 Playoffs.
When the championship game was switched from outdoors in Midland to indoors at the Legacy Center in Brighton, he liked them a whole lot more.
“We’ve got power, but speed is what we base ourselves on,” he said. “And the whole thought of basketball-on-grass when we’re on offense helps.”
The Cougars (11-0) took advantage, overwhelming Suttons Bay from the start in a 47-0 win in Saturday’s Division 1 Final.
Lenawee Christian put that speed to good use early, getting its first touchdown after a blocked punt by Jameson Chesser, and picking up its second with a 36-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ashur Bryja.
The Cougars never looked back, putting the game out of reach on the arm and legs of quarterback Landon Gallant, who threw two touchdown passes to Chesser, of 57 and 22 yards, and ran one in himself to give Lenawee Christian a 33-0 halftime lead.
Meanwhile, the Cougars’ defense was seemingly everywhere.
Suttons Bay had just 52 yards in total offense, and completed only 2 of 14 passes while getting sacked seven times.
“They closed on the ball very well,” Norsemen coach Garrett Opie said. “They’re fast, they’re athletic and they did a great job. We were trying certain mixtures in plays and feeling things out at the beginning of the game, and they did so well against many of our looks.”
The Cougars, meanwhile, piled up 400 yards in total offense, 289 of that through the air. Gallant completed 14 of 21 passes for 267 yards, while Bryja was 4-for-4 for 22 yards.
Chesser finished with four catches for 127 yards while also rushing for 52 yards. Elliott Addleman had four catches for 116 yards.
In fact, Suttons Bay’s biggest play came late in the game via its defense, when Michael Wittman picked up a fumble and returned it 37 yards before Bryja knocked him out of bounds, preventing a touchdown.
It was the first title for Lenawee Christian, which completed its first season of the 8-player format.
“it feels great,” said linebacker Brandon Scott, who led the Cougars with 10 tackles. “To do it with this team makes it a lot better. All the things we went through, all the pauses, who’d have thought we’d be finishing high school football in January? And indoors?”
“It’s tremendous for the Adrian community,” Wilharms said. “In Lenawee County, we’re pulling for Clinton next week to win it in (11-player) Division 6. We’re a brotherhood. It means a lot to us.”
Opie, an Adrian High School graduate who went to school with Wilharms' wife and sister-in-law, saw his team lose in the Division 1 Final for the second year in a row, but took the loss philosophically.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” he said of Lenawee Christian. “They had a lot of talent on their team and did a fantastic job. I’m very proud of our team for our 10-0 season. This is a very tough loss. We don’t want to go out this way, but it’s a privilege to be here, so we’ll take it with us and be very happy about it."
PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian’s Clay Ayers breaks through an opening during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Cougars’ Elliott Addleman hauls in a pass. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.
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.
Last 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)