BEVERLY HILLS – Entering high school, Steve Mann faced high expectations.
His mother and father both experienced much success as student-athletes at Detroit Country Day, and his sister, Brittany, was one of the top track athletes to compete at and graduate from the school.
But while it's still too early to tell, Steve might end up the best of the Mann bunch.
Steve, 18, has played varsity football and baseball for four seasons each at Country Day, earning all-state honors in football this past fall and baseball as a junior. Also an outstanding student, he has signed to continue his academic and baseball careers at Duke University, where he’ll end up unless he’s drafted by a Major League Baseball team this summer and offered a deal he can’t refuse – it’s possible he’ll be taken during the first five rounds.
Country Day varsity baseball coach Steve Lepkowski – a 1993 graduate of the school and former football assistant as well before taking over the baseball program in 2015 – said he’s never coached an athlete like Mann.
“Steve is going to be successful at whatever he does,” Lepkowski said. “He’s a four-year captain here. That’s as unique as you can get. We vote for that. And every year we re-vote, and (each) time we re-voted him in.”
Last season, Mann hit .396 with 25 RBI, 24 stolen bases and 27 walks. Through seven games this season, he’s hitting .536 with three home runs, 18 RBI, nine stolen bases and nine walks. He also is 3-0 pitching with a 1.65 ERA.
In football, Mann played defensive back, quarterback and receiver. He’s 6-foot tall, and his weight has fluctuated depending on what sport he is playing. For football, his playing weight was 195 pounds. For baseball he’s up to 210. Mann is a centerfielder who, out of necessity, also pitches for Country Day. He’s expected to be an outfielder at the next level.
With his Duke signing in November, Mann left a football future behind. But he has known for a while where he wanted to be next. Scholarship offers from a more prestigious baseball conference, the Southeastern Conference, fed Mann’s appetite. But he had his sights set on Duke (which plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference) early on, so when the scholarship offer came, that was the end of his recruiting process.
“The scouts ask me, why Duke? Why not the SEC?" Lepkowski said. "Well, I said, Steve cares about academics. Duke has been number one with him all along. As a sophomore, I asked him, where do you want to go? It was Duke. So I talked with Duke. I know of the coaches there. And I told them I have a player here that wants to go to your school, and they asked who. I told them Steve Mann. They said, Steve Mann? He wants to come here? That was it. I call him the Shane Battier of baseball.”
If an explanation is needed, Battier helped lead Duke to an NCAA basketball championship after being at the forefront of Country Day’s Class B titles in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Battier was named Mr. Basketball by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan as a senior, and Mann is a leading candidate for the Mr. Baseball Award this spring.
Like Battier, Mann also is an outstanding student. He carries a 3.94 grade-point average, taking classes including honors English and advanced placement mathematics and Spanish.
And as for mentors, Mann has to look no further than his living room couch. His father, Steve, also played football, basketball and ran track at Country Day. He caught the winning touchdown pass in the 1986 Class C title game against Muskegon Catholic Central (Final score: 18-14). He went on to play football at University of Wyoming.
His mother, Kira (Lewis), played basketball, lacrosse and volleyball at Country Day before continuing her education at Penn.
Then there’s his sister, Brittany. A 2012 Country Day graduate, Brittany was the Lower Peninsula Division 2 discus and shot put champion as a junior and senior. Country Day won the team title her junior season. Brittany went on to compete at Oregon before graduating last year. She’s enrolled at Southern California and in pursuit of her master’s in communications.
At Oregon, Brittany set the school record in the shot put (57 feet, 4¾ inches) and helped lead her school to its first NCAA team title (2015) in 30 years. She was a four-time All-American.
“I had some big shoes to fill when I came here,” Steve Mann said of Country Day. “Since high school started, even in eighth grade, I knew baseball was going to be it. Before eighth grade I focused on being an athlete. With Brittany coming through Country Day, it was easy to see what I needed to do (to be successful). It was kind of like a competition. I want to be like you, but I want to be better.”
Individually, Mann and his sister are pretty much on par. But there’s that elusive team title he has yet to help win, though he has come close.
County Day lost in the Division 4 Football Final this past November, and last spring the Yellowjackets reached the Division 2 Quarterfinals in baseball before they were eliminated by Dearborn Divine Child, 4-3.
Mann has one more shot.
“I tell myself, I have to win a state championship,” he said. “We’re good enough to win it.”
Mann has always been around sports, even when he was too young to realize it. The year he was born was the year his father became an assistant football coach at Country Day. Whether he was the water boy, ball boy or just tagging along, Steve grew up watching sports.
“I was always with my dad,” he said. “When I was 5, 6 years old, just being out there was great. My dad has taken me through this journey. It was a step-by-step process.
“Another big factor for me was Brittany going on her recruiting visits.”
When he was in the eighth grade, Steve Mann had the opportunity to meet Olympian Devin Allen through his sister. In 2016, Allen became the first man since 1956 to win the 110-meter hurdles at both the NCAA Outdoor Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials. Allen also played receiver on Oregon’s football team.
“I was star-struck,” Mann said. “He was so humble. How could you not want that for yourself?”
Mann is unassuming. Bragging is not a trait his household condones. Great athletes don’t have to tell you how good they are. Their actions do the talking.
His parents deserve much of the credit for this. A part of Mann’s training was to compete against athletes two and three years older to see, for one, how they train and, two, to see how much Mann needed to improve athletically to become like them.
“There were a lot of expectations,” his father said. “He is very self-driven, to live up to both the Mann name at Country Day and to create his own path. I’ve tried to teach him what it’s like to play at the next level.”
As an example, Steve Mann had his son train in the baseball offseason with Major League players who were home away from the game. This experience was not so much about throwing or hitting a baseball. It was about being around those who made it to see how they trained, what foods they ate and the like.
“I did a similar thing with him when he was in middle school,” Mann said of his son. “I’d have him train with the guys in high school, like a Jonas Gray (currently an NFL free agent) and a Bennie Fowler (Denver Broncos). I do that with my younger son, too.”
The Manns' third child is Brandon, who is 13 years old and about to complete the seventh grade. And, yes, Brandon Mann also plays baseball and football, and, yes, his is quite good at both.
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Steve Mann starred as a multi-position football player during the fall and also pitches and plays outfield during baseball season. (Middle) Mann, here at the plate, could be drafted during the top five rounds in June. (Below) Mann prepares to unload a pass last fall. (Baseball photos by D’Andrea Parnell. Football photos by Scott Bertschy.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
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 [email protected] 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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)