Many Champs Have Played Waiting Game

January 12, 2021

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

A state football championship is a dream for many. Fans wait for the day that they can beam with pride as their favorite squad or school hoists the title trophy toward the sky. For coaches and kids, it’s a road to memories never to be forgotten.

Many schools still wait for that day. Others pray for a return to such glory.

Today, we look at return trips to the winner’s circle. It’s filled with fascinating facts.

Ten schools have won three or more consecutive gridiron championship since the arrival of the tournament in 1975 (when titles began being awarded annually in four classifications based on enrollment – A, B, C & D). Grand Rapids West Catholic, Farmington Hills Harrison and East Grand Rapids lead the pack with five successive titles. Muskegon Catholic Central, Detroit St. Martin dePorres and Ithaca each had streaks of four in a row, while Jackson Lumen Christi, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Detroit Catholic Central and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice each had three-peats. Michigan has seen 31 instances of back-to-back crowns in 11-player football, accomplished at least once  by 28 schools. To date, Powers North Central is the only squad to repeat since the 8-player playoffs began in 2011.

But what about the span between titles?

Patience is a Virtue

Eighteen schools have seen gaps of 10 or more years between MHSAA football championships. It’s happened twice for both Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Crystal Falls Forest Park.

St. Mary’s earned its first football title in 1977 under coach Art Paddy. Its second came 17 years later under current head coach George Porritt. The Eaglets have earned eight titles total and have appeared in 14 championship games. Seven of those titles have come under Porritt’s guidance. They went back-to-back in 1999-2000, but then had to wait 11 seasons before winning their fifth title in 2011. In between, they finished as runner-up on five occasions.

Forest Park has appeared in 13 MHSAA Football Finals over the years, including six of the first 10 Class D title games between 1975 and 1984. Led by Upper Peninsula coaching legend Richard Mettlach, the Trojans were winners of the first two Class D titles, when only 16 teams qualified for the postseason. A total of 31 seasons would pass before Forest Park would win its third football championship.  In between, multiple alterations were made to the postseason.

In 1977, the playoffs expanded to a three-week format that included 32 participating teams. The tournament grew to 64 qualifiers in 1985, then moved from awarding titles in four classes to eight (AA, A, BB, B, CC, C, DD &  D) involving 128 teams, played out over four weeks. In 1999, the postseason was again altered, to a five-week layout including 256 contenders within eight groupings of 32 teams (Division 1 through Division 8), established after the 256 qualifiers were determined.

Bill Santilli, captain and star running back of the Trojans’ 1975 championship squad, took over the program in 1996 and led the Red and Black on seven trips to the Division 8 championship game – the first in 2000, then to six straight appearances in the title game between 2004-2009. Leading 22-14, Santilli’s 2007 team ground the final 6:07 off the game clock to seal their victory over Fulton, ensuring celebration during the Trojans’ eight-hour, 500+ mile trip back to the Upper Peninsula.  

Much changed over the following decade at Forest Park. Santilli retired following the 2013 season. He finished with and impressive 171-45 win-loss mark that included 17 straight years in the MHSAA Playoffs. He went out on a high note, posting a 12-1 mark in 2013.

In 2015, following a trend of continued declining enrollments at U.P. schools, the Crystal Falls Forest Park Board of Education chose to move to 8-player football beginning with the 2016 season.

In 2017, seeing a 20-percent increase in the number of schools that chose this option for their student-athletes, the MHSAA expanded the 8-player tournament to two divisions. That fall, under head coach David Graff, the Trojans returned home with the 8-player Division 2 crown, becoming the second team in Michigan to win titles in both forms of the game

So far, Lawrence, is the only other high school to win championships in both 11-player and 8-player ball. The Tigers won their first football title in 1997 in Class DD. In 2014, 17 years later, they trounced Cedarville, 56-12, to pick up their first championship in 8-player.

The Longest Interval of All

Ishpeming fans have enjoyed seven trips to the MHSAA Finals over the years. The Hematites, nicknamed after the reddish-black iron ore that was long mined in the area, waited 33 years between their 1979 title and their 2012 championship. That’s currently the longest span between football championships in Michigan history.

Boasting a strong ground attack, Ishpeming picked up its first state crown in 1975 in an impressive manner, defeating heavily-favored Hudson in a Class C showdown hosted at Central Michigan University. Coach Mike Mileski’s squad rambled to a 24-8 lead by the end of one quarter, then cruised to a 38-22 victory. Hudson hadn’t lost a contest since the 1968 season, and the Hematites’ triumph halted the Tigers’ national win streak at 72-games

Mileski guided the Hematites to the 1978 Semifinal before departing for Marquette High School to continue his coaching and teaching career. John Croze, an assistant under Mileski, took the reins in 1979 and drove Ishpeming to its second MHSAA title – finishing with a 13-0 victory over Watervliet.

It took 31 years before Ishpeming earned another shot at a crown. The 2010 Division 7 title game was, once again, a showdown between the Hematites and Hudson. This time, Hudson – coached by Chris Luma, the Tigers’ quarterback back in 1975 – won a thriller, 28-26.

A mere two seasons later, Ishpeming was back, this time winning the first of back-to-back titles, both with victories over Detroit Loyola. Those also were the first of four straight visits to the Finals by coach Jeff Olson’s teams. In 2014, the two teams met again, this time with Loyola emerging as victor. Ishpeming won its third title in four seasons in 2015, downing Pewamo-Westphalia, 22-16.

On the coaching side, Rich Hulkow at Marshall waited 13 seasons (1996 & 2009) between championships. Schoolcraft’s Larry Ledlow (1989 & 2001) had a pause of 12 years between celebrations. The aforementioned Porritt at St. Mary’s saw a break of 11 years between title triumphs. Mike Giannone went 10 season between titles at Macomb Dakota (2007) and later Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2017). Even legends Al Fracassa at Brother Rice (1990 & 2000) and George Barcheski (1983 & 1993) at East Grand Rapids had 10-years spans of wonder during their long coaching careers. Pete Kutches won titles in 1980 and 1982 at Muskegon Catholic, then a decade passed before “The Catch” gave his Muskegon Reeths-Puffer squad the 1992 Class A championship.

Don’t Stop Believing

One school with a long streak of waiting remain in the chase during this extended 2020-21 postseason.

Traverse City High School last won a football title in 1988. Coach Jim Ooley’s Trojans finished Class A runner-up in 1975, then rattled off titles in 1978, 1985 and 1988. Named head coach in 1967, he retired following the 1991 season.

In the fall of 1997, the school split into two with the opening of Traverse City West.

Traverse City Central, as the original school is now known, is still chasing its next football championship 32 years later. The Trojans take on reigning Division 2 champion Muskegon Mona Shores in a Semifinal this Saturday.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.nejavascript:void(0);t with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ryan Van Dyke scores one of his two touchdowns in Marshall’s 14-13 win over Kingsford in the 1996 Class BB Final. (Middle) The 1976 Crystal Falls Forest Park team. (Below) The 1979 Ishpeming team. (Photos from MHSAA files; Marshall photo by Gary Shook.)  

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.com 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.)