Mendon Coach Takes Reins from Mentor
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
September 6, 2016
It wasn’t the right time for an interview because John Schwartz didn’t want to be the center of attention. Besides, he had said all he wanted to say in February when he announced his retirement.
More than anything else, just a few minutes prior to the Mendon varsity football team opening the 2016 season against Bridgman, he wanted to address his attire.
Swiftly moving through the parking lot toward his car, Schwartz looked up, made eye contact with me, and his voice boomed through a shop broom of a mustache, “I put my shirt on backwards.”
Of course he did. His routine was off after more than four decades.
Schwartz exchanged pleasantries as he stood bare-chested about 30 parking spaces from the entrance to the field named after him. He checked to make sure the tag of his T-shirt was at the back of his neck this time.
We walked back to the stadium and talked about his kids and his grandchildren, whom he adores, and for whom, along with his wife, he retired from the game he treasures. When he turned in his letter of retirement to the Mendon school board in February at the age of 66, he said it was time to make more time for them.
He then climbed the bleachers to the press box, where he plans to watch the Hornets and provide advice when requested. Of all places, most of our interaction these days is on Facebook, where he’s quick to like a family photo.
I never took John Schwartz, a man who enjoys crafting things out of wood in his spare time, for a social media fan. But I learned over the years he’s full of surprises.
For a long time, Schwartz boasted the all-time best winning percentage in Michigan prep history. At the end of the 2014 season, his record at Mendon was 269-43 for a .862 percentage. That would have been a good time to retire. He knew, however, the Hornets were in for a rough 2015 season with low numbers in terms of bodies, and, as it turned out, victories. Mendon went 5-5, making his career record 274-48 and his winning percentage .851 — second all-time behind former Schoolcraft coach Larry Ledlow (.853).
He took one for the team.
It’s Bobby Kretschman’s team now, and you’re not going to find anyone in the small town of Mendon who would disagree with Schwartz concerning Kretschman’s worthiness to continue a tradition that includes 13 MHSAA championships — 10 of which were with Schwartz at the helm.
Kretschman, a former star linebacker for the Hornets and an assistant coach with the program for 10 years, was groomed for this role. In the same week in March when his first child, Connor, was born, Kretschman officially accepted the job.
Ranking third all-time in program history with 360 career tackles, including 11.7 stops per game as a senior on the 2005 Division 8 championship team, Kretschman fully understood the significance of becoming the school’s 23rd head coach.
“I’m excited,” he said at the time. “It’s going to be fun. We’re replacing a legend here. This is why I went into coaching and teaching. I didn’t think it was actually going to be at Mendon.”
The Hornets are 1-1 this season under his watch, with a loss to an excellent Cassopolis team in Week 2. But after the Hornets topped the Bridgman Bees in Kretschman’s debut, the new ball coach sounded an awful lot like the old one.
He asked the players gathered around him in the west end zone if they wanted to win a state title this year — perhaps a reach to some after Mendon went .500 last fall. They all believe they can. So did every kid who put on the green jersey since 1989.
Schwartz would always tell you that the Mendon staff coached the kids the same from the Rocket level to varsity. The plays, the verbiage and the expectations were consistent.
And it was all underscored by a sense of responsibility.
“There’s a great sense of pride at Mendon and I’ll be damned if that’s going to be lost,” Kretschman said. “That’s why you want to put the time into things and make sure you’re putting the best product out there you can. Your name is on it and you want it to be done right.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTO: Former linebacker Bobby Kretschman takes over the Mendon program this season from longtime coach John Schwartz. (Photo by Wes Morgan.) VIDEO courtesy of JoeInsider.com.
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 email@example.com 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.)