Michigan's Football Past: A Must Read

By Ron Pesch
MHSAA historian

September 27, 2016

This week, the contents of my mailbox reminded me about one of my favorite items to collect – booklets and programs celebrating the history of Michigan high school football.

Contained within was the 2016 edition of the book, “Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep Football History.” Featuring a glorious image on the cover, it’s a delight to flip through. Rob Goddard and crew are to be commended on the fantastic job they’ve done with this 104-page chronicle.

The package recalled the first in my collection – a publication I helped create.

The 25-year celebration of Muskegon Mona Shores football was a modest piece, created before the days of desktop publishing. Because I had assembled the scores of the district’s games, I approached the school and found an individual willing to take a chance. Jerry Fitzpatrick, Sailors athletic director at the time, approved the idea of a booklet celebrating the school’s Silver Football Anniversary.

With gusto, we tapped into a host of resources and dove into digging out photos and details designed to capture everything we could on the years 1962 through 1985, with room for fans to collect details on the coming season. We even included a page on cheerleaders and Homecoming Kings and Queens in hopes of broadening our market.

My second acquisition was a document on Battle Creek Central football, created by MHSAA historian Dick Kishpaugh. It totaled 42 pages in length and included most everything there was to know about the Bearcats, Kishpaugh’s alma mater.

A souvenir football program celebrating Kalamazoo Central’s history followed, also heavily influenced by the work of Kishpaugh. A 60-year history of all sports at Gaylord St. Mary soon landed in my hands, passed on to me by sportswriter and historian Jay Soderberg, editor of the publication. A history of little Grant High School football, published, I believe, in 1979, was the next to arrive.

In 1993, I partnered with baseball historian Marc Okkonen to produce “100 Years of Muskegon Big Red Football 1895-1994,” a 90-page history of our alma mater. That publication was marketed by the school’s Athletic Foundation as a fundraiser and sold well. To my delight, it seemed to spark the publication by a number of other districts of their football histories. Grand Haven and Escanaba followed a similar format and were both quick to market. Each book also celebrated a centennial of gridiron action. Other publications began to surface.

Riding a string of gridiron championships, Farmington Hills Harrison produced a 108-page program, highlighting the accomplishments from their 25-year football history, in 1994. Additional histories from Cadillac, Frankenmuth, Lowell, Negaunee, Boyne City, Niles, Sturgis and Traverse City appeared, some focused on football, others on all sports. So too did one highlighting the Centennial football game between Saginaw and Saginaw Arthur Hill, as did one a few years later celebrating the M & M game, among the nation’s oldest cross-border battles staged between Menominee and Marinette, Wisconsin.

But since then, things seem to have fallen silent. I believe a lengthy history on Grand Rapids Catholic Central made it to press, although I don’t possess a copy. I’ve seen, but have yet to acquire, a football booklet on Sparta High School football.

Do others exist? Enquiring minds want to know.

During the gap, John Hulsebus has created, and continues to maintain and enhance a dream website, Michigan-football.com, containing an exhaustive collection of scores, season win-loss marks and records versus opponents for games played since 1950. The site lists schools, past and present for every high school in the state. Like many, I reference it often. Yet, for many schools in the state, that means as many as 55 years of gridiron action remains unrecorded.

Also missing are the stories that sit behind the scores: the players, the coaches, the drama, the locals and pageantry of a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon at the stadium. In the meantime, scrapbooks containing news clippings, game programs, and photographs, once prepared for our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, gather dust or disappear.

Tell me please, we haven’t forgotten to capture those details from our past?

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 [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary's annually produces an updated history of the school's football program. (Middle) Niles and Muskegon Mona Shores are among other programs that have documented their histories in book form. (Below) The program for the 100th game between Menominee and Marinette, Wis., was a keeper as well. 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)