Moment: The Final Thrill

December 16, 2020

By John Johnson
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

Over the course of nearly 34 years on this job, you often get asked what single championship game you would rank at the top of your list. You could ask that question to 100 people and get 100 answers – and guess what? They’d all be right. Such is the beauty of high school sports.

Which is why, after all these years, my game for the ages is one that has stood the test of time in my mind for over 30 years. It had everything you would want in a high school game – fantastic competition – great plays – and when it was over, some of the best sportsmanship I’ve ever seen – NO – make that THE best sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. To be on the field, you’d have a hard time telling who won and who lost by the way the players from both teams hugged and shook hands and sincerely congratulated each other. Which is how it should be after every – single – game.

And what topped it all off after that was the winning team making a trip to a pep assembly at the other team’s gym the following week to thank them for a great game, and present a banner signed by every member of the team.

That game was the 1989 Class B Football Playoff Final. The last year that four divisions were conducted in that postseason tournament. The last game played in that format.

Farmington Hills Harrison and DeWitt. The powerful, dominant Hawks and even legendary at that time coach John Herrington – and the All-America quarterback in Mill “The Thrill” Coleman; against the pride of the Ingham County League, the Panthers of DeWitt, from what was an old farming bedroom community north of Lansing transforming into a new money suburb of the Capitol City.

The Hawks, the reigning Class B champs after winning the third of their state-record 13 titles against St. Joseph the previous November, were heavy favorites. DeWitt was making its fourth Playoff appearance and moving up in class after reaching the Semifinals in 1988, only to lose to powerhouse Detroit St. Martin dePorres.

The underdogs used an efficient running attack to take a 21-14 halftime lead on Harrison. John Telford, who rushed for 153 yards in the game, had two of the scores. Harrison tied the game early in the final period on the first of two scoring runs by Coleman, this one from 19 yards out.

DeWitt then put together a grinding drive, culminated by quarterback Chris Berkimer sneaking it from one yard out. Harrison blocked the extra point and DeWitt led 27-21 with 2:20 on the clock.

That left way too much time for Coleman. He engineered a 67-yard, five-play drive to tie the game. It didn’t even take a minute off the clock.

“When they scored I looked at the clock and knew we had enough time and all three of our time outs,” Coleman told the Detroit Free Press after the game. “I kept thinking back to that drive John Elway had against the Browns a couple of years ago in the playoffs when he had to go 98 yards.”

Three straight passes to Mike Saputo, Steve Hill and Greg Piscopink got Harrison down to the DeWitt 16; and Coleman then rolled out on a Student Body Right for another seven yards.

At the DeWitt 9, Coleman dropped back for what appeared to be another pass, but the Panthers' pressure forced The Thrill to run. Coleman eluded five tacklers along the way, finally diving into the end zone to score. 

“We knew he (Coleman) was good, and we just tried to contain him,” DeWitt coach Gail Thornton told the Lansing State Journal after the game.  “But every once in a while he would get loose for a big one.”

Steve Hill kicked the extra point and Harrison was back in the lead, 28-27. Hill would then intercept Berkimer on DeWitt’s first play after the ensuing kickoff to seal the deal.

PHOTO: Farmington Hills Harrison's Mill Coleman rolls left at the start of what would be the game-winning run for his team in the 1989 Class B Football Final. (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.)