Morenci Rallies to Support 3-Sport Standout

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

March 22, 2021

MORENCI – It would have been easy for Rodney Zimmerman to take a night off and no one would have thought twice.

But the three-sport athlete at Morenci High School in Lenawee County wouldn’t even consider it. Even while his mom was going through cancer treatments, battling COVID-19 and pneumonia, Zimmerman hit the weight room every morning, showed up for practice every afternoon and, now, has taken a step toward his dream of becoming a college athlete. 

Zimmerman committed this week to Saginaw Valley State University to run track.

“He’s just one of those kids that everyone rallies around,” said Morenci track and football coach Stefan Wilkinson. “He works really hard at everything he does. He goes all out, every time he’s on the court or field or track. He’s a very humble kid.”

Outside of his own community, few people were aware that his mother was going through cancer treatments in the fall, causing her to miss some of his games. Morenci rallied around the quiet senior.

“Everyone knew what was going on,” Zimmerman said, reluctantly. “Morenci is a small town. The parents and coaches were great to me. They would cook meals for us. That was really nice.

“Sports is a way for me to put that out of my mind,” he said. “I just go out and play the game. It is hard, but you have to do it. Football became my escape from all of that. That really helped. It wasn’t too hard to focus. Well, it was, but I just had to do it. I wanted to keep playing.”

Sports has been a part of his life since grade school. He grew up near Waldron in Hillsdale County and attended Pittsford until seventh grade when he moved schools and started going to Morenci. It was a good fit for him and the community.

His first interest was basketball, but he decided to pick up other sports as well.

“At first when I came here, I just played basketball, but I eventually picked up football and then track,” he said. “The coaches always told me it was good to play all of the other sports.”

Rodney ZimmermanHe’s a familiar face at Morenci events because he stands out in three sports. He also wears a signature headband.

Zimmerman was a running back for the Morenci football team in the fall, is a point guard for the Bulldogs basketball team as they head into next week’s Division 3 postseason, and he can’t wait to return to the track this spring. He’s a sprinter and a good one.

As a sophomore, Zimmerman finished second at the Tri-County Conference meet in both the 100 and 200 meters. At the Division 4 Finals, he placed fourth in the 100 and helped the Bulldogs 400 relay team place fourth as well. He also qualified in the 200. 

He likes how track is somewhat of an individual sport.

“I like all of the sports, but I like that in track I have total control,” he said. “The only one responsible for your performance is you. It’s all up to you.”

He missed his junior year of track due to the season being canceled because of COVID-19. 

“I was really disappointed that I missed my junior season because that’s a big season for recruitment,” he said. “I was thinking we were going to still have a season. I was working out and getting ready, then it was canceled. I was still lifting and trying to stay ready.”

He has goals for this season.

“I want to go to state again, and I want to be in the top three in my events,” he said.

He committed to Saginaw Valley State, a Division II college, after visiting the campus and finding out the Cardinals were able to give some scholarship money.

“They made the best offer,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go to college. That’s been my plan. I want to do something in business, maybe own my own gym.”

College is still a while away. Right now, there is the District tournament looming for Morenci, then track season. His mother had a scan recently to find out where she stands with cancer.

For now, he’s happy to have her in the stands, watching him compete. The community continues to rally around him. His teammates do, too. During football season, Zimmerman and other players wore green on their shoes or wrist – a lime green ribbon promotes Lymphoma cancer awareness.

“It’s nice to have her watching again,” he said. “She missed some football games. She just had a pet scan last week to see if it is all gone. We are hoping for the best.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Morenci's Rodney Zimmerman sprints toward the finish of a preliminary race during the 2019 Track & Field Finals. (Middle) Zimmeran was named this winter's Homecoming king. (Top photo by; middle photo submitted.)

St. Clair County Celebrates 1st Mr. Basketball Winner, PHN's Jamison

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 29, 2023

The Jamison family has spent plenty of time over the years driving long distances as Tyler chased his basketball dreams.

Bay & ThumbAfter the Port Huron Northern senior achieved one of the biggest ones, they had to put some more mileage on the family vehicle.

As the newly-crowned Mr. Basketball, Jamison was invited to a special presentation during the Boys Basketball Finals this past Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. It was an invitation Tyler and his family didn’t hesitate to accept, and the drive from Port Huron to East Lansing was nothing.

But it did cause a pretty big change to some other travel plans.

Tyler and his family were scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for spring break. That flight had to be canceled, though, and instead, the family made the drive down later.

“There were some jokes about just leaving me and letting me find my own way down there,” Jamison said.

While they joke, there’s nowhere the Jamisons would have rather been Saturday than at the Breslin. As a true basketball family – Tyler’s dad Brian is also the coach at Northern, and his brother Alex was a standout freshman for the Huskies – they have a great appreciation for the Mr. Basketball Award and its significance.

“I had said a while ago, ‘Hey, if we’re still in the tournament, we’ll be playing Friday,” Brian Jamison said. “I even mentioned that it would be a miracle, but Tyler could win Mr. Basketball. Now we’re eating plane tickets and driving down to Florida. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’re not missing this.”

Jamison was the overwhelming winner of the award, which is named after Hal Schram and given out by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. He received 3,058 points in the vote to become its 43rd winner. Curtis Williams of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (2,004 points), Kaden Brown of Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1,918), Sonny Wilson of Detroit U-D Jesuit (1,883) and Ryan Hurst of North Farmington (1,811) were the other finalists.

“It was just insane,” Tyler Jamison said. “I can’t even really put into words how I felt – it was just a dream come true, a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years. My mom was in the other room (when his dad called to tell him), and I just hugged her and we were kind of screaming. The dog was getting riled up. It was fun. There were a few tears shed.”

Jamison throws down a dunk.Jamison, who signed with Fairleigh Dickinson in December, finished the season averaging 26.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He was named the Macomb Area Conference White division MVP after leading Northern to the league title and a 20-4 overall record.

Even with all that, winning the most prestigious individual basketball award in the state didn’t seem like a reality.

“We purposely try to play a tough schedule, and we purposely got into some showcases because we wanted people to see, not only him play, but us play,” Brian Jamison said. “We had beaten Skyline and Hamtramck, and went up to Croswell-Lexington and won up there, and I thought, ‘OK, now he’s done it against some of the better teams.’ Up to that point, when we played those tougher teams, he’s always showed out well, but it’s different when you’re not winning them. But at that point, I thought he had a chance. Really, I was just hoping he would get on the list. To win it was kind of above and beyond what I had hoped for.”

On the court, Tyler’s impact on the program was pretty obvious and immediate.

He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he set as a junior – with 1,763 career points. He also holds Northern records for career rebounds (825), points in a game (59), rebounds in a game (28), career field goals made (638) and career free throws made (439). As a junior, he was named MAC Blue MVP.

Northern did not lose a league game in either of the past two seasons.

But Northern is likely to see future success because of Tyler’s non-statistical impact.

Leading a young team, including a group of star freshmen – his brother Alex, Cam Harju and Amir Morelan – was a major part of Tyler’s job this season.

Northern’s home games were must-see events this winter, as the Huskies were one of Division 1’s top teams, and Tyler was providing nightly highlights and must-see performances. Even in his final game, a loss against Macomb Dakota in the District Final, Jamison treated the standing-room crowd with a 46-point performance and a halfcourt shot at the third-quarter buzzer in a valiant effort.

“That’s the big thing, you want the students and the school community to support you, and they did an amazing job,” Tyler Jamison said. “We also had people from the community that wanted to support us and watch us play. Port Huron High had a really good season, too, and I think both schools in the city had that public support. That’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re playing for more than yourself.”

Among those crowds were the next generation of Huskies, some of whom were coached by Tyler in youth basketball. As he’s the first Mr. Basketball winner from St. Clair County, those kids now have a hometown example of someone who has reached the highest heights.

“I think interest gets sparked when the little kids come to the gym, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” Brian Jamison said. “They want to play for Northern or (Port Huron) High. And with him winning Mr. Basketball, I think it gives kids a little bit of ‘Hey, why not me?’ I do think it helps motivate younger people. We’ve had great crowds at our games. I think the area is excited about basketball. It really is a great basketball area.”

With all of that excitement surrounding him, Tyler had one more challenge after the season – keeping the secret that he had won. He found out six days before the award was announced.

“It was terrible – especially when it’s something of that magnitude,” he said. “You want to tell everyone. You want to tell your friends and family. It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t know.’”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Tyler Jamison, second from left, with his parents and brother, stands with his newly-received Mr. Basketball Award trophy during the ceremony at the Detroit Free Press. (Middle) Jamison throws down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Jamison family.)