Northmen Stadium Opens to Excitement, 'Awe'

September 1, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

PETOSKEY – Petoskey kicked off a new era in football last Thursday with the unveiling of Northmen Stadium, a multi-use facility that will be home for football, soccer, lacrosse, band and track & field.

More than 4,000 spectators turned out on a beautiful late August night to watch Petoskey open its season against Ada Forest Hills Eastern. School officials believe it was the largest home football crowd in Petoskey history.

Even a 35-14 setback could not dampen the enthusiasm and pride displayed by those in attendance.

“To see the stadium from the road is one thing – and that excited people,” Superintendent John Scholten said. “But once they got inside and saw it first-hand, there was an awe factor. It was like, ‘Wow!’”

Northmen Stadium replaces Curtis Field, which was built in 1927 and served as the home for Petoskey football for 88 years.

“Our community is very tradition-oriented, very values-oriented,” Dan Ledingham, president of the football boosters, said. “Curtis Field means a lot to us. It’s very symbolic – the roots from where we started. Multiple generations played on that field. I know families who go three to four generations deep. But it was time.”

“It’s time” was actually the theme for the $10 million bond proposal that the electorate approved by a 64 to 36 percent vote in 2014.

“It (Curtis Field) served the community well, but it was pretty tired,” Scholten said.

In addition to the $10 million bond, the school received significant donations and coordinated efforts with other sinking fund projects.

“The whole (campus) renovation is closer to $15 million,” Scholten said.

The project includes the stadium, reconstruction of six tennis courts, a rebuilt softball field, two new soccer practice fields, and a cross country 5K trail that ties into a community walkway and includes three culvert tunnels under realigned Northmen Drive.

It’s all part of a concerted effort to bring the school’s athletic facilities – once scattered around the city – to the campus location. The school had already built a stunning new high school gymnasium and an on-site baseball field.

“When I moved up here (from Maple City Glen Lake) two of the old icons from the Glen Lake days, Denny Dame and Ivan Ford, said you’re moving to the nicest gym in the north,” Scholten said. “I’m a little biased, but I think we now have one of the nicest football facilities in the north, too.”

The stadium is the centerpiece of the latest project. The property’s topography featured a “semi-natural bowl” on the southeast side. Construction workers moved 300,000 cubic yards of dirt to build up the other side, creating a complete bowl appearance.

“The fact it sits down in a bowl makes it unique,” athletic director Dave Smith said. “There are lots of places that have nice stadiums, but they’re flat and the bleachers go up. With this, there’s not a bad seat in the house because it sits down in that bowl.”

The main entrance is near the mezzanine in the north end zone, which is where the concessions and restrooms are located. It features a plaza that overlooks the field. A tunnel runs underneath the mezzanine where the players and band enter and exit the field.

“It’s a very cool place to see a game,” football coach Kerry VanOrman said. “When the band marches through the tunnel, it’s like you’re at Michigan State or Michigan.”

Team rooms, a training room and an officials room are located off the tunnel.

A 40-foot video scoreboard anchors the south end zone. There’s also a messaging board attached to the mezzanine.

The synthetic turf is lined for football, soccer and lacrosse. The soccer team opens its home season Tuesday.

The stadium seats 2,950, but there is additional lawn seating on the hillside. Plus, based on opening night, fans seem to enjoy watching from the mezzanine.

“That elevation overlooking the field gives you the best view,” Ledingham said. “You can see everything, and you can feel the energy coming from the crowd.”

Workers scrambled to get the stadium ready for opening night. In fact, just 48 hours beforehand Ledingham wondered if it would be game ready.

“There were tractors and trucks, concrete and tiles,” he said. “Everything was everywhere. It looked like a true construction site that maybe in a month would be close (to done). I was wondering, ‘What’s Plan B?’ Kent (Cartwright, the school’s chief financial officer) said, ‘There is no Plan B. We are on this field.’ It was neat to see it all come together.”

Smith agreed.

“It was unbelievable the number of people there, from the construction crew to the subcontractors, working extra hours, late hours, that last month to make sure we could get in there and play on that (Thursday),” he said. “Two days out, I was also wondering how this is going to happen. But it did.”

The school received a temporary occupancy permit to open the stadium. Finishing touches were still being completed this week.

The opening culminates nearly 10 years of work. A bond proposal to fund separate football and soccer stadiums was rejected by voters in 2007.

“We had a nice plan,” Scholten said, “but it was just when the recession was starting. We did all the pre-work with the surveys and it looked like the confidence was there, but when the economy went south, (the vote) went south, too.”

Officials regrouped and, after the lingering recession ended, pared back the plan and took it to the voters.

“It was unfortunate timing (in 2007),” VanOrman said. “They were smart in waiting for things to pick up. They did a good job planning it, locating it and even tying it into the city walkways. It kind of includes everybody into it.”

Officials changed the location of the stadium, building it on what was two practice fields so it could utilize existing locker rooms and showers at the school. Two additional locker rooms will be added.

“We listened to the community,” Scholten said. “We were a little extravagant (in 2007) so we came back with a different plan. We worked real hard to say, ‘We listened to you, we trimmed it back, we feel we’re being responsible.’ We worked hard to build that confidence back up.”

The cross country trail will facilitate skiers as well as runners and walkers. The new eight-lane track replaces the outdated six-lane version at Curtis Field.

“We couldn’t host anything big because of that,” Scholten said.

Scholten expects the new facility will make Petoskey an attractive choice for hosting MHSAA tournaments.

Parking, an issue at Curtis Field, was addressed, too. Spectators can now use the high school and middle school lots, as well as new parking spaces near the stadium.

The improvements now leave hockey and downhill skiing as the only sports played off campus, Smith said.

“From an athletic director’s standpoint, I love how most of our facilities are now on school grounds,” he said.

He also loves the positive buzz the stadium’s generated. Ledingham called opening night “surreal.”

“It was amazing to see our community come together to enjoy it,” he said.

The unveiling attracted fans from nearby communities as well.

“The energy and support was great,” junior kicker Noah Ledingham said. “You run on to that field, see the lights, see (the crowd) and it just makes you want to play harder.

“To be the first team to play on that field is an amazing feeling because it’s a new chapter (in Petoskey football) and you know you’re making history.”

The Northmen, with just two key returnees back, struggled early, falling behind Forest Hills Eastern 28-0 before rallying to make it a game.

“I was pleased with the way we played in the second half,” VanOrman said. “It was 28-14 with 3:30 left in the game. We went for an onside kick and it blew up in our face. They recovered and ran it back to our 15 and then scored. (Eastern’s) a good football team. It was a good measuring stick for us to see where we have to get better.”

The night might also pay dividends. Forest Hills Eastern officials are talking about extending the two-year deal with Petoskey that is set to expire after the Northmen travel down there next season.

“They liked it so much they want to come back in two years,” Smith said. “I would say that’s a compliment right there.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at 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) Petoskey's stadium, at dusk, hosted Ada Forest Hills Eastern for its debut. (Middle above) The Northmen take to their new field for the first time. (Middle below) Fans packed the home stands, which are part of a "bowl" circling the playing surface. (Below) The new football field is just one part of the renovated Petoskey athletic complex. (Aerial photos by Charles Dawley/Up North Imaging. Game photos by Scott Moore.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast 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. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.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.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. 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.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “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.”

Bramer agreed.

“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 SpencerTom 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 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.)