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 [email protected] 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.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)