PORT HURON – The first touchdown of the football season has already been scored at Port Huron High School’s Memorial Stadium.
In fact, nearly 60 were scored two weeks before the Big Reds are set to take the field in Week 1 against Flint Carman-Ainsworth, and it will be tough to find any that mean more this season.
Port Huron hosted its fourth annual “Victory Day” this past Friday, giving special needs students in the community a chance to experience a Friday night atmosphere in the stadium.
“You have kids from all around that have special needs and they give them one day, and to see them smile and see their faces, to me it’s priceless,” said Aaron Sigafoose, whose 6-year-old son Wesley participated. “To me, it’s priceless as a parent. It’s really cool.”
Wesley was one of a record 67 participants who pre-registered for the event. Individuals ages 5 to 26 are eligible to sign up, but Port Huron football coach Ryan Mullins said his program wouldn’t turn anyone away.
Each participant is matched with a varsity football player or cheerleader as a mentor, runs through the band onto the field after being announced as part of the starting lineup, and participates in one offensive play which ends in a touchdown.
As Wesley and his fellow participants made their way to the goal line, the junior varsity football team provided a skeleton offense around each ball carrier, and the freshman team served as the defense. An announcer boomed and the crowd roared during each run, and when a touchdown was scored, everyone celebrated like it was a game-winner.
“It was awesome,” said Port Huron sophomore Jace Mullins, Ryan Mullins' oldest son, after helping his buddy Ranger score a touchdown. “Just working with them for the hour we had with them, it was just awesome. It was a blessing. It was fun.
“I think it means a lot. … Just for him to know what it’s like to score, to reach the end zone especially in this stadium, it’s awesome.”
Victory Day was started at Trenton in 2010 by coach Aaron Segedi, a former teammate of Ryan Mullins at Saginaw Valley State University. Segedi was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, and as he battled the disease, his sister Rhonda donated 70 percent of her liver to him. Inspired by his sister’s selflessness, Segedi vowed to make his community a better place and started Victory Day. The event has spread, not only to Port Huron and other parts of Michigan, but into Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey, according to the Victory Day website. This year’s Victory Day in Trenton will be Sept. 15.
Port Huron High School counselor Tracey Hopp – Ranger’s mother – brought the idea to Mullins, who didn’t hesitate to start one at their school. That first year, Segedi came to Port Huron to help the Big Reds get the event off the ground.
“Aaron actually goes across the United States and does it,” Mullins said. “He does it at the university level, he does it at the high school level, and along the way he’s been able to get sponsorships to help with uniforms and the medal, so there’s really no cost to participate.”
While the event is meant to bring joy to special needs students in the community, Mullins said his players look forward to it just as much.
“The guys who have done it already, they’re looking to see the player they were paired up with last year,” Mullins said. “We give them a little background information about the player, and they want to know that stuff. We really try to make that connection. They’re taking them through the locker room, playing catch with them, there’s agility bags. There’s a lot of things going on just to try to make a connection and make a friend with them.”
Seeing the joy on the faces of the participants also helps the players appreciate the opportunity they have to play each week.
“Some of us play for kids like that,” Port Huron sophomore Noah Kindle said. “Just seeing them after the game, giving them a hug, things like that.”
Kindle said he’s looked forward to this part of being a varsity football player at Port Huron, and he’s excited to get to work with Wesley Sigafoose at Victory Day for the next two years. Wesley showed his appreciation immediately after scoring, turning and giving Kindle a hug after he crossed the goal line.
While the players certainly get a lot out of the event, they also know that this one time, the Memorial Stadium bleachers aren’t filled to see them, and they’re perfectly fine with that.
“This event, it’s not about us; it’s not about the Port Huron Big Reds,” Jace Mullins said. “It’s about the kids, it’s about the participants – just for them to get this experience.”
Paul 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) A Port Huron “Victory Day” participant runs toward the end zone while Port Huron players give chase Friday. (Middle) A Big Reds cheerleader carries her partner and the ball toward the goal line as defenders pursue. (Below) A participant looks back to see Port Huron teammates charging down the field with him. (Photos by Jeremiah May.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom 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 [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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)