Port Huron Scores with 'Victory Day'
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
August 14, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)
For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
March 17, 2023
Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.
Last 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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@example.com 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.)