'Sailor Salute' Honors Those Who Serve

September 5, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

It’s hard to believe a game with the magnitude of Zeeland West at Muskegon Mona Shores could be anti-climactic.

But that was certainly the case on a special night Thursday at Sailor Stadium in Muskegon, where the real story unfolded before the opening kickoff.

The “Sailor Salute” was a massive tribute to all of those who serve their country and their community, combining the magic of a high school football game with military responder vehicles, a U.S. Army Lakota Helicopter, 300 motorcycles, 1,500 students and community members decked out in red, white and blue singing “God Bless America” and the national anthem on the field and then two flyovers by the Hooligan Formation Flying Flight Team.

And that was all before the game began.

“We have done a military appreciation night for quite a few years now, but this year we decided to try and step it up a little bit,” said Mona Shores athletic director Ryan Portenga, explaining a pre-game event which drew national television exposure. “These people that serve our country and our communities deserve it. So we just kept bringing in more groups and ended up with huge, patriotic community event.”

The pre-game festivities went off pretty much without a hitch, helped by sunny skies and ideal temperatures in the low 70s.

The football game capped off a day where Mona Shores also hosted volleyball, soccer and tennis competitions. School officials opened the gates to the stadium at 5 p.m. to allow time for fans to walk around the north side of the track and explore and get pictures with 10 different military and emergency responder vehicles.

Around 6:30 p.m., an estimated 300 riders from different motorcycle groups who support military veterans roared into the stadium and filled the south side of the track. At 6:50 p.m., the community choir joined the marching band on the field for two emotional songs, timing things perfectly as the four military planes flew by in their precise formation, white smoke trailing them, just as the giant choir sang “home of the brave” with a booming crescendo.

Having to compete against a pre-game show to end all pre-game shows, the game itself certainly held up its end of the bargain – continuing the excitement for more than 4,000 fans in a classic matchup of the wing-T system and precision execution of Zeeland West against the speed and athletic ability of Mona Shores.

Zeeland West put on a power blocking and running clinic and jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead. Mona Shores fought back valiantly in the second half, sparked by a 95-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tristan Robbins to junior wideout Keyshawn Summerville late in the third quarter, then taking its first lead, 28-24, on a 14-yard run by bruising running back Marcus Collins on its next possession.

But that’s when the Dux did what they do best, churning out a 16-play, 73-yard drive – using up more than 7 minutes off the clock – before senior Drake Fincannon scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 1:50 remaining.

Perhaps inspired by the pre-game festivities, the Sailors did not quit. Shores marched down to the 10-yard line, and Summerville made an amazing one-handed catch in the back of the end zone on fourth down, but was unable to get a foot down in-bounds.

“Tonight was a terrific game from both teams,” said veteran Zeeland West coach John Shillito. “We’re happy to be part of something so good. I compliment Mona Shores for doing it in such a classy way where it didn’t interfere with the football game at all.”

In terms of an early-season, nonconference matchup, high school games don’t get much bigger.

Zeeland West is the defending Division 4 champion, with that latest title its third in the past five years and fourth overall since its first year of football in 2005 – all under Shillito, who previously took Muskegon Orchard View (1995 and 1999) and East Kentwood (2002) to MHSAA championship games.

Mona Shores, meanwhile, is emerging as a new football force after years of struggle. The Sailors made the playoffs for the first time in school history in 2013, then followed that up with a run to Ford Field and a Division 2 runner-up finish in 2014. Shores registered its first 9-0 regular season last year, before falling to rival Muskegon, the winningest program in state history, in the District Finals.

Shores graduated 21 of 22 starters off its 2015 team, but has proven in a big opening win over Holland West Ottawa and its hard-fought loss to Zeeland West that it’s a program that isn’t going anywhere. The tough schedule continues this week with a trip to Rockford before Ottawa-Kent Conference Black play begins.

The victory moves Zeeland West to 2-0, after winning a grueling defensive battle, 14-9, over visiting Cedar Springs in Week 1. The Dux, who compete in the O-K Green, play another blockbuster nonconference game this week at defending Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic in not only a battle of unbeatens, but also defending title winners.

But no matter what happens the rest of the way, it’s unlikely that either team or its fans will be part of another event quite like the Sailor Salute.

“It was an awesome community atmosphere, and on top of that, a great football game,” Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak said afterward. “If you love high school football and the United States of America, this was the place to be.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Mona Shores logo on the field was painted red, white and blue as part of the Sailor Salute tribute to those who serve the country and the community Sept. 1 at Mona Shores High School. (Middle above) More than 300 motorcycle riders who support veterans roared into Sailor Stadium shortly before kickoff as part of the Sailor Salute. (Middle below) A giant choir of 1,500 students and community members from both Mona Shores and Zeeland West sing “God Bless America” and the national anthem as part of the tribute. (Below) The Hooligan Formation Flying Flight Team flies high over Sailor Stadium at the conclusion of the national anthem. (Photos courtesy of Mona Shores High School.)

MHSAA, MHSFCA to Provide Spring Evaluation Camps for College Football Hopefuls

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 27, 2023

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, in partnership with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA), will be hosting first-ever Spring Evaluation Camps to provide athletes with aspirations of playing college football opportunities to show their skills and abilities to college coaches at one of five locations.

The one-day camps will take place between May 15-18 at Jenison High School, DeWitt High School, Jackson High School, Brighton High School and Detroit Country Day High School. The MHSAA’s involvement will allow for the opportunity for Division I college coaches to attend, and representatives from college football programs at all levels are expected.

Athletes who will be juniors or seniors in Fall 2023 may register to participate via a link on the Football page.

“This is an attempt by the MHSAA to help our athletes get exposure during the spring evaluation period in a way that does not intrude on spring sports,” said Brad Bush, an MHSAA assistant director and past high school and college football coach. “We are working with the MHSFCA to help put together a first-class experience for the athletes and college coaches.”

Cost is $20 per player, and each registrant will receive a shirt to wear based on the athlete’s graduation year and registration number so college coaches in attendance can monitor their camp performance. College coaches also will receive registration information for each athlete in attendance.

All athletes must have a coach from the athlete’s school staff present at the camp, and that coach must be a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

MHSFCA executive director Andrew Pratley called the Spring Evaluation Camps a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes in Michigan.

“We are very excited with the partnership with the MHSAA that allows our kids the opportunity to wear a helmet and do drills in front of college coaches in the spring at a minimal cost,” Pratley said. “College coaches are thrilled, and it's a unique opportunity to have the rules waived by the MHSAA at these events only in order to showcase the tremendous talent all over the great state of Michigan.”

The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) has been devoted to the promotion of high school football since its inception in March 1972. The MHSFCA has more than 2,500 members and provides several educational and development opportunities for members and their athletes, including an annual coaching clinic, an annual leadership conference for coaches and potential team captains, and the annual summer East-West All-Star Game for graduated seniors. Additionally, the MHSFCA’s Leadership Development Alliance is in its third year of training coaches and offering veteran members of the association as mentors.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.