Students Make Championship Calls

By John Johnson
MHSAA Communications Director emeritus

December 16, 2013

It’s a great thrill each Thanksgiving weekend for those schools that make the trip to the Finals of the MHSAA Football Playoffs at Ford Field. 

For the players, they get to occupy the same space as some of their professional favorites did just hours earlier… names like Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford … Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver.

Buck, Aikman and Oliver?!!?!?

Joining the 16 schools playing the games this year were about 70 students from five other schools getting the experience of a lifetime on their own Ford Field trip as they got insights into the world of professional sports broadcasting.

The newly-founded Student Broadcast Foundation and the MHSAA partnered to provide the same kind of access the media covering the Finals get – and then some. Students visited various parts of Ford Field, including touring the Game Creek Video FX remote television facilities – the same production unit used for the Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers contest on Thanksgiving Day, which will also originate FOX Sports’ Super Bowl XLVIII coverage at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in February.

Some of the students were able to meet with media in attendance at the Finals to have their pictures taken and ask questions about careers in sports broadcasting and journalism.

Students, faculty advisors and parent-chaperones from the following schools took part in the experience: Cedar Springs, Davison, Detroit U- D Jesuit, Hillman, Warren DeLaSalle, Birmingham Brother Rice, Montrose and Detroit Catholic Central. Cedar Springs had the largest contingent with 28 students, with a parent covering the travel expenses for the group. Its experience is recapped in this embedded video.

"The whole experience at Ford Field was tremendous for our CSTV students,” said Justin Harnden, a teacher from Cedar Springs. “They were welcomed by the Student Broadcast Foundation, MHSAA, and Ford Field with open arms. Every student that attended had nothing but great things to say about everything. Seeing first-hand what it takes to put on such a big event will truly be beneficial to us as we all go forward in making our program better.”

Hillman had the second largest group with 17 students out of a student body of 151 from this school in Montmorency County, about 35 miles west of Alpena. “Absolutely outstanding job by your kids. You all made the best of your opportunity. Way to go! Your program just woke up a lot of people,” Hillman school board president Brad McLaren said in a text after the event to instructor Erin Brege.

Other videos were produced by students from Davison, Hillman and Montrose, and links to their productions are shown below. You can check out photos from the activities by visiting the Student Broadcasting Foundation’s Facebook page. Also, click to see videos shot by Davison and Montrose that now appear at MHSAA.TV.

“In the many years that Tom Skinner, Ken Kolb and I have been involved with broadcasting high school sports on radio and cable TV, this year’s Football Finals weekend was the most inspiring, satisfying, fun weekend working with these talented students and their dedicated instructors,” said Thom Lengyel, one of the founders of the Student Broadcast Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

Students from the participating schools also took part in calling the action of the eight championship games on the website, where an average of 250 people clicked in per contest. Calling the games were:

  • Cedar Springs - Kyle Maka, Kody Hall, Alex Hughes (Division 1)
  • Davison - Shawn Bednard, Chris Jared, Brandon Snyder (Division 7)
  • Detroit U-D Jesuit - Jack Sznewjas, Chris Houle (Division 8)
  • Hillman – Mike Klein, Kyle McLaren, Noah Allen, Bubba Banks (Division 4)
  • Warren DeLaSalle -  Brendan Johnson, Jake O'Donnell (Division 2)
  • Birmingham Brother Rice – Miles Hampton, Jeremy Otto - Mentor (Division 6)
  • Detroit Catholic Central – Joesph Trojniak, Adam Abraham - Mentor (Division 5) 

Several of the schools involved also are part of the MHSAA’s Student Broadcast Program, which produced nearly 1,000 events during the fall sports season for the MHSAA.TV Website.

Read more about Hillman's experience here in reports from the Alpena News and WBKB-TV. And read on for a report on Cedar Springs' experience by student reporter Kendra Coons. 

C.S.T.V. Production Program “Hits it out of the park” at Ford Field


It’s a word that many people don’t deal with well. In this case, it was for the better at Cedar Springs High School.

 In 2012, drama teacher, Justin Harnden took over the television program at CSHS. The second he took it over many changes were made to the C.S.T.V. program. The program bought brand new cameras, computers, TVs, and much more. He started working on getting his students to film sporting events, work on Public Service Announcements, capture the latest news in the school; and for the biggest change, start announcing play-by-play.  

“We are here to put out more than just news for our school and community. We are doing sports, award shows, graduation, Red Flannel things, and much more. We are destined for great things,” expressed Harnden.

With one year under his belt, Harnden started to submit C.S.T.V.’s work to the MHSAA. After the fall season of 2013, Thom Lengyel and Ken Kolb, who are a part of the Student Broadcast Foundation, heard C.S.T.V. production students Kyle Maka and Kody Hall perform play-by-play for one of Cedar Springs’ football games. After listening to the both of them, Lengyel contacted Harnden and offered for Maka, Hall, and the rest of the class to come down to Ford Field. Lengyel explained to Harnden that the trip to Ford Field would give the class a chance to receive a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during a broadcast and give Maka and Hall a chance to call the Division 1 championship high school football game.

On Saturday, Nov. 30 the C.S.T.V. Production program traveled out of their little town of Cedar Springs, Michigan, to face the big town of Detroit, Michigan. The day started out with the students boarding the bus at 8:15 am for a three-hour drive to the east side of the state. Once the students stepped off the bus they received their press passes. This gave them full access to walk out onto the field and sit in press row. Once the class arrived at Ford Field, they traveled up to the seventh floor to meet Lengyel. Lengyel then introduced the class to Kolb, showed them where Fox Sports does all of their announcing, and showed them where press row was located. After all of that was done, it was time for Maka and Hall to announce play-by-play for the Division 1 championship. Another member of C.S.T.V. also received a chance to announce play-by-play for the game, Alex Hughes.

Coming from a town with an estimated 3,500 people, the three boys were not used to a big stage. A lot of the community would annually attend our high school football games, but nothing to the caliber of what the three boys were about to announce.

“Doing the play-by-play was just amazing. I felt on top of the world. It was the best experience of my life,” commented Maka.

“It was honestly a feeling that I've never felt before ... It almost didn't seem real at first, but once I opened up (to) the environment I had an amazing time,” stated Hughes.

While the three boys were announcing play-by-play, the rest of the class received the opportunity to walk onto the field and sit in press row. After the game the students received the chance to walk through the Fox Sports trailers. These trailers are where all of the action happens. Being able to walk through these trailers was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the C.S.T.V program.

“I thought looking around the Fox Sports Detroit mobile studio was eye opening. Seeing two of the three trucks that will handle all the production aspects of the Super Bowl was really great. We were able to see all that goes on in that setting, and we were amazed by it,” explains Harnden.

“Getting to tour Fox Sports was crazy because normally the behind the scenes work isn't seen at all, so that opportunity was perfect for the class,” said Hall.

After the students toured the buses, they all headed back up to the seventh floor to grab their things, say their goodbyes, and thank Lengyel and Kolb for the opportunity. Right before the class got ready to leave Lengyel had a few words to say to the class. He told the class how well they were behaved and how well the three boys did at calling the game.

“Getting those compliments from someone who has been in the business for so long was quite overwhelming, especially for myself not knowing much about football and (it) being the first time doing commentary,” said Hughes.

“(I had) a sense of joy and pride. I was so glad that somebody of his job caliber enjoyed how we did,” added Hall.

“When Thom gave us those compliments, I just could not stop smiling. When Thom said that we were just as good on our fourth game as those who have been calling games for four years, (it) just made me believe that this is something I can really do for the rest of my life. I hope that dream comes true,” commented Maka.

Not only did Lengyel and the rest of the class believe they did a great job, Maka, Hughes, and Hall’s teacher also believed they did exceptionally.

“I thought Kyle, Kody, and Alex did a great job. This was only the fourth game that they have called and they went above and beyond our expectations. Everyone involved with the production was impressed with what they did,” stated Harnden.

The students were able to take away many things from traveling to Ford Field. Going behind the scenes of Fox Sports is something not many people get a chance to say that they did. The class and Harden believe it was very beneficial to be able to participate in an experience like this.

“The students were exposed to a lot of aspects within media production. From press row, to the Fox Sports Detroit mobile studio, calling the game on the radio, and being allowed to see every aspect of a big stadium production really was eye opening,” explained Harnden.

The experience of traveling to Ford Field was definitely an experience that none of the class members will ever forget. Not only did they have a blast, but they learned a ton too.

“I definitely think that the trip benefited the class because we (were all able) to see things about professional broadcasting that most people can't. (Also) we (were able) to learn what it takes to make a professional broadcast,” says Maka.

The day after the program traveled to Ford Field, Lengyel emailed Harnden about C.S.T.V. Production and his view on their performance.

“... During the broadcast I knew that they were doing a good job,” expressed Thom. “So I wanted to listen to their broadcast when I got home. I could not put the mp3 player down. I did not pause it until halftime. For their fifth broadcast, listening to their preparation come out in the broadcast, changed my opinion to: THEY HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK.”

Lengyel has been in the business for many years. Having a compliment like that from a man with so much experience really hit home for the C.S.T.V. Production program.

If you would like to see what C.S.T.V. is all about, like us on Facebook, “CSTV”, follow us on Twitter “@CedarSpringsTV”, visit our website, “” and make sure to watch our newscasts and listen for our play-by-play on MHSAA.TV.

C.S.T.V. Production truly wants to thank the Student Broadcast Foundation for the opportunity it was given. And a special thanks to Lengyel and Kolb for selecting C.S.T.V. and helping with advancing the program to the next level.

Hughes stated, “I can't thank the Student Broadcast Foundation and the MHSAA enough for letting our class have the opportunity to go to Ford Field and experience everything that we did. I would also like to thank our teacher Justin Harnden for turning around our TV Pro program. … Lastly, I would like to thank our class for always being there for one another and making this year memorable.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Two students call a game during the MHSAA Football Finals. (Below) Some of the students who visited Ford Field pose during a championship game. (Photos courtesy of the School Broadcast Foundation.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)