Undefeated Mancelona Earns League Title, Playoff Possibilities

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

October 8, 2021

Dan Derrer knows the highs and lows of coaching high school sports.

He’s been at the helm of the Mancelona football team for 16 years. During that span, the Ironmen had back-to-back undefeated seasons, a few with a handful of wins, and a winless 2017 campaign.

Now, the Ironmen are 5-0 for the first time since 2012 and facing the biggest game of their season.

Tonight they’re hosting conference rival Boyne City, also undefeated in the Northern Michigan Football League Leaders division. A win puts Mancelona in the driver seat with a trip to Charlevoix and a hosting of Glen Lake left to round out the regular season.

A potential conference title, postseason qualification and a drive toward a state championship have been on the team’s list of goals since the summer. The Ironmen are coming off a 3-5 2020 finish.

“I’ve had some really, really good teams,” Derrer said. “I’ve had some teams that weren’t as talented and didn’t win as much.

“Every season is different … you never know.”

Mancelona footballWinning and losing seasons, Derrer said the Ironmen always have given it their all.

“We’ve always taken the approach one game at a time, one practice at a time and try to get better every day,” he said. “Those years when you don’t win a lot takes a toll on the kids and the coaching staff. 

“When the kids go out and play hard and they give you all they got, that is really all you can ask for,” he continued. “It’s definitely fun when you win — even those other teams – they gave you everything they had, and that’s all you can ask for.”

The Ironmen kept unbeaten this year with a 14-8 win in their last outing over Kalkaska. Jason Naumcheff connected with Oumar Sy on the game’s final play to earn the victory.

Seniors Justin and Adam Ackler and Mason Crandall have put together a handful off multi-touchdown games this year to lead the Ironmen. Naumcheff, a junior quarterback, is throwing regularly for touchdowns. The Ackler brothers, Naumcheff and Crandall also average around double-digit tackles per game to lead the stingy defense.

The Ironmen are bolstered by retuning linemen Jake Watson, Jason Kihn, Kacy Pinney, Trace Miller, Kaleb Myszak and Justin Johnston and starting defenders Aaron Anderson and Landon McCorry.

“We were pretty excited about what we had coming back, and these guys work hard,” Derrer said.  “So far, so good.”

The Ironmen also are coming off a bye week. The break was expected to help the team get through injuries and better prepare for the big game with Boyne.

“We’ve been banged up,” Derrer acknowledged. “We’re trying to get guys healthy so hopefully we can be at full strength going into the Boyne game.”

Improved line play has helped the Ironmen this fall, Derrer points out. It has followed the addition of assistant coach Ralph Munger. He’s been focused on the trenches. Munger’s arrival follows Taylor Borst stepping in as the defensive backs and strength and conditioning coach in 2018.

Munger, one of the most successful high school football coaches in Michigan history, retired after the 2019 season with 335 victories at Rockford and Frankenmuth and three Division 1 championships with the Rams. His Rockford and Frankenmuth teams produced six undefeated regular seasons.

Mancelona footballBorst and Derrer met Munger as the 2020 season started. They hit it off right away. Munger represents another one of the highs in Derrer’s coaching career.

“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, and he’s awesome to have around,” Derrer said. “He’s been a huge help to us.

“He’s done a great job working with our lines,” Derrer continued. “It’s been unbelievable – we’re very fortunate.”

The Mancelona coaching staff chose to end a practice early in August to go to Rockford. They all attended a rededication ceremony of the Rockford football stadium. The stadium’s name was officially changed in January from the Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium to the Carlson-Munger Stadium to honor two men whose contributions exemplify "Ram Pride."

Today Munger is grateful he’s had a chance to work the Mancelona student-athletes. They’re in the midst of playoff contention and a battle for a conference championship.

They’ll enjoy hometown support too.

“Two of our last three (games) are at home, and they’re all going to be big games,” Derrer said. “All those games are going to be critical for conference and playoffs.

“We’ll have our hands full, but hopefully we’re up for the challenge.”

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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) Mancelona’s Adam Ackler (2) carries the ball during an opening-day win over LeRoy Pine River. (Middle) Ironmen coach Dan Derrer consults with quarterback Jason Naumcheff (12). (Below) Longtime Rockford coach Ralph Munger, here with Jason Kihn (54), joined the Mancelona staff this fall. (Photos by Miles Postema.)

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.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast 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. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.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.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. 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.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “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.”

Bramer agreed.

“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 SpencerTom 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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)