'Wakers' Continue Marching Together

November 5, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

First the local media picked it up, which made sense – it was a great story, and easy to appreciate whether you’ve heard of Maple City or could find Fife Lake on the map.

In what was still perhaps surprising but a logical next step, The Associated Press and then Detroit Free Press and MLive took the story statewide. But then CNN and NPR told the rest of the U.S. – which was followed by interest from The Kelly Clarkson Show and a Skype interview with one of Ellen DeGeneres’ representatives.

There is no way Maple City Glen Lake athletic director Mark Mattson could’ve foreseen any of that publicity as he prepped for his football team’s home game Sept. 27. All he knew was that his high school didn’t have a marching band, and Fife Lake Forest Area – at least this season – didn’t have a varsity football team.

If you pay attention to high school sports in general or statewide news casually, you’ve probably heard some of the rest of this story. Mattson invited Forest Area director Brandon Deike and his band to play at Glen Lake’s game that night against Gladstone. A week later, after their story had been told all over the country, the schools combined for a “Marching for Ellen” spirit video hoping to land on the show.

Things have quieted back down substantially for the two small northern Lower Peninsula communities. But their march together continues.

“We don’t want it to end,” Mattson said. “Sometimes you see these initiatives begin, and it’s really cool, and they fizzle out. We want to work with our kids and their kids and Brandon over there to make cool things happen as we support each other – and at the end of the day to make his program grow and make our program grow over here.”

A little background: Forest Area’s high school and Glen Lake’s are 45 miles away, or about an hour’s drive whether traveling through or around Traverse City. Glen Lake has nearly 250 students in its high school, and Forest Area has about 175.

Glen Lake’s football team is 9-1 and hosts Harrison on Friday in a Division 6 District Final. Forest Area started this fall playing 8-player football, and won its first game against Brethren 64-44. But the Warriors had started with a small roster that got smaller as the season got going – and by Week 3 didn’t have enough players to finish the season, so they canceled the rest of their games.

Meanwhile, Forest Area’s band has rebuilt mightily since the school’s music program was cut in 2011 – while Glen Lake’s band began this school year with one high schooler playing with a 10-member middle school group. In fact, Mattson asked his school’s football players and cheerleaders the last time they were at a home game where there was a band – and they couldn’t remember one.

So the Sept. 27 game happens, and all of the feel-good fanfare that came with it. With a few weeks, the statewide and national attention slowed way down – but the relationship between the schools was just beginning to grow.

A week later after the Gladstone game, Glen Lake hosted Elk Rapids on the night that was supposed to be Forest Area Homecoming – so during that school day, a group of Glen Lake football players and cheerleaders went over for Forest Area’s pep assembly, at first to be part of the “Marching for Ellen” video but then sticking around to take part in the Warriors’ festivities.

Then on a Monday night, Oct. 14, Mattson took a group of students to Traverse City to support Forest Area during the area’s band expo at Thirlby Field. There was some hope the schools might unite their forces again for Glen Lake’s final regular-season home game Oct. 25. But although that didn’t completely pan out, Forest Area did sent over 20 members of its band, who sat in bleachers on the track with Glen Lake’s student section, band and choir – and cheered on the now growing Glen Lake band, which included Mattson on the saxophone he’d stopped playing in sixth grade.

“One of the Forest Area kids called over from the bleachers, ‘Mr. Mattson, come here. I think we need to call our schools ‘Wakers,’” Mattson said (with the student referring to a combination of the mascot names Warriors and Lakers). “It really had gone from literally about zero to what we’ve got, and it’s a really collaborative partnership here."

“This isn’t their band director or myself making it happen. This is by and large kid driven. Our kids keep asking, ‘Are they coming for the game Friday night?’ Or their kids talk to Mr. Deike and say, ‘Can they come to our pep assembly?’ They know they’re welcome back to play with us any time.”

Mattson has recently taken over as administrator as well of Glen Lake’s fine arts department, and rebuilding the school’s band is a high priority. Glen Lake has brought in retired Traverse City West band directors Pat Brumbaugh and Flournoy Humphreys as “artists in residence” to revive the program. They’re teaching a two-day-a-week Intro to Band class, and Mattson said there are about 35 fifth and sixth-graders signed up.

Mattson also noted how the Forest Area band has opened up the perspective of his school’s football players, who have gained a real appreciation for all of the groups – cheerleaders and band especially – who join the players on the field in making for a great football night.

“What started from one simple gesture to help a school out and vice versa turned into, and I think Brandon would echo it, turned into valuable lessons for our society about teamwork and collaboration, and that kindness matters,” Mattson said. “When it’s driven by young people and really executed by our young people, how does it get better than that? They’re the next generation of leaders. To take it from simply, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool,’ to go and play at Glen Lake, to what it’s become, it’s a great lesson for all of us. That when these kids take the initiative and make it their own, special things happen – and that has happened.”

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)