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.”
Glen Lake's athletic director said the Warrior marching band is welcome back anytime.https://t.co/RPXSNueHIx
— upnorthlive.com (@upnorthlive) September 29, 2019
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.”
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)