Whiteford's Mensing Bringing Successful System to Westland John Glenn

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

April 26, 2022

Jason Mensing insists that when he showed up at Ottawa Lake Whiteford a decade ago he had thoughts of a state championship on his mind.

It seemed a tall task. The Bobcats had enjoyed pockets of success throughout school history but had just won just five playoff games and one conference football championship over the previous 45 years. 

Still, the Tecumseh native and former Adrian College football player was determined.

“We believed if we could imprint our system and develop a strength program and teach the fundamentals and continue to grow, we’d have success,” Mensing said. 

The formula was magic. Whiteford went 8-2 that first season under Mensing and tied a school record with nine wins in Year 2. By 2015, the Bobcats were in the MHSAA Semifinals for the first time. In 2016, Whiteford played at Ford Field for the first time. In 2017, Whiteford won a Division 8 championship. The Bobcats were a combined 93-24 during his decade running the program, including 11-2 this past fall.

“The reality is we do believe in our system,” Mensing said.

After 10 years, Mensing announced this week that he would be taking his system elsewhere. He will become the next head football coach at Westland John Glenn, a Class A school west of Detroit. The Rockets haven’t had much success in recent years, but school officials are excited to have Mensing on board.

“I’m excited to see what Jason can bring to our school and our program,” said John Glenn Principal Eric McCalla. “He is a culture builder. That’s one of the things we need here.”

McCalla is very familiar with Mensing. McCalla coached football for 16 years at Grass Lake and Manchester. At Grass Lake, McCalla’s team scrimmaged against Mensing’s for several years.

“It was definitely a great hire for us,” McCalla said. “We needed a different direction, and we feel confident that he is the right person for the job.”

Mensing, who will step down as athletic director and director of student advancement at Whiteford at the end of the school year, planned on meeting the John Glenn football players and parents this week. He will start immediately to build a coaching staff and relationships. 

“They’ve struggled the last couple of years, but there is a solid history there,” Mensing said. “The first thing is I want is to bring stability and consistency to the program. They’ve had three football coaches in four years. We have to create an atmosphere where playing football is fun, create a culture where kids are excited about being part of the program.”

John Glenn has known football success. During the 1990s, John Glenn made several deep runs in the playoffs, reaching the Finals in 1993 and the Semifinals two more times. 

The Rockets open the season Aug. 25 against Hartland in a nonleague game and play a challenging schedule in the always-tough Kensington Lakes Activities Association. They finished 2-7 last season and are seeking their first winning finish since 2014.

Ottawa Lake Whiteford football“There’s no doubt that we play a tough schedule,” McCalla said. “In any given year we play one if not two or even three teams ranked in the top five or top 10. It’s a tough football conference.

“I think the first thing he can do is instill confidence in our kids. That is an important first step – and not just the kids, but the parents and the community. Having confidence in our program.”

Mensing was an academic All-American at Adrian College, where his father Henry Mensing coached and served as athletic director. Jason Mensing has made four other coaching stops during his 19-year career and picked up a lot of playoff appearances and coach of the year awards, and a built a lot of relationships.

He led Addison to the playoffs in his first season as varsity coach. He spent one year at Grayling, and won an Associated Press Class B Coach of the Year award during his three years at Owosso. He returned to Lenawee County to coach Tecumseh during the mid-2000s. In his one year away from high school football, he coached at Siena Heights University. 

Whiteford lured him from the college level in 2012. 

It wasn’t long before the milestone games and victories began piling up. Ironically, two Bobcats playoff losses were important steps in the team’s ascension. The first was a 2013 loss to New Lothrop in the Division 8 Regional Final. The Bobcats had beaten Sterling Heights Parkway Christian 59-6 and Detroit Allen Academy 61-20 in two home District games, then went on the road to face the Hornets, a powerhouse program.

“That loss was really big,” he said. “It showed us how far away we were but showed us what we needed to do to get there.”

Whiteford won seven games the following year, and in 2015 the Bobcats won three playoff games for the first time in school history, including a victory over a strong Climax-Scotts team. They lost the following week to Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, but again, Mensing said, it was a loss that showed them the way.

“It was the moment we knew we belonged,” he said.

The Bobcats have ‘belonged’ ever since, proving not to be a one-and-done type program. 

The 2017 team scored an incredible 737 points and punted just twice all season. The closest any opponent came was 16 points. Whiteford defeated Mendon in the Semifinals and Saginaw Nouvel in the Division 8 championship game.

Even in 2019 when the Bobcats went just 5-5, they upset a powerful Sand Creek team. Last year Whiteford reached the Division 8 Semifinals and led Hudson 22-0 at halftime before losing to the eventual champion, 28-22. 

“There were some ups and downs,” Mensing said. “There were times we implemented things that didn’t necessarily work. Overall, though, we kept growing. 

“When I look back at those years, the focus we started on growth and getting better year after year worked. We had 10 years of consistent growth. I do feel we are significantly more mature and better of a program than we were when I got here in 2012.”

Now, Mensing turns his attention to John Glenn, a school six times the size of Whiteford. He believes in the system he’s bringing with him and in the students at John Glenn.

“He’s a kid guy,” McCalla said. “We need people who are going to be there for our kids, not just football players, but all of our students. It’s not just about football, but life lessons.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Coach Jason Mensing confers with a Whiteford player during one of the team’s two runs to Ford Field. (Middle) Mensing will be leaving the program after 10 seasons with the Bobcats. (Top photo by Tom Hawley/Monroe News; middle by Cari Hayes.)

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.)