By Dallas Lintner
Owosso athletic director
Our varsity football team lost last Friday night to St. Johns High School 55-19. It was certainly a tough loss for our team. Often times, players, coaches, and fans may indicate they feel like crying after such a loss; occasionally they may literally shed a tear.
Let me share the story of what brought me to tears following our team’s loss. I will tell you, it was not the loss. … It was the story of two strangers, Logan Turner and Blake Thelen.
Owosso senior Logan Turner was diagnosed with leukemia over a year ago. While still a part of the Owosso football program, Logan’s condition prevents him from participation in football, or even attending school; yet each week, with permission from his medical team, Logan may occasionally attend OHS football activities. I will tell you that his attendance has been an uplift for our players and coaches nearly as much as seeing his classmates has been an uplift for Logan.
Logan has never met Blake Thelen, yet they share a remarkable bond. Blake Thelen is a member of St. Johns varsity football team. Last year while on spring break, Blake had read an online article about Owosso’s Logan and the struggles he was going through. He remarked several months ago to a few family members and friends that he would like to do something for this kid from Owosso.
Many times, our children will make remarks like this and forget the sentiment all together after a short time. Blake did not forget this sentiment. Several months later, Blake kept his word and offered support to a stranger … to a brother of the gridiron … to a friend he has never met. This is why I cried last Friday night.
On the Wednesday before our game with St. Johns, I received a phone call from Blake’s mother, Shannon. Shannon informed me about her son’s awareness of our Logan and his plan to offer support. Blake had mobilized students and parents to “pass the hat” in the stands and to place donation collection tubs at the concession stand area. Blake’s plan had been announced by the St. Johns public address announcer between the first and second quarters. From witnessing the event personally, this story of Logan and Blake had received as strong of an ovation from the spectators in attendance as the St. Johns Homecoming royalty did at halftime. What a display of character, integrity, and love. This is why I cried.
Logan was in attendance at the game and was on the sideline for a short time before the cold weather forced him to leave for home. Following the game, Blake, his mother, and a few other members of Blake’s group met me on the field immediately after the two teams shook hands. St. Johns’ athletic director Chris Ervin introduced me to Blake and his helpers and also to his mother Shannon, the woman I had met on the phone two days prior. Shannon was holding a gift bag filled with plastic food containers. As we greeted each other at midfield, there was an array of emotions. The Redwing players were elated, following a convincing victory; the Trojans were dejected following the defeat, and I was standing between the two groups smiling with tears running down my face as I tried to utter a few inspired works to Blake and his group expressing our gratitude, our surprise, and our awe for him and his generous deed.
I fear that I was only able to mumble a few incoherent syllables to that group. I spent most of the weekend attempting to determine how best to express today what I couldn’t express Friday night. This is why I cried.
When I returned home Friday evening, I sat in my chair with those plastic food containers and began to sort and count the donations from the evening. I was impressed that there was a great deal of pocket change in those canisters. Most likely from children who emptied their pockets into the tubs. At halftime, my own son purchased one less sucker at the concession stand so that he would have a quarter left over to donate to Logan. Shannon Thelen indicated that fans were flagging their people down in the stands with cash in hand. You wouldn’t believe the number of donations that came in denominations of 10 and 20 dollars, all for a stranger.
At the end of the night, I sat in my chair with $923.11 for Logan and his family. This is a remarkable sum that came from strangers … that came from Blake.
While the donations are very impressive, this is not what choked me up then and still. It is the notion that a student was moved by someone else’s story, took initiative, and gave a gift of far more value than $923.11. He gave friendship, he gave compassion, he gave love. School sports are often judged by scores, records, and stats. In this case, no score, record, or stat can do justice to this inspirational story.
It is these types of moments that inspire me to do what I do; to be associated with children who do amazing things. This high school football game transcended high school athletics and became a great human interest story on a very personal level.
This is why I cried after losing a football game.
God Bless you Blake.
God Bless you Logan.
PHOTO: Owosso athletic director Dallas Lintner, middle, stands with (from left) Jake Dorn, Adam Webb, Tyler Luznak and Blake Thelen after Friday's football game between the teams. (Photo courtesy of St. Johns athletic department.)
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 email@example.com 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.)