Wooer Leads Kingsley's Return to Power

November 1, 2018

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

KINGSLEY — Tim Wooer does not have the ability to wave a wand and make victories on the football field appear out of thin air.

The Kingsley football program is certainly grateful for the magic Wooer has brought back to the gridiron in no time at all, however.

After going 1-8 at year ago, Kingsley has had a remarkable turnaround in the first year of Wooer’s second tenure as Stags varsity head coach, going 9-1, including last week’s 62-22 Division 6 District playoff win over Tawas.

“The bottom line is — people have asked me how did this happen? I can only give you one answer, and it is the kids,” said Wooer.

It’s a group of players who have endured a lot the past few seasons. The once-proud program had fallen on hard times, seeing a decline in wins after a 6-4 playoff season in 2014. The Stags went 5-4, 5-4, 3-6 and bottomed out with one win during a tumultuous 2017 campaign that saw the previous head coach placed on administrative leave in the middle of the season before he later resigned. Interim coach Jamie Mullen finished out the fall. Needless to say, Kingsley’s players didn’t find many good, positive memories from the season.

“I didn’t even want to play anymore. I was just happy for (the season) to be over,” said Kingsley senior captain Dylan Case.

Wooer noticed the apathy, lack of energy and complacency that seemed to be common among many of the male athletes at his alma mater not long after he came on as a long-term substitute teacher at Kingsley just months after retiring from education. He also was in his 10th year as the head coach at Traverse City West and was enjoying his best year yet with the Titans, who finished 9-2 and won their first playoff game since Wooer arrived in 2008.

But while he was subbing, Wooer was able to drive his two daughters, Lauren and Sarah, to school every morning. He realized then how precious the moments with them and his son, Tyler, had become. So, when Wooer was approached about taking over the Stags in January, he didn’t need much time to make a decision.

“From a football standpoint it was a very poor decision at the time,” said Wooer. “We thought we had things going at West. We were 8-1, had a good nucleus coming back. Our numbers at the middle school were great. It was really kind of self-sustaining at that point. We had a really good thing going. But all the other factors made it a quite simple decision. It was family and obviously my love for Kingsley and the community of Kingsley.”

There was good reason for people in Kingsley to yearn for Wooer to come back. When he left after nine years, he had compiled a record of 68-29 and, most notably, guided the Stags to the 2005 Division 6 championship. A few of the oldest players on Kingsley’s current team were in kindergarten during that season. Many others had not started school. But many knew of Wooer. Parents, older siblings, cousins and community members alike had talked fondly of the 2005 title team, and a picture documenting the championship hangs prominently in the school. It gave Wooer instant credibility.

“He led Kingsley to a state championship,” said Case. “We knew he knew what he was talking about and that he wanted what was best for us.”

Coming off a 1-8 season, the players were more than willing to buy in to what Wooer was selling — winning football.

“You don’t really question it because we went 1-8,” said senior Jake Radtke, another senior captain. “We were like, ‘OK, this doesn’t work.’ Just trust the process and believe what he’s saying and buy in. He bleeds Black and Orange, and I love it. He knows we bleed Black and Orange, and he’s part of our family.”

Wooer surrounded himself with a staff of coaches who are mostly Kingsley alums and former players. Dan Goethels played on the team in 1997. Al Olds, Ryan Zenner and Dave Zenner all played for Wooer on the 2002 Kingsley squad. Mullin and Ron Hessem were three years behind Wooer in school in the late ‘80s. Ray Fisher, whose son Jake plays for the Cincinnati Bengals after starring for Wooer at West, has followed Wooer from Kingsley, to West, and now is back with the Stags.

“We’ve surrounded ourselves with some really good people who have a love for Kingsley and understand the system and what we want to do,” Wooer said of his assistants.

Wooer laid down the law at his first meeting with the team last winter. He talked about bringing discipline to the program and set his expectations for players in preparation for the season, particularly getting better participation in the weight room. More than 40 players in the high school took that to heart and had perfect attendance in lifting over the summer.

“There were lots of expectations,” said senior lineman Nathan Ames. “You could tell from his speech that it was going to be a lot of work. From the first second of team camp everybody bought in. After team camp, I definitely knew what was going to happen.”

Wooer still might not have been so sure how much success he would have with the Stags right away. He thought his team played poorly in its first preseason scrimmage at Manton. Even after an improved showing against the likes of Harrison, North Muskegon and Mason County Central in a second scrimmage, Wooer still wasn’t convinced his team was ready to compete when it met McBain in the first week of the regular season.

“I can still remember driving down to McBain — I was terrified,” said Wooer. “I’m on the bus thinking we are so unprepared. We couldn’t make an adjustment outside of a timeout. It was timeouts and quarters where you had to throw as much information at them as you could, hoping they could make those adjustments. It took two or three weeks before we could. We were making adjustments on the fly. I was yelling stuff out on the field.”

The Stags ended up pulling out a 24-20 victory over a good McBain squad. People were already half-joking that the team had equaled its win total from the previous season.

“That was a huge turnaround,” said Ames. “We all just kind of looked at each other after that win and said this is it.”

Wins over Ogemaw Heights and Grayling followed. Though the Stags fell to Traverse City St. Francis in the fourth week, they rebounded with five straight victories to finish the regular season.

With the wins have also come some individual accolades. Six players were named to the all-Northern Michigan Football League Legends division first team — running back Ayden Mullin, who was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with Ames at defensive tackle, Radtke at guard, tight end Ian Sousa, outside linebacker Devon Hager and defensive back Owen Graves.

“It was very refreshing to have kids who want to be coached and want to be pushed,” said Wooer. “That’s not common in today’s world.

“It has not been an easy process. There were some chewings and some tough times, but they didn’t flinch once. Once they saw the success they received for their efforts, and everything did work as it was planned, it kind of fell into place. I just can’t say enough about the kids. It’s all about every one of the kids in our program.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.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) Kingsley football coach Tim Wooer addresses his team during practice this fall. (Middle) Wooer, bottom left, celebrates with his team after the Stags won the 2005 Division 6 title at Pontiac Silverdome. (Top photo courtesy of WPBN.)

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.)