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 [email protected] 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.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)