House's Letters Spell R-E-C-O-R-D

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 18, 2018

COMSTOCK — As a freshman, Abby House could not decide whether to play volleyball or golf, so she compromised and did both.

Little did she know that first dual-sport fall season would put her on track to Comstock High School history.

She will graduate in May with a school-record 22 varsity letters — 21 for sports and one for band.

The previous record, set by Robert Bellisle in 1943, was 17. Bellisle was inducted into the Comstock Hall of Fame in 2011.

“I just really like sports and starting freshman year with five, I didn’t really know there was a record for it,” House said.

She has four letters each in bowling, golf, basketball and softball, three in volleyball, two in soccer and one in band.

The school supports dual-sport athletes under specific conditions, athletic director Justin Ansel said.

 “Primary and secondary coaches have to agree on the details before it can happen,” he said. “If we don't have their agreement along with the player understanding of expectations, we don't allow it.

“I think it's important to just give the kids opportunity. It works best with picking a team sport as the primary sport and then an individual sport as secondary.”

House’s father, Rich House, said he and his wife have no problem with their daughter playing six sports a school year.

“It wasn’t really ever a plan; it just kinda happened,” he said. “She was always good at it and has always been a good student.

“We always told her as long as she could handle it and keep up – the school work is most important. She always seemed to do a good job at that.”

Schoolwork has not been a problem for House, who carries a 3.88 grade-point average.

This year, she has just one class at Comstock – band – but took psychology, physics and accounting at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Next semester, she will study sociology, chemistry and medical terminology at KVCC, working toward a degree in nursing.

Although House plays sports for fun, her dad said his daughter is a high-level competitor in all of them.

“She has multiple conference titles, qualified for state twice in golf, once in bowling, all-District catcher two years in a row,” Rich House said.

This year, she was Comstock’s top golfer and is the team’s top female bowler, carrying a 150 average.

Decisions, decisions

As a freshman, House earned varsity letters in golf, basketball, bowling and softball.

She played the same sports the next year, but also was moved up to varsity in volleyball, giving her five letters.

Her junior year, House added soccer, and is continuing to play six sports her senior year.

She chose volleyball because “I played (volleyball) with my teammates since middle school and I’ve enjoyed it when I played in season,” House said.

Golf is a family affair for the House family, including her brother, Mason.

“My parents are big golfers and we’re a big golf family and the coach was really into wanting me to golf, so she talked me into it and I thought it would be fun to try,” Abby House said.

Since she started playing basketball in elementary school; it was a no-brainer to continue in high school. She was called up to varsity after a month during her freshman year.

The bowling coach had an inside track to recruiting her – it’s her dad.

Softball was her only spring sport until her junior year.

“When I was younger, I played softball and soccer, but I chose softball because I liked it more,” House said.

“We had a softball coach who wanted us to concentrate only on softball, so I didn’t play soccer.”

Her junior year, the softball coach left and House decided to add soccer, giving her two sports in each of the three seasons.

Everything falls into place

House is an expert at time management.

“In school, whenever teachers get done with notes and we have homework I try to do it,” she said. “Or with any free time I’ll do it and what’s left, I do after practices.

“Freshman, sophomore year I did a lot on the bus.”

Choosing a favorite sport is not possible.

“Everybody asks me that,” she said. “I can choose one per season, but not one overall.

“Basketball, golf, softball have always been my top.”

House has stepped up this year, helping lead the basketball team to a 3-0 overall record, 2-0 in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red as a point guard, her fourth position in four years.

As a freshman she was a post player, as a sophomore she shifted to forward, and then to shooting guard last winter.

Last season, she averaged seven points and seven rebounds per game. This year, it’s 18 points, eight rebounds and nearly six assists on average, she said.

“Abby has always been a solid player even since fourth grade when (she and Daisy Ansel) started playing some travel ball together,” said Justin Ansel, who also coaches the girls basketball team.

“I think Abby has always been a very coordinated athlete, and it doesn't surprise me that she does so well in so many different things. She has contributed at a high level in a lot of sports.”

Ansel said he thinks House could be extremely good if she focused on a particular sport, but “I think she just loves competing so much that she would rather play all kinds of sports all the time.” 

Ansel said House complements leading scorer Daisy Ansel well.

“Abby's start to this season from an offensive standpoint has been tremendous,” he said. “Both girls are shooting very well from the outside, and both girls are able to attack so defenses can't just key on one of them – which is amazing for Daisy.”

House will not go into sports withdrawal once she graduates.

She hopes to continue to play in college, but just one sport, either basketball or golf, she said.

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 pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Abby House’s varsity letter jacket shows off many of her accomplishments over her first three-plus years of high school. (Middle) Abby House and her father Rich House. (Below) Abby House takes part in some of her sports – with her dad at the bowling center, golfing, and hitting in softball and volleyball. (Action photos courtesy of the House family. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has experienced unforgettable highs and nightmarish lows during her 25 years as the girls basketball coach at Grand Haven.

It’s now the 10-year anniversary of an amazing three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013, when “Coach K” guided the Buccaneers to a combined 81-2 record, three consecutive berths in the Class A Semifinals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

The lows are harder to pick out, but the way Grand Haven lost at Hudsonville on Jan. 24 certainly qualifies.

The Bucs led 46-44 with time running out, when Haven was called for a shooting foul with one-tenth of a second remaining on a desperation half-court shot attempt. Hudsonville senior Maddie Peroelje then made all three free throws to pull out an improbable 47-46 win.

“That one was brutal,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was feeling much better Tuesday, one week later, after Haven downed visiting Zeeland West 44-33 for its third-straight victory.

“I love all of it, the great teams and big wins, but also the struggles and trying to stay strong and figure things out.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 52, might be in the midst of the best coaching job in her 31-year career, guiding a team with no returning starters to a 10-4 start, including an impressive 5-2 record after the first rotation in the rugged Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.

She is doing it with a team that only goes about six or seven deep, has no one in that group taller than 6-foot and lost its starting point guard, junior Abbey Klumpel, to a season-ending knee injury during the summer.

How is she doing it?

“She teaches a team game of basketball,” explained ninth-year Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson, who has been involved in high school sports for 32 years. “She is more invested in her sport, her kids, her program than anyone I have ever seen.”

The defensive leader Tuesday was gritty senior guard Grace Harrison, who held Zeeland West’s top perimeter threat scoreless.

On offense, junior forward Emerson Berndt turned in a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 14 of those points in the second half to help the Bucs put the game away.

Berndt had the hot hand Tuesday, but in other games this season sophomore guard Gillian Sorrelle or junior forward Maddie Schopf have carried the team from outside. The inside leader is 5-11 senior center Heidi Berkey, who held her own against ZW’s 6-4 senior center Kara Bartels.

Berndt, who leads the Bucs with 12 points and five rebounds per game, said this team has a special bond with its head coach.

“Coach has established such a close relationship with all of us, and she knows how to get us going,” said Berndt, who is one of the five Haven starters who all average at least six points per game. “She’s always joking around, but getting after it at the same time.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. Haven, which is a surprising second in the O-K Red at the halfway point, starts the second half of the slate Friday at first-place and No. 3-ranked Rockford (13-1).

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, a standout player at Caledonia and then Hope College, began her coaching career at the age of 21 when she was still a senior at Hope – coaching the seventh-grade girls team at Caledonia.

She then worked five years at Hastings, including the final three as girls varsity head coach, before taking the job as a physical education teacher and varsity girls basketball coach at Grand Haven in 1997.

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have one son, Drew, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Grand Haven who was just a toddler when the Buccaneers were enjoying their magical three-year run a decade ago.

Haven made its presence known on a statewide level in 2011, when 6-5 sophomore Abby Cole led the Bucs to a 26-1 record, with the only loss coming by a single point to Detroit Renaissance, 39-38, in a Class A Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Bucs took the final step in 2012, erasing an 18-point, third-quarter deficit as senior guard Shar’Rae Davis drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining in a 54-53 victory over Grosse Pointe South. Haven finished 27-1, with its only loss coming early in the season against O-K Red rival East Kentwood.

GH did it again in 2013 with a perfect 28-0 record, which might have been the most impressive because the only returning starter was Cole, who would go on to an all-Big Ten volleyball career at Michigan. The Bucs committed a staggering 32 turnovers, but made up for it with 22-of-29 shooting (76 percent), in a 60-54 overtime victory over, once again, Grosse Pointe South.

“Those are the glory days, and here we are 10 years later and you realize just how special it was,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who has also coached track at Grand Haven. “We always stayed humble and worked hard.

“Obviously, having someone like Abby Cole as the last line of defense is something special. But she had such great character and leadership, as well. I can still see her out there when things weren’t going well, and she would wrap her long arms around her teammates and tell them it was going to be OK. And it was.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer has amassed 391 victories as a head coach, with six O-K Red titles, eight District and four Regional championships – along with the two Class A Finals wins.

“Those trophies are getting hard to come by – I’m thinking about buying one on eBay,” said Coach K, displaying the quick wit that her fellow coaches, referees and players know very well.

She works hard, but also has plenty of fun and laughs along the way, which is why she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon – even though this school year marks her 30th year of teaching.

As Kowalczyk-Fulmer was finishing up her media obligations after the Zeeland West victory, her son – a sports junkie who has literally grown up in the Grand Haven bleachers and locker rooms – sat waiting in the hallway.

“I plan to be here until he graduates,” she said with a nod to her only child. “I love it. It’s my passion, and I’m really lucky. Grand Haven is such a great place to live and coach.

“I’m not ready to stop.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Haven girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer talks things over with her team during a game earlier this decade. (Middle) Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. (Top photo courtesy of the Local Sports Journal.)