With Lead Scorer Sidelined, West Catholic Finds Way to Saturday

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half

March 18, 2022

EAST LANSING – Abbey Kimball, Michigan State University recruit and Grand Rapids West Catholic star, was right at home Friday during her team’s Division 2 Semifinal against Detroit Country Day – until a collision while trying for a steal with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first half sent her to the locker room after silencing the Breslin Center crowd.

The outcome was well in hand as the Falcons (25-1) were up nearly 20 points on the way to advancing to the Final with a 62-42 victory, but Kimball being at full strength for Saturday’s championship game suddenly was in doubt.

Kimball was the only senior starter on the floor for either side. Her day was done with six points. She sat on the bench in the second half with an ice pack over her blackened right eye.

“Yes, I will be ready to go tomorrow,” Kimball said after. The Falcons will play in their first Final at 6:15 p.m. Saturday since finishing runner-up in Class B in 1995.

She had future MSU teammates in the arena cheering her on.

“They supported me throughout my high school and AAU career,’’ added Kimball. “It was great to be able to play at my future home. COVID affected us the last two years. We just kept working with the goal of getting a championship.’’

Four Falcons scored in double figures with Anna Ignatoski dropping in 15 points, Reese Polega 13, Emma Tuttle 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and Cadence Dykstra scoring 10.

Country Day/West Catholic basketball“You hate to see your best player go down. Your heart goes in your throat,” West Catholic coach Jill VanderEnde said. “We had our athletic trainer (Ryan Vogel) take her through the proper procedures. I thought our other players stepped up.’’

West Catholic’s defense forced 17 turnovers in the first half and shot 51.6 percent from the field in building a 45-25 lead. For the game, Country Day was stifled shooting 28.6 percent from the field while totaling 24 turnovers.

The Falcons length and athleticism caused problems for the young Yellowjackets at both ends.

“We had a hard time getting into any rhythm,’’ said Country Day coach Jerica Williams. “You can credit their defense for that. We had a lot of turnovers. If we had been able to protect the ball … . They are a very good team. We hope they win it all.‘’

West Catholic shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land during the first quarter and took a commanding 21-5 lead as the Yellowjackets had more turnovers (seven) than points.

The Falcons scored the first five points of the second quarter to assume a 26-5 lead. Standout sub Ignatoski (12) and Polega (11) combined for 23 points during the first half.

Kimball took a wicked shot trying to get a steal from Aysia Yokely, who led the Yellowjackets with 21 points.

Sophomore Jaidyn Elam added 17 points for Country Day (14-8), which was appearing in the Division 2 Semifinals for the second straight season.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) West Catholic’s Ellie Bies (11) reaches to grab a loose ball above a pair of Country Day players during her team's Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) The Yellowjackets' Aysia Yokely (21) looks for an open teammate, with Abbey Kimball defending. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

'Go-To Guy' Kanitz Sets Selfless Example in Helping Make St. Francis Sports Go

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

August 26, 2022

Traverse City has had a few head football coaches named Kanitz.

But Mike Kanitz has no interest in becoming a head football coach. In fact, no interest in being a head coach of any sport.

So far he’s worked for nine head coaches. He’s seen what it takes to be a head varsity coach and he’ll stay where he is, which is pretty much anywhere there is a high school sporting event.

Kanitz spends his days and nights dedicated to the Traverse City St. Francis student-athletes, staff, administration and Gladiators community. He is the junior varsity girls basketball coach, volleyball game manager, volleyball announcer and volleyball scorekeeper, football press box manager, and the Glads’ soccer game manager. Additionally, as director of basketball operations at St. Francis, he finds himself at the scorer’s table for boys basketball games.

The volleyball, soccer and football duties are performed at every home game. He doesn’t take a paycheck for any of it. If the school does pay for his services, he promptly donates the funds to the source.

The soft-spoken and renowned St. Francis supporter is not the slightest bit interested in getting any recognition for his efforts.

Tonight he’ll run the Thirlby Field press box as the Gladiators host Ogemaw Heights. And, he’s ready for the Glads’ first home volleyball match Sept. 8.

“He is one of those unique people that shies away from the spotlight — he is a pure servant, said Aaron Biggar, St. Francis’ athletic director.  “He doesn’t want any accolades or anything like that.”

Kanitz’ father, Hugo Kanitz – who also went by Mike all his life – was the head football coach of Traverse City St. Francis during the 1960s.  Another Kanitz, Dutch — not related to the father-son combo —was at the helm of the Traverse City Central High School football program.

Kanitz walks the sideline during one of his games leading the JV Gladiators. Mike Kanitz finds himself regularly receiving phone calls and letters from former players intended for the Kanitz coaches. He has to explain he’s not the deceased Central coach, nor his father. And he’s glad he gets to pass on positive feedback to his father, also a former athletic director for St. Francis.

“My grandmother said, ‘Never call him Hugo – his name is Mike,’” Kanitz said. “Don’t ask me where it came from, but he was Mike his whole life.

“I am junior in most people’s minds,” Kanitz went on. “Traverse City was a small town back then; to have two Coach Kanitz was confusing.”

His father now lives in Traverse City after retiring as a teacher and professor. The son enjoys picking his brain.

“I am blessed to still be able to run stuff by him (because) that’s really where I got my coaching start,” he said. “I used to get calls after coming back to Traverse City and the callers would say, ‘Is this Coach Kanitz?’ and I started to catch on that these were his former students.

“I don’t think my dad ever knew the impact he was having on kids,” Kanitz continued. “I don’t think coaches really know what an impact they have on kids.”

Hearing from his father’s former players helped shape his coaching.

“It made me realize as a coach you have the ability every time you open your mouth to either hurt a kid or help a kid,” he said. “So helping a kid is my desire.”

Officials, media and visiting coaches for many sports have noted Kanitz’ demeanor and contributions.  They also know he’ll do anything to make sure they have a good experience at St. Francis.

Among other things, Mike reportedly once became a makeshift tailor when a basketball official showed up without his referee pants. Mostly using safety pins, a borrowed pair of pants went from 2XL to large in time for tip-off.

“Mike Kanitz should have a name tag that says, ‘Nicest Man on the Planet,’” said former St. Francis AD Tom Hardy. “Mike is the perfect representative that you can have for any event at school.

Mike Kanitz enjoys his daughter Delin’s Senior Night game with wife Marcy Verplank-Kanitz. “He greets every team, official, and spectator with such grace and compassion, which leads to a very positive experience for all involved,” Hardy continued. “Mike has volunteered too many hours to count at basketball and soccer games as a game manager and coach.”

Hardy believes all sports fans need to follow Kanitz’ lead.

“Mike Kanitz is the example of how people should treat each other at any athletic event,” he said. “You truly would have to look long and hard to find a more compassionate and caring individual, and I would challenge anyone to find a person that has a negative thing to say about him.”

Barb Becket, a longtime MHSAA official and assignor, has similar views of Kanitz. She’s worked with him while he’s served as a coach, game manager and during community activities through her role with the Grand Traverse YMCA.

“Mike is the go-to guy,” she said. “He is a servant in the true sense of the word.

“Besides being the go-to guy for coaches, admin, and players, Mike also acts as the liaison between the sports officials and the sports participants,” she continued. “Mike handles his responsibilities with grace, humility, common sense, and accountability.”

Kanitz’ favorite sport to play is baseball, but his favorite sport to coach is basketball. After graduating from Alma College where he competed in track & field, he was thrilled to move back to Traverse City to start a family with his wife Marcy, a Traverse City obstetrician. 

The couple’s three children graduated from St. Francis, and Kanitz first focused on elementary baseball.  He was able to step away from his pharmaceutical career to step in and fill pretty much any need the St. Francis community had.

Kanitz points to his wife’s passion for caring for women as a motivator for him to get more girls involved in sports and receiving the benefits they provide.

“Marcy spent her whole life taking care of women,” he said. “So she sees the side effects of women not being given opportunities.

“So we’ve got to correct that stuff.”

Kanitz’s first job was as a water boy, along with his siblings born to Hugo and Margo Kanitz. If he ever can’t coach or serve in other capacities for the Gladiators, he hopes to return to the very first job he had as a preschooler.

“I am sincere when I say I started as a water boy, and I am going to finish as a water boy,” Kanitz said. “I am very blessed and I am thankful for the life I’ve had here in Traverse City.

“I am thankful for the school allowing me to be a part of it.”

Tom 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) Mike Kanitz fills many roles for Traverse City St. Francis including girls junior varsity basketball coach and game manager for a variety of sports including volleyball. (Middle) Kanitz walks the sideline during one of his games leading the JV Gladiators. (Below) Mike Kanitz enjoys his daughter Delin’s Senior Night game with wife Marcy Verplank-Kanitz. (Top photo by Mike Spencer; middle and below photos by Julie English.)