Maska/Shiels/Zajac Family Celebrating, Sharing In Each Other's Hoops Successes

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

March 6, 2024

Call them Lenawee County’s First Family of Basketball.

Greater DetroitThe Maska-Shiels-Zajac clan have dominated the Lenawee County basketball scene this season with family members breaking records and winning championships in multiple communities.

  • Brad Maska has coached Onsted to its third straight Lenawee County Athletic Association championship. His Wildcats are 20-5, won a District and will play for a Division 2 boys basketball regional title Thursday.
  • Kristy Zajac, Brad’s sister, is the head coach of Tecumseh’s girls basketball team, which shared the Southeastern Conference White title this season – the program’s first league title in 20 years – and surpassed 100 career wins last month.
  • The season came to an end Tuesday for Britton Deerfield and head coach Darren Shiels, who is married to Brad and Kristy’s sister Kelly. But it was the best in BD history and included the program’s first District championship.

“As happy as I was for myself, I think I was happier for Darren,” Maska said, reacting to Britton Deerfield and Shiels upsetting second-ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian in the District Final last week. “I was so ecstatic for them. To lose to that team by 50 points a month ago, to get those kids to believe and come back … I couldn’t believe it.”

The family is tight. They spend summers together at the family cottage in northern Michigan, vacation together every spring break in Florida, and during basketball season it’s not uncommon to find any one of them at each other’s practices.

Over Christmas break, Shiels stopped by Zajac’s Tecumseh practice to help with a specific defense she wanted to implement, and Shiels and Maska shared some strategy at a practice in January.

“We talk basketball all of the time,” Zajac said. “It’s constantly basketball.”

All three played at Britton High School before Britton and Deerfield merged. They all played under the tutelage of Bart Bartels, who coached both the girls and boys varsity teams at Britton for years. He is an assistant coach with Zajac at Tecumseh now.

“It’s really fun to bounce ideas back and forth,” Maska said. “We talk often, probably every other day. It really spurs a lot of conversations. It’s neat to have that family base where we can bounce ideas off each other.”

Zajac has been on the phone this week talking to her brother about their matchups.

"Why reinvent the wheel when you have two great coaches in your family that you can go to for help," she said. "At Christmas this year, all three of us were drawing out plays on napkins. It's always a great resource to have."

Shiels hit the game-winning shot for Britton in its 1995 District championship game, which was the last time Britton or Deerfield won a District basketball title until last week.

He began coaching almost as soon as high school ended and took over the Britton varsity in 2005. He coached his alma mater for four seasons, then Britton and Deerfield became a cooperative program for a couple of seasons, and then the communities voted to join the districts together. He’s been head coach through it all. This season’s 18-7 Patriots were led by Darren and Kelly’s son Logan Shiels, who finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

The Maska family, including from left: Kristy Zajac, Brad Maska, Urvin Reau, Alli Zajac, Addi Zajac, Avery Zajac, Logan Shiels and Gretchen Maska, Brad’s wife.BD has six seniors, including Shiels and Brayden Shiels, a nephew of the head coach, and Ryan Good, a cousin.

“I’ve coached them since they were little because they were all on my son’s team,” Shiels said after Tuesday’s Regional loss to Allen Park Inter-City Baptist. “This is tough. The finality of it all hasn’t hit me yet, but I just think I’m most proud about how the kids all care about each other so much.

“They tell each other they love each other all the time. They’ve played together so long.”

After the District title was won at Adrian College, the Britton Deerfield team held an impromptu celebration at BD. The team gathered in front of family and friends to cut down the nets and talk about the season.

“I was surprised so many people showed up,” Shiels said. “It just shows how big it was to win the District. It’s hard to win a District.”

Maska was a 1,000-point scorer at Britton who played college football at Adrian College. He is in his 17th season as head coach at Onsted. His teams have averaged 15 wins a year and have had two Mr. Basketball Award candidates despite being one of the smallest schools in Division 2.

Ayden Davis is a Mr. Basketball finalist this year and will finish his career with more than 1,800 points, 1,200 rebounds and as the No. 2 shot-blocker in state history.

“Mr. Basketball candidates don’t come around very often, and we’ve had two,” Maska said. “It’s a big deal. We’ve had a lot of success and built a pretty solid program.”

Zajac was the all-time leading scorer during her playing days at Britton and played four years at Eastern Michigan University. She has two daughters on the Tecumseh team, including junior Alli, who recently became Tecumseh’s career scoring leader.

“I told her now that she has the school record, she has to catch me,” Zajac said.

One of the biggest fans in the gym at Onsted, Britton Deerfield or Tecumseh is 92-year-old Urvin Reau.

Reau grew up on a farm a few miles from Britton. He raised six children, including Brad and Kristy’s mom Denise. He is at a game almost every night of the week supporting his grandkids – who coach – and great grandkids who play.

“I always get to the games,” said Reau, 92. “I love to watch the kids play. High school sports are great. They are playing against their rivals. That makes it fun.”

The families got together the Sunday before the boys started District week for a family dinner, and they already have spring break carved out of their schedules.

“Spring break has always been our time,” Maska said. “It’s literally when we all have time to decompress and relax. It’s when we all can get together and discuss a lot of things – good and bad – that we had during the season.”

Basketball season rolls on. Zajac’s team is in the District Semifinals tonight as it tries to repeat as District champ.

Maska said Tecumseh better.

“I already told Kristy,” he said, “that if she’s the one that doesn’t have a District championship when we head down to spring break, she is going to hear about it.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) From left: Cole Shiels, Darren Shiels, Kelly Shiels and Logan Shiels. Darren is the varsity boys basketball coach at Britton Deerfield, Kelly is the longtime scorekeeper and Logan and Cole have both played for their father. (Middle) The Maska family, including from left: Kristy Zajac, Brad Maska, Urvin Reau, Alli Zajac, Addi Zajac, Avery Zajac, Logan Shiels and Gretchen Maska, Brad’s wife. (Photos courtesy of the Shiels/Maska/Zajac family.)

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 5, 2024

It won’t be hard for Jayden Marlatt to remember opening day on the softball field from any of her four years at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAs a freshman, she missed the opener due to needing to quarantine. Her sophomore and junior years started on the road because the Cardinals’ field was under construction.  

This season the Cardinals will open up — weather permitting — on their brand-new field, hosting Mio on Monday, April 8.  Marlatt is slated to be the starting pitcher again and add to her school record collection.

While Johannesburg-Lewiston is looking forward to playing on the new diamond, Marlatt and her teammates have high hopes of finishing the season almost 200 miles south. They’re looking to get back to Michigan State University – the site of the Division 4 Semifinals and Final.

The Cards have had their sites on that goal since they fell 4-2 to Mendon in last year’s Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. The loss ended a 30-4-1 campaign that saw the Cardinals play every game on the road for a second consecutive year, but come up only one victory short of a first championship game appearance.

The trip to East Lansing also came after the Cards won the program’s first District title since 2008 and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981.

“It has been a long two seasons on the road,” said eighth-year head coach Kim Marlatt, noting the team utilized a Little League field for practices during the stretch. “They’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason, so it is excited to get going.”

Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. The new field isn’t the only new things this spring. The Cardinals will have a junior varsity team for the first time during the Marlatt’s tenure. The JV squad is coached by Ryan Marlatt, who has been serving the program the past eight years as assistant coach. He also has been the head girls basketball coach at JoBurg the past two seasons.

The Marlatt coaches are the proud parents of Jayden, who continues to garner recognition as perhaps the greatest athlete in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s history. 

The three-sport star had a huge hand in all that JoBurg accomplished last season leading the team in batting average (.670), home runs (13) and runs batted in (61). As the team’s ace pitcher, she collected 249 strikeouts and compiled a 1.32 ERA.

“Jayden has put in the hard work,” Kim pointed out.  “She is a very humble athlete. ‘She doesn’t like to talk about herself. She likes to compete, and she likes to be on the top of her game for her teammates.”

Jayden has been named all-conference and all-state in softball, basketball and volleyball nearly every season over her four years at JoBurg. She’s led her teams to Ski Valley Conference, District and Regional titles along the way.

She’s also been named Player of the Year by multiple publications. And she’s a front runner to be voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ski Valley Conference in softball. Earlier this year, league coaches voted her the MVP for both basketball and volleyball.  

“The Ski Valley never used to vote on an MVP,” Ryan Marlatt said. “Hopefully she can add the triple crown and get softball this year.”

Jayden Marlatt, who has played all three sports all four years, acknowledged softball is perhaps her most treasured, and she’ll continue in that sport at Ferris State. Her career total of more than 500 strikeouts, and her 14 home runs last season, are both JoBurg school records. "I like them all but probably softball,” she confirmed when asked to name her favorite sport.

She averaged 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and four steals per game this winter helping the Cards basketball team to a conference runner-up finish. She was key to JoBurg's ability to put a 12-game winning streak together, and she topped the 1,000-point career mark along the way.

Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season.Her outstanding senior year on the basketball court and this spring’s possibilities nearly vanished as the volleyball season ended.

She suffered what looked to be a serious lower-leg injury in the final game of the JoBurg volleyball season. “She finished in the emergency room,” Kim Marlatt said.  

Diagnosed a high ankle sprain, it was an aggravation to an injury from her junior year in basketball. She wasn’t quite at 100 percent on the basketball court this season until the holiday break. She’s starting the softball season healthy, though.

Before the injury, Jayden led the Cards to their third volleyball conference championship over the last four years. After becoming JoBurg's all-time kills leader during her junior season, and with many of her teammates from her first three seasons graduating, Jayden had to fill a variety of roles while anchoring the offense from her outside hitter spot.

She ended up leading the team in both kills with 421 and digs, with 431, in her final season on the volleyball court. And she is listed among MHSAA’s all-time leaders in kills for a single match and career.

It’s more than Marlatt’s stats that stand out for Kristine Peppin, the school’s volleyball coach the past 15 years.

“It is not about the size of the school or the size of the player, it’s the heart that they have inside,” she proclaimed. “This girl would be a successful player on whatever team she was on. 

“Yes we’re a small school, small town,” she continued. “That kind of leadership and heart and drive to be the best is what’s given her that success.”

Marlatt’s work ethic is second to none, Peppin noted. She never saw Jayden give less than a “1,000” percent in practice or games in her career. 

Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt.“She’s a super hard worker and extremely modest for the kind of skill she possesses and the success she’s had,” Peppin said. “Her teammates think it’s amazing to be on her team.”

Marlatt’s volleyball skills caught the eye of at least one of her conference opponents’ coaches back in junior high. Ron Stremlow was performing one of his many coaching duties for Fife Lake Forest Area when he first saw Jayden on the volleyball court.

“I could tell then this girl was somebody special,” said Stremlow, who became one of the winningest coaches in state volleyball history with the Warriors. “When she got in high school, it just took off.

“She puts the time into it, and she works hard,” Stremlow continued. “Kids like that get what they deserve – they work for it.”

Stremlow, now retired, also acknowledged he’s enjoyed being able to watch the hard-throwing Marlatt on the softball field the last couple of seasons as Forest Area hosted the Cardinals consecutively due to JoBurg’s lack of a home field.

It’s something he’ll have to travel to do this year though, as JoBurg is scheduled to host the Warriors on April 15.

The Cardinals also will host a Regional on their new field June 8. The winners of District play at Rogers City, Harbor Springs, St. Ignace and Gaylord St. Mary will participate.

To play in the Regional, the Cards will have to emerge from the Rogers City District featuring the host Hurons, Atlanta, Hillman, Onaway, and Posen.

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 [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) Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Jayden Marlatt drives a pitch during softball season. (2) Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. (3) Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season. (4) Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt. (Action shots by Dylan Jespersen/Petoskey News-Review; family photo by Breya Domke.)