Munising Neighbors Share In Successes

February 28, 2017

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

MUNISING – It would be hard to believe there are many more accomplished neighboring homes than those of Marissa Immel and Frankie Mattson in Munising.

Between them, the Munising High School seniors are both 4.0 students, share their class’ top spot academically, and will graduate with a combined 41 varsity athletic letters, a staggering 21 by Immel.

Both serve on a variety of clubs, with Immel on the MHSAA Student Advisory Council that requires her to travel some six hours each way to Lansing once a month. And they hope to lead the Mustangs downstate together to finish this basketball season, with the first step a Class C District opener Wednesday against Ishpeming.

“We’ve been able to push each other through the years to be the best we can be,” said Immel. “We really try to manage our time the best we can. We plan things out ahead of time.

“Sports mean a lot to me. It is something my family values. School comes first, then sports. It teaches a lot of life lessons, and it is really fun to participate and learn new things.”

The connection began before they were born.

Their mothers, Bette (Jahn) Immel and Carrie (Hamilla) Mattson, played on rival teams during high school, at Manistique and Munising, respectively. Immel was the girls basketball coach for grades 3-6 and her husband Dale was coach for grades 7-8, with Frankie’s dad Matt their high school basketball coach.

Both girls topped the 1,000-point scoring mark this season, and the passes that put them into that club came from each other. Mattson, a center, is approaching 1,000 career rebounds. Immel is the team’s point guard.

The athletic success they have shared is incredible. Their basketball team finished the regular season 20-0 and ranked No. 1 in the media’s Upper Peninsula Class A-B-C poll. Both were part of two U.P. Finals tennis titles, Mattson at No. 1 singles and Immel at No. 2 doubles. That tennis success was difficult because Munising has just two courts in town and all the meets are on the road.

They also helped the Mustangs collect four volleyball District titles and three Regional track & field titles, with both earning all-state in the latter.

Both girls played five varsity sports each year, Immel going one-up in letters by running cross country – as a freshman in 2013 she was individual runner-up at the U.P. Division 3 Final as Munising won the team title. Both girls also play golf.

With an enrollment of just more than 200 students, Munising allows athletes to play two sports in the same season to increase participation – but they must pick a sport as their priority for when both teams have events on the same day.

Mattson said the neighbors “hang out all the time. We go to open gyms; we lift weights together. I see Marissa as a support system, and that helps us get through everything we do.”

They go to meetings together – both are in Key Club and student council (Mattson is vice-president, Immel is treasurer) – and Immel is president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter while Mattson is secretary. Both have earned all-state recognition from the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and both serve on the Alger Regional Community Foundation youth advisory council.

“We have meetings for our clubs, we practice every day. You’re only in high school once, so you might as well do what you can,” said Mattson.

Basketball is the favorite sport for both girls. “We have played together for so long (since first grade) that I know what she is thinking, and the same thing with her,” said Mattson. “It has helped our bond. I put all my trust in Marissa to run plays. It is so awesome that I can depend on her.”

The key to their basketball success, said Immel, is “our whole team came together and we support each other. We try to get everyone involved. Our whole team participates in our success.”

Mattson knew the pass from Immel set up her 1,000th point, but did not realize her pass to Immel for 1,000 did it until the crowd began celebrating. “It was awesome,” she said.

For point guards, like Immel, reaching 1,000 points does not happen as often because that position requires more passing than shooting. “We move it around a lot,” said Mattson. “She’s very gracious with her passes, and she shoots when she’s open.

“The key to basketball is we have all matured and we’re seniors. We’re here to show everyone what we have been working for the last couple of years.”

Having her father as head coach helps make all the success more special. “It is honestly awesome, knowing he is my support system at home and on the court,” she said.

They will bring the game home and talk about team and individual aspects and look at film together. “There is no harm talking about good things or bad things. There is no tension between us,” Mattson said.

Immel said “it is crazy to think that we’re almost done with all these sports. It will be different without having that much going on in our lives.”

Immel plans to join her sister Katie at Michigan State University and possibly study speech pathology. Mattson plans to attend either Michigan Tech or Central Michigan for an educational degree.

Another classmate, Bailey Downs, also has earned 20 varsity athletic letters.

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012, and served as interim sports editor during most of the 2016-17 school year. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Munising's Frankie Mattson (left) and Marissa Immel stand with posters celebrating their 1,000th career points scored this season. (Middle) Mattson works the post during a 2015-16 game against Newberry. (Below) Immel puts a shot up over the outstretched hands of a Rapid River defender. (Top photo courtesy of the Immel family, action photos by the Marquette Mining Journal.)

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)