By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It’s complicated finding just the right word to describe what Shepherd’s girls golf program has accomplished over the last three seasons.
Before the fall of 2015, there was no Shepherd girls golf program. That August, it held its first practices ever, and two people in the entire program had some golf knowledge coming in. Prout herself was not one of them – she wasn’t a big golfer at the time, although now she loves the sport.
How can she not with all her team has enjoyed so quickly? As this September came to a close, Shepherd won its second straight Tri-Valley Conference West championship – earning the first MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” award for the 2017-18 school year. The Bluejays added their first Regional title Wednesday and are ranked No. 9 in today’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 coaches association poll.
“I have an extremely hard-working bunch of girls. They play all summer and then they are in a simulator in the winter; they have their hands on golf clubs a lot,” Prout said. “Other than that, I would tell you they have great chemistry. They’re hard-working, they’re great students, really good people, and they are enjoying golf.”
Shepherd shot an aggregate team score of 929 over five TVC West jamborees this fall, averaging out to 186 strokes per nine holes and 46.5 per player whose scored counted toward the total. The Bluejays shot a 410 in Wednesday’s rainy gloom at home course Maple Creek to finish 16 strokes ahead of reigning Regional champ Frankenmuth and move on to next weekend’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals.
Three Bluejays, all juniors, placed among the top 10 at the Regional, which was astounding considering again that those golfers were incoming freshman the first year of the program. In fact, junior Maggie Bryant was the catalyst in the team’s formation, making initial contact with the athletic department about starting a team. Prout, now in her 30th year teaching in the district, also coaches softball and coached cheerleading a while ago, and took on the golf program in large part because no one else showed interest.
Shepherd had nine golfers the first year and 10 last season. The Bluejays then graduated four off the team that not only won that first league title but made the MHSAA Finals and finished 15th in LP Division 4 last fall.
This season there are six players, but they’ve become good ones – lone senior Adri Bush, juniors Bryant, Morgan Yates and Olivia Raymond and freshmen Maddie Skeel and Georgia Kusbel. As a group, they’re talented and busy; Yates also plays volleyball, while Skeel is a likely all-conference cross country runner and Kusbel runs cross country and plays high-level club ice hockey in addition to golfing in the fall.
Four players are shooting in the low to mid-40s on average; Yates shot an 18-hole 96 to take third at the Regional and Raymond was fourth at 99, while Bryant was ninth at 105.
Again, only two players had notable knowledge of the game before two years ago. So on the first day in program history, Prout started with fundamentals. She took some of what is taught in the local youth program, and a graduate of Shepherd’s boys golf team came in and taught basics. Prout, with the help of her coaching colleagues in the TVC, learned and taught the many rules of the game, and Shepherd’s boys program welcomed the girls into one big family. (The boys team won the Class C-D championship all the way back in 1970 and also has had recent success winning its Regional this past spring.)
“I put a lot of people in front of them that were knowledgeable,” Prout said. “We had a lot of help along the way from past coaches who were on the staff years ago. I’ve taken them to different courses to play, but also to be instructed by the youth programs. I’ve learned just as much as my girls.”
And now the Bluejays are passing it forward. Clare has a first-year team this fall, and Prout said see the Pioneers this fall was like looking in a mirror.
Shepherd offered its knowledge and anything else, paying it forward just as so many did in getting Prout’s program off and golfing.
Her athletes are a little tired now, she admits, from playing a lot of golf to this point in the season. But the Bluejays surely have two more great rounds left in them this fall with another incredible opportunity to accomplish success seemingly years ahead of schedule.
“Years and years and years ago, one of my players, Morgan Yates, her mother played with the boys on the boys golf team, and I coached her in a different sport,” Prout said. “Now her daughter, they’re building something here. These girls are the foundation of what’s to come in the future, and I tell them every day how special it is – and it really is.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Shepherd’s girls golf team poses with its championship trophy after winning a Regional title Wednesday. (Middle) Shepherd girls golf coach Julie Prout, left, and lone senior Adri Bush. (Photos courtesy of Shepherd’s girls golf program.)
Detroit Cass Tech boys basketball coach Steve Hall, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and East Grand Rapids girls swimming & diving coach Butch Briggs and have been named a 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in their respective sports by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
They were selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The following brief bios include an excerpts from each honoree’s coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Steve Hall guided Detroit Cass Tech to its first MHSAA Finals championship last season as the Technicians capped a 28-1 run. He’s 160-30 in his eighth season directing Cass Tech, with his team 9-0 this winter, and he has a career high school record of 370-103 having also coached at Detroit Rogers (1996-97 through 2004-05) and Detroit Northwestern (2005-06 through 2007-08). He led Rogers to three straight Class D championships from 2003-05, led Northwestern to its first Detroit Public School League championship in 30 years and Cass Tech to its first in the PSL in 19 seasons. He also coached collegiately as an assistant at Duquesne University (2008-09 through 2011-12) and Youngstown State University (2011-12 through 2014-15) before taking over at Cass Tech for the 2015-16 season. He has received multiple state Coach of the Year awards during his tenures at Rogers and Cass Tech, and also serves the latter as athletic director and boys cross country coach.
“My coaching philosophy is ‘Learning Life Skills Through Basketball.’ I have encountered many youngsters that value basketball more than anything. Therefore, I use basketball as a carrot to dangle to help them acquire life skills and other necessities that can benefit them in their lives. Ultimately, when the ball stops bouncing they may be quality fathers, husbands, principals, CEOs, etc., and positive contributors to society. My motto is, “Be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today.” My athletic philosophy is scholarships and championships in that order! We love to win. But winning is not only on the scoreboard but also in life. Accountability, Reliability, Dependability and Responsibility. “Do what you are supposed to do, be where you are supposed to be, every play and every day.” God has blessed me with high morals, values and unmatched energy to leave my student athletes better than I found them.”
Vicky Kowalski completed her 46th season this fall coaching Farmington Hills Mercy’s girls golf team, and led the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. Her teams also have won seven Regional and 21 league championships and were 220-50 in matches entering the season. She has received several coaching awards over the years including statewide awards from the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association (MIGCA) and Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA). Kowalski also is in her 22nd season as Mercy’s girls bowling coach and has coached multiple subvarsity seasons of basketball and volleyball as well. She’s been inducted into Halls of Fame by both MIGCA and the Michigan High School Interscholastic Bowling Coaches Association (MHSIBCA).
“I have always believed in participation. On all the teams I have coached, everyone plays – no one sits the bench. All my athletes have their opportunities to grow in the sport. I have always preached dedication and sportsmanship. The athletes practice well to perform well. They encourage teammates as well as competitors. I enjoy interaction with other coaches. We share coaching techniques and ideas for improving team performance.”
Milton “Butch” Briggs has led the East Grand Rapids girls swimming & diving team to a record 26 MHSAA Finals team championships, the first in 1978 and including six straight from 1981-86 and the program’s current three-year title streak. His girls program also has celebrated 105 individual or relay Finals champions and clinched 33 league team titles. Briggs has received several coaching awards, including nationally for his sport (girls and boys combined) from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) in 2000 and the NFHS Coaches Association for boys swimming & diving in 2011. He entered this past fall season with a dual meet record of 522-65-1 over his career, which has spanned 49 years total, and his boys teams have won 12 MHSAA Finals. Briggs also has served as an assistant track coach at multiple schools and as MISCA president, and is in the MHSCA Hall of Fame.
“My coaching philosophy has been, and continues to be, a work in progress. I have formed relationships with hundreds of amazing young people. They have taught me life lessons in real time and real situations. As a neophyte coach, the experience revolved around winning. We worked together as a team, supported each other in and out of the pool, and won often. Thankfully, I became aware of the value within each athlete. Today, I attempt to interact with each athlete at every team activity and follow their progress in non-swimming endeavors. In short, when I removed my ego from the team's expectations and outcomes, the entire atmosphere was much more enjoyable and productive. And we are still capable of being successful. The Lord has put me in the right place at the right time.”
Six more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Stefanie Kerska was honored in boys swimming & diving after leading Ann Arbor Pioneer to its third-straight Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals title under her leadership, and Asa Kelly was recognized in boys track & field after leading Benzie Central to the LPD3 Finals championship. Mt. Morris volleyball coach James Pender was honored after leading his team to the Division 2 Quarterfinals in 2022, when he also eclipsed 1,000 career coaching wins in the sport, and Traverse City St. Francis’ Julie Duffing was awarded in cross country after leading her program to the 2022 LPD3 Finals championship, the program’s second under her leadership. Haslett/Williamston girls lacrosse coach Chad Pastor was honored after leading his team to the Division 2 Semifinals last spring, and Hartland competitive cheer coach Candace Fahr was recognized after leading her team to the MHSAA Finals for the fourth time in her six seasons guiding the program.
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.