DeTour Girls Deliver 1st Title since 1999

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 1, 2017

GLADSTONE — Most, if not all DeTour High School girls weren’t around the last time a team from their school was crowned Upper Peninsula golf champion.

It was 1999, and the Raiders were competing in Class D at the time. Ontonagon was runner-up that year.

On Thursday, the Raiders ended their title drought by taking the Division 3 crown for the first time with 403 strokes. They were followed by reigning champion Cedarville with 406 and Ontonagon at 433.

“I had a feeling it would be between us and Cedarville,” said DeTour coach Ken Wilkie. “I think our depth was a factor, plus we have four seniors. It’s very important to have that senior leadership and experience. The girls knew what to expect. Hopefully, this will draw some interest from our younger girls.”

Cedarville freshman Lily Freel earned the medalist honor with an 82 at Irish Oaks Golf Course. She was followed by DeTour seniors Madison Wilkie and Kaalin Crawford at 85 and 86, respectively.

“In the beginning, it was definitely a struggle,” said Freel, who shot 98 in last year’s Finals at Escanaba Country Club. “It took me a couple holes to settle down. I wasn’t too nervous, but I could still feel the pressure. I could tell I was a little tense, then I was able to convince myself to relax. I had some bad shots, but was able to recover from them. Last year was good for me because I learned from playing with the other girls. I put a lot of time into my game last summer and had a better idea what to expect.”

Freel, who works at the Les Cheneaux Club in Cedarville, is no stranger to golf.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I’m around it all the time. I live within a block of the club. I ride my golf cart there all the time.”

Wilkie, consistently in the title hunt throughout her high school career, came in as reigning champion. She tied for first as a freshman in 2014, then was runner-up as a sophomore.

“Everything started good,” said Wilkie, who will continue her golf career at Lake Superior State University. “My play on the front nine was as solid as I’ve had, then things kind of fell apart on the back nine. I couldn’t read the greens for some reason. If you missed the hole, the ball rolled a little further. I had a hard time adjusting. I had three bad holes in a role at one time. My putting was better on the front nine. The first hole is always hard. Everybody tends to be a little nervous. Lily played awesome. I’m proud of her.”

Crawford’s putting, however, improved on the back nine.

“I became a little more comfortable on the course,” said Crawford, who will play basketball at Alpena Community College in 2017-18. “This is the best I’ve done in competition. Everything just came together. It was a real nice day for golf. It wasn’t too hot or too cold. There also wasn’t much wind.”

Cedarville coach Rob Freel said he was pleased with the Trojans’ performance.

“I was hoping our girls would come out on top, but they played real well today,” he added. “We’re excited about Lily’s potential. She has worked hard on her game.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) DeTour’s Kaalin Crawford gets ready to hit a tee shot during Thursday’s U.P. Division 3 Golf Finals at Gladstone’s Irish Oaks Golf Course. Watching Crawford hit are Ontonagon’s Samantha Lutz, left, and Engadine’s Lauren Dennis. (Middle) Cedarville’s Lily Freel hits a tee shot Thursday; she shot 82 to win the medalist honor. (Photos by Mike Mattson.)

Michigan Leaders in 3 Sports Earn National Honors from NFHS Coaches Association

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 16, 2024

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 headshotSteve 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 headshotVicky 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.