Jenison Will Smile: 'That's What Syd Would Want'

August 21, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

JENISON – The Jenison girls golf team is playing with heavy hearts this season.

Teammates and coaches are mourning the loss of the Wildcats’ No. 1 player, Sydney Carfine, who would have been a senior this fall.

The 17-year-old Carfine was tragically killed on the night of June 14 in a two-car crash in Ottawa County.

“It was like disbelief, like this can’t be real,” Jenison girls golf coach Linda Reimink said. “I was up north, and I knew that I had to get home and get together with our team. It was very emotional and just devastating for everyone.”

Carfine’s death shook the Jenison community and took its toll on her teammates, who had to deal with the loss of their fun-loving, outgoing and talented teammate.

“It was definitely hard for all of us, and the day after we got together to see each other and talk about it,” senior Amanda Smaby said. “I think as a team we’ve come together more because of it because we all loved Syd, and it’s making our season more meaningful.

“We’re looking at it as inspiration instead of keeping us from having a great season because that’s what Syd would want. Just to enjoy golf because she made it fun and she loved golf.”

Carfine was expected to be a leader on this year’s squad, and was looking forward to her final year of high school.

“She sent a long text to the team at the end of the school year how this was going to be our year and how she wanted to do sweatshirts with last names, and we’re going to carry through on that,” Reimink said. “We also have smiley faces on our shirts in honor of Syd because that was her motto: ‘Just smile.’”

While Carfine’s unexpected death has been hard to comprehend, senior Sophie Hoekstra said she thinks of her often on the course.

“One way I cope with it is I just remember that she is watching over me,” she said. “When I make a bad putt, she’s up there laughing at me, and when I have a good shot I say in my head, ‘At least you were here to see it.’

“It’s not too different because I know that she’s still here, but at the same time it’s really different because we don’t get to see her smile or get our hugs anymore. She was always so positive and always made friends with everyone she was with.” 

Carfine began playing golf at a young age. Her mother, Jennifer, golfed at Michigan State University, and her late grandfather, Mike Mieras, was a PGA Professional at Hidden Valley Golf Course.

Carfine was a dedicated student of the game and worked hard to improve in all aspects.

She made the varsity team as a freshman at Byron Center and helped the Bulldogs reach the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final.

Carfine moved and transferred to Jenison, where she emerged as one of the top players on the team and in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black the past two seasons.

Despite her prowess on the golf course, Reimink said Carfine kept her sport in perspective and was dedicated to success in the classroom as well.

“She was really competitive, and when she got on the golf course she was competing, but also giggling about boys or something going on in school,” Reimink said. “It wasn’t all business, and she was way more than a golfer. She really cared about how well she did in school. When she had a freak out moment, it wasn’t about golf – it was about school. She was really committed and worked hard on her studies. She was very creative with her writing and art.”

Reimink said the team is doing its best to cope, but Carfine’s absence at practices has been noticeable.

“I think all the girls internally have handled it differently, but Amanda and Sydney always had individual competitions and that competitive nature against someone on the team she is going to miss big time,” Reimink said. “I feel like in practices, (Sydney) was really focused on her game, and we’re going to miss that. She was such a competitor and had big hopes for a really good year.”

Smaby said Carfine brought out the best in her and her teammates.

“It’s definitely a different environment now without her because she always added so much and was the leader of our team,” she said. “She always gave us a passion to want to do better, and she would make practices fun.

“She was the one we could talk to about anything. She made jokes and made everything a little lighter mood. It’s sad to think about, but the impact she made on our team and our program was just incredible.”

After struggling through back issues as a sophomore, Carfine qualified as an individual for the Division 1 Final last season and had aspirations to play golf in college.

“Her junior year, that was her number one goal,” Reimink said. “To get back to state.”

Carfine was honored last week during play at the annual Jenison Invitational. It was renamed as the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament.

There will be a moment of silence for Carfine at the Wildcats’ home football game Sept. 6.

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jenison’s Sydney Carfine would have been a senior this fall. (Middle) The Jenison girls golf team stands together last season, including Carfine, far left. (Photos courtesy of the Jenison girls golf program.)

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.