MARSHALL — When Dick Hamilton signed on to coach the Marshall girls golf team, never in his wildest dreams did he think he would still be doing so 40 years later.
“I’m just glad to be alive 40 years later,” he said, laughing.
He is not only alive, but thriving on working with what he calls “close to the best team I’ve had.”
After winning the Division 3 Regional on Oct. 7 at Niles, the Redhawks are headed to the MHSAA Final this Friday and Saturday at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University.
It will be the 29th time Hamilton’s teams will have competed at the Finals level and, with five seniors, he hopes this is the year to win the previously elusive championship.
Third place is the highest his teams have finished. These Redhawks are ranked third in Division 3 and finished eighth last year.
The team is led by four-year varsity golfer Karlee Malone, who was Regional medalist with an 83 at Orchard Hills Country Club.
High school golf has come a long way since Hamilton began coaching.
“When I started, there was one division and everybody was in the same division,” Hamilton said. “Ironically, my first year, we hosted the state championship at Marshall High School.
“Our AD said, ‘You run it.’ It had to be the worst-run state championship in history. I was a rookie and everybody was coming in with these powerhouse teams.”
The Redhawks actually qualified for that year’s championship tournament and ended up eighth.
While the game, itself, has not changed much over the years, the coaching and the golfers have, Hamilton said.
The Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association pushed for more divisions, and today the MHSAA has four divisions for golf in the Lower Peninsula.
“There are a lot more good players now,” Hamilton said. “When I started, we were in the spring and we would just go play and that was it.
“The season would be over. They wouldn’t work on it. They wouldn’t play.”
Now, he said, his golfers play all summer, especially Golf Association of Michigan events.
“When I started, girls were players if their dads were (golfers),” Hamilton said. “Now, out of the girls on my golf team, maybe one or two of their dads are players.
“It’s a game where they get into it, they take lessons, they go to First Tee, they go to Foundation Golf Center, they have private swing coaches and that makes a difference.”
Having the best equipment also is a plus. Hamilton had that advantage when he was growing up in the Thumb.
“My dad was a good player, and my grandfather was a good player,” he said.
“My grandfather owned the local hardware store, so I got a set of golf clubs the day I went to play golf (at age 6 or 7). Not every kid in town had that.”
Another change in high school golf was the uniforms.
When he started coaching, the girls team had no specific uniforms.
“When I started in 1980-81, I said this is a team; we’ve got to have a uniform,” he said.
“They looked at me like I was crazy. The AD bought into that, and I think that helped.”
While Hamilton did not coach any mothers of his current golfers, he did have his own two daughters on his team.
“They were basketball players who played golf when the season came on, but in those days, it was in the spring,” he said.
“They live in New York now and don’t play much anymore.”
Over the years, Hamilton has thought about giving up the position, especially once he retired from teaching history at the high school.
“Every time I had a really good team, I’d say ‘Well, I don’t want to give up this really good team,’” he said.
“A couple of times we’ve had rebuilding years, and I didn’t want to give that to anybody else so it just kind of kept going.”
Full speed ahead
These current golfers are happy he kept going.
In addition to the Regional title, the Redhawks won the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference (going undefeated) this fall, plus the conference tournament and four invitationals.
“He meets the needs of every individual player,” Malone said. “He is willing to take you aside individually and work with you.
“Golf is not only a team sport, but an individual sport, so he helps us with that aspect. But he also brings us together as a team and sets goals for us that we’re able to meet.”
After tying for fifth individually at the Division 3 Final last year, Malone said she feels a bit of pressure this season.
“I’ve been dealing with that all throughout the season,” she said. “I wanted to have an even better season than last year, so rising to those expectations has been an extra challenge.”
Marie Mathieu, another four-year varsity golfer, said with all seniors on the team, there is an advantage.
“We’ve all played together for so long that we know how to help everyone and give everyone confidence,” she said.
Another four-year varsity golfer is Emily McLane, who appreciates the coach’s sense of humor.
“He’s very encouraging, and he’s funny,” she said. “He cracks some jokes once in a while.
“Our practices are really structured. We work on chipping, we work at the range, we work at putting all the time so when we get on the course, we know what to do.”
The other two seniors are Malena Solis and Katie Kolassa. Assistant coach is Sal Konkle, who also led the Marshall girls basketball team to the Class B championship in 2016.
The Redhawks’ home course is Marshall Country Club, where Hamilton has been a member for 50 years.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Marshall girls golf coach Dick Hamilton talks with his team before last week’s Regional. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hamilton, Karlee Malone, Emily McLane and Marie Mathieu. (Below) Hamilton will take a team to the MHSAA Girls Golf Finals for the 29th time over his four decades as coach. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)
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.