Another EGR Championship Unfolds in D3

November 23, 2013

By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second half

HOLLAND – East Grand Rapids' Emily Lundquist has dedicated more than 10 years to the pool.

On Saturday afternoon, the perfect scenario unfolded to close out her high school career.

Lundquist was a part of the Pioneers' 400 freestyle relay team that won the final event, and they did it with a record-breaking performance.

East Grand Rapids clocked a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals-record time of 3 minutes, 30.35 seconds to wrap up another MHSAA team title.

“It was incredible to end a meet like that, and basically my swimming career,” Lundquist said. “I've been swimming for 11 years, and that's the last time I'll ever swim. It was a great event.”

The Pioneers dominated Saturday's MHSAA girls swimming and diving LP Division 3 Finals at Holland Aquatic Center.

East Grand Rapids tallied 362 points, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood was a distant second with 220 points. Detroit Country Day was third with 162 points and Holland Christian recorded 153 points to take fourth.

It was the Pioneers' 18th MHSAA Finals championship in girls swimming and diving, and they achieved success this season with a team bolstered by a talented group of underclassmen.

“The best part of this for us is to see the culmination with the joining of a great age-group program with our high school program,” longtime East Grand Rapids coach Butch Briggs said. “Our age-group program feeds us better than everybody else, and this is the year they all got to come together.”

It was East Grand Rapids' first team title since 2010, and on Saturday its depth played a vital role with several top finishes.

“This is pretty great,” Lundquist said. “We won my freshman year, and since then we've been trying to get back up to the state title. It's been a lot of hard work on our part, and we implemented a new lifting program. I'm so proud of our freshman class and the entire team because we've been very determined. Since day one we've set a goal to win a state championship.”

The Pioneers also won the 200 free relay with a Finals-record time of 1:36.05.

The relay team was powered by sophomore Emily Converse and freshmen Lexus VanHoven, Hanna Sanford and Gabby Higgins.

Briggs, who was tossed into the pool after the awards ceremony, said a positive sign came during Friday's preliminaries.

“It was the best prelims we've had at East since I've been here,” he said. “That put us in position today to be able to just go after some things and be comfortable. These kids have risen to the occasion all year, and our relays were amazing. It's a great group of kids, and I was just so pleased.”

Converse placed runner-up in the 200 free behind Holland Christian's Ashlee Sall, but redeemed herself with a win in the 500 free (5:02.57).

“I was a little scared after I lost to the girl in the 200 and I was top seed in that, but the girl next to me took it out fast and I thought I would be able to come back and beat her,” said Converse, who also was a key cog in the winning 400 free relay. “It felt really good, and we were excited to come back to Division 3 this year and win it.”

Hamilton junior Stephanie Johnston overcame two years of disappointment at the Finals to notch a pair of wins.

Johnston swam to victory in the 50 free with a time of 23.81 and edged Higgins by 0.07 seconds. She followed that with another close win over Higgins in the 100 free.

“In past years I would get nervous, and those nerves would get to me, but I wasn't nervous at all today,” Johnston said. “After (Friday's) prelims, I was a little iffy about whether I could do it, but I got here today and got super pumped up from everybody else and how they were doing. I went out and got what I was going for, and it felt really good because it also broke my personal records.”

Hamilton coach Eric Talsma said a lack of confidence prevented Johnston from performing her best at past Finals.

“We've been waiting for a breakout meet from her,” he said. “She swims fast regular season, but it's been a bit of a struggle at state meets. We really needed her to attack her races and not wait for something bad to happen. Friday she was a bit apprehensive, but today she just went after it and just attacked it.”

Johnston also anchored the Hawkeyes' runner-up finish in the 400 free relay.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids athletes pull coach Butch Briggs into the pool for the traditional celebratory dip after winning Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Middle) Swimmers  keep pace during a race Saturday. (Click to see more from

East Grand Rapids' Briggs to Receive Deserved Spotlight for Half-Century of Swim

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

May 17, 2024

EAST GRAND RAPIDS – When the idea was presented to celebrate his coaching milestone, Milton “Butch” Briggs balked at it.

West MichiganThe longtime East Grand Rapids swimming & diving coach doesn’t like to be the center of attention, although his teams certainly have been over the last 50 years as he’s established a pair of perennial state powerhouses. 

“He vehemently said, ‘No, we’re not doing this,’” Pioneers assistant girls coach Gwen Barnes said. “But it’s going to be super cool and so deserving. We need to mark this occasion as a community and swimming community. He has influenced so many people and been an active member of the community for a long time.”

On Saturday, the East Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Alumni Association will commemorate Briggs and his 50 years of coaching at the school.

Briggs took over the East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving program for the 1972-73 season, and the girls program beginning in the fall of 1974. He has coached 102 seasons total, winning 26 MHSAA Finals championships with the girls and 12 with the boys.

Briggs has always wanted the focus to be on his teams rather than himself.

“He is not one who likes the spotlight,” retired Pioneers athletic director Tim Johnston said. “He is a very private man, but it is awesome that this group of alumni, swimmers and parents want to celebrate him.

“He is one of the best coaches I have ever had the opportunity to work with, but to be completely honest, he is a better person and more than just a coach. That is the truth.”

Past EGR swimmer Kris Ward was a member of the first girls state championship team in 1978.

“He had a huge impact on me,” Ward said. “Just from understanding hard work and dedication and being part of a team. Then following it through. He worked with a variety of people on the team and helped us to come together. It was all about life lessons, and he's teaching the kids that while still being successful.”

Briggs also coached Ward’s daughters Alex, Ashley and Abby.

“He was always about connecting with the kids,” Ward said. “My kids were all able to swim for him, and so I had that experience with him in a different way and seeing how he was with all of my girls on the team.

“He starts with connecting with one person and carries that through to make the success better.” 

Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. Barnes, an assistant coach for the girls team the past three years, also swam under Briggs from 1984-87.

Her teams won four straight Finals championships and never lost a dual meet.

“There were high expectations for us, and despite them being unspoken, we felt it,” Barnes said. “We wanted and felt this desire to do our best on that team each year, and he instilled this culture of commitment and hard work. Every swimmer had different abilities, but he was able to tap into getting us to do our best.”

Barnes has gained a different perspective of Briggs as his assistant.

While she noted that he still displays the same traits as far as his demeanor, sense of humor, kindness and patience, his devotion to the program and his student-athletes also has never wavered.

“Coaching with him as an assistant, you see how much work and time he puts in that goes unnoticed sometimes,” Barnes said. “To maintain that level of commitment for 50 years is pretty remarkable, and he still has this presence when on the pool deck that challenges everybody to do their best. He set the same standard for everyone, and everyone on the team feels important, which I think is cool.

“He weaves in a lot of stories and lessons from over the years and maintains traditions that I think make current teams feel like they are a part of and building onto the history.”

Briggs, who played football and ran track & field in high school, was inducted into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame in 2009. The EGR natatorium was named after him in 2014.

Briggs, who taught at Ottawa Hills High School, has received national attention, too. In June 2020, he was named National Girls Swim Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. Briggs had received the same honor in 2011.

He wrote this of his coaching philosophy as part of the nomination for the NFHS girls swimming award:

“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.”

Ward said she expects about 200 people to attend Saturday’s celebration.

“He has impacted so many people in the swimming community, and there is something special in what he has created,” Ward said. “All of the kids on the current teams and their families will be there, as well as a lot of different generations. I also know that there will be people coming from far away.”

As far as Briggs’ future, Barnes doesn’t see him stepping down any time soon.

“I don’t really ever see him stopping,” she said. “His passion is EGR swim, and I think he will continue to be a part of the program as he can and wants to be.”

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Longtime East Grand Rapids swimming coach Butch Briggs, right, will be celebrated this weekend for his half-century of coaching the Pioneers. (Middle) Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. (Top photo by Kris Ward; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)