Following in Her Sister's Wake

October 23, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Morgan Bullock appreciates the opportunity she’d had to follow her older sister Jordan through the ranks of elite swimming.

She watched the last four years as Jordan piled up five individual school records and a number of all-state finishes, and took note how hard her sister worked. It made Morgan want to train just as much so she too could do her best.

Then, in Bullock's first high school meet on the first night of this season, Morgan broke two of Jordan’s records. And she would’ve broken the news to her older sister, if someone else hadn’t gotten to Jordan first.

After all, it was a little bittersweet for Morgan – but probably not entirely unexpected given her incredible talent and impressive performances before she even reached high school.

 “My sister worked so hard to get all of hers, and I come in and I swim my hardest, and I get two of her records,” Bullock said. “She heard it from the grapevine, from somebody else, before I told her. But once I called her and told her, she said ‘Good job,’ and that she loves me. I think she kinda saw it coming.”

Those in the west Michigan swim scene have watched the Bullock sisters rise among their classmates for a while. Jordan was part of seven team records total and earned nine all-state selections before graduating this spring and joining the team at Bowling Green.

And now comes Morgan, a phenom like her sister but a few steps ahead – in part because of Jordan's guidance as the two were growing up.

Morgan receives a Second Half High 5 after winning the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly at the Oct. 13 MISCA Meet at Eastern Michigan University.  Both of her times – 1:51.97 in the 200 and 56.37 seconds in the butterfly – would’ve placed at last season's MHSAA Division 1 Final; her 200 time third and her butterfly time fifth, just behind Jordan’s finish. It was only the second time this season Bullock had swam the 200 – and the finish stunned her a little because she remembers watching close the times from Jordan's Finals race the season before.

“I expected to go 1:53 or something like that, but then I saw it on the board and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that felt really good,’” said Bullock, who attends Zeeland West (West and East compete together in swimming and diving).

Morgan’s opening-night broken records came in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles. Her school-record time in the 50 is 24.18 seconds, and her 100 time is 52.78. Her butterfly time already qualifies for All-America recognition, and she’s swam the backstroke in 59.28, the 500 freestyle in 5:11 and the 200 individual medley in 2:11.9.

That backstroke time would’ve placed her 11th in Division 1 last season, her 50 free time eighth, her 100 free time sixth, and her 500 and 200 IM times both 15th.

Jordan may be gone, and she and Morgan different in ways. But no doubt, others have made and will continue to make comparisons now the younger has replaced the older on Zeeland's team.

“She’s watched and modeled her sister the last four years, … and she’s gotten into it a little bit quicker than her sister did,” Zeeland coach Mike Torrey said. “She’s got a great feel for the water, great position, a great kick. They’re both the same height and very strong.”

The Bullock sisters were taking swim lessons as kids at a nearby pool when their grandmother noticed a story about an area swimmer in the newspaper and suggested to their mother than the girls make that their sport. So they gave it a try, Jordan first and then Morgan joining her when the latter was 7. At 9, Morgan got serious about the sport.

The sisters combined for some outstanding finishes at this summer’s Michigan Swimming Open Long Course State Championships at Calvin College, which included competitors up to 19 years old. After winning four events and placing second in a fifth at the 14-and-under event, Bullock took third in the butterfly, seventh in the 100 freestyle, 14th in the 50 freestyle and swam on three relays that finished among the top six. Jordan swam on two of those relays as well and took eighth in the 100 and 200 butterfly races (five spots behind her sister in the 100).

Morgan’s favorite stroke is the butterfly, but she wouldn’t be this far along with Jordan. When she was younger, Morgan hated the butterfly. But Torrey suggested Jordan teach it to her little sister, and so she did – including how to keep her legs straight and the proper form to kick.

Morgan thinks the individual medley team record might be her next to take. Morgan’s time is only about a second off Jordan’s all-time team best. Morgan also is about a second off the team’s backstroke record.

Unlike last time, when those records fall, Morgan might get the chance to be the first to let her sister know. And with Morgan already an MHSAA title contender, there should be plenty of highlights to mention over the next four years.

Not that the two discuss swimming much these days when they get a chance to catch up. They might talk for a minute about their last meets, but “we don’t talk about it for fun,” Morgan said.

But the time is soon coming when Bullock will have a chance to pass some of her sister's lessons and guidance forward.

She is happy to blend in among the underclassmen. But she could take on more of a leadership spot next fall, with a number of friends currently in eighth grade expected to join the team.

“I can help them, and they look up to me,” Bullock said. “I’ll be there for them, do anything for them.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Morgan Bullock swims the butterfly during a meet this summer. (Middle) Morgan Bullock, left, and her older sister Jordan, both own spots in the Zeeland record book. (Photos courtesy of the Bullock family.)

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.)