Last Year's Runners-Up Take Next Step

November 22, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

ROCHESTER — Emily Converse, Gabby Higgins, Rileigh Eding and Riley Kishman all had a year to replay the races in their minds.

A fraction of a second here, an extra lean there — that's all that stood between them and individual championships at the 2013 MHSAA Division 3 Lower Peninsula Swimming and Diving Finals.

Given an opportunity to take one last step to the top spot on the awards podium, all four succeeded to win individual titles on Saturday at Oakland University.

Five of the eight individual swimming events were won by last year's runners-up.

The team championship, however, remained once again in the hands of East Grand Rapids. The Pioneers repeated as Division 3 champions, winning their 19th MHSAA title in the last 36 years by a 424.5 to 267 score over Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

"You don't ever go in absolutely expecting it," said Milton Briggs, who has won 29 total MHSAA titles coaching the boys and girls teams at East Grand Rapids. "You know you've got some good kids and you know they've been working hard, so you hope for the best."

Higgins, a sophomore at East Grand Rapids, had to ponder two second-place finishes from her freshman year. She was second in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races to Hamilton's Stephanie Johnston, who returned Saturday to defend her titles.

Higgins won the 50 in 23.54 seconds, while Johnston and East Grand Rapids sophomore Lexus VanHoven tied for second in 23.92. Higgins won the 100 in 51.80.

"It's really motivated me to work on the little things," said Higgins, who was also on two winning relay teams Saturday. "It's really good to have someone like (Johnston) to push me. We do a good job of pushing each other."

It also helps to have some of the best swimmers in the state to train with and race against on a daily basis.

"It's really awesome," Higgins said. "It really helps to push each other and work on our races. We're really supportive of each other."

Converse, a junior at East Grand Rapids, was second in the 200 freestyle last year before getting redemption with a victory in the 500 freestyle. She got the sweep this season, taking the 200 in 1:53.37 and the 500 in 5:06.85.

"Last year I went into the (200) finals seeded first and got touched out at the end," Converse said. "I didn't want history to repeat itself. I was really motivated today. I was very focused."

Converse pulled off a difficult double, taking the meet's longest event and returning to swim the third leg of the next event, the 200 freestyle relay.

East Grand Rapids was in second place when Converse hit the water in that relay, but was in first place to stay after she swam a 24.24-second leg.

"It's kind of like an adrenaline rush," Converse said. "The 500 is a distance event, so 50 (in the relay) isn't that much more. We're trained to do that. It's always a fun thing to do."

Like Higgins, Converse also won four events.

Eding, a junior at Hamilton, was second to a senior last year in the 100 backstroke. Returning as the favorite, Eding won by 1.38 seconds in 56.26.

"Last year I was the No. 1 seed going in," Eding said. "A senior came in and won it. I just had to believe in myself. I knew I could do it. I had to dig deep."

Kishman, a sophomore at Grand Rapids Catholic Central, won the 200 individual medley last year, but settled for second in the 100 breaststroke.

She came away with both championships on Saturday, taking the 200 IM in 2:09.23 and the breaststroke by more than two seconds in 1:05.71.

Kishman was also on a winning relay team and a second-place relay team.

"The person who beat me last year graduated, but I knew it would still be tough this year," Kishman said. "There were some good freshmen."

The top freshman of the meet is a teammate of Kishman's, Susan LaGrand. LaGrand swam the first leg on the winning 200 medley relay team before winning the 100 butterfly in 57.44.

"It's a dream come true to just be able to come here with a great team that supports me and a great group of people," LaGrand said.

East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Catholic Central combined to win 10 of the 12 events. Besides Eding, the only other champion not from those schools was Milan junior Taylor Hosein, who repeated as the diving champion. 

"I didn't want to let anyone steal my state title from me," said Hosein, who scored 449.80 points to win by 15.75.

The runner-up team finish was the best ever for Grand Rapids Catholic Central, eclipsing last year's sixth-place finish. The Cougars have been in the top 10 only six times, compared to 39 top-10s for East Grand Rapids. 

"It's going to be a good rivalry," Briggs said. "This year they took a huge step forward."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Members of East Grand Rapids' 200 freestyle relay watch as the final leg finishes their meet record swim Saturday. (Middle) Milan's Taylor Hosein repeated as LP Division 3 diving champion. (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.)