Longtime Coach's Legendary Expertise Keeps Manistee Surging

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

November 19, 2021

Name any high school or community pool in Michigan, and odds are Corey Van Fleet has been there.

Perhaps it is true of any pool in the United States.

He might have even helped build it.

And, a little more odds. If the pool hosted an MHSAA Finals meet, one of Van Fleet’s teams likely participated. Although he won’t have any qualifiers making the trip to the Division 3 girls meet Friday, he’s been to championship weekend lots of times with Birmingham Seaholm and Manistee. His 1962-65 Seaholm boys teams won four straight Class A Finals, and his Manistee boys team is coming off a Finals trip last winter and its best season ever.

Van Fleet, now 85 years young, is in his 68th of coaching swimmers. He’s spent the last 13 with the boys and girls teams of Manistee High School. He started the program after helping build the pool.  

The school utilizes the Paine Aquatics Center named after Bill Paine, who presented a proposal to the City of Manistee, the Manistee Area Public Schools and Van Fleet. Paine’s proposal called for the pool, which opened in July 2009, to be attached to the high school facilities.

“So I’m sitting in my office one day and this tall, lanky guy (Paine) walks in and closes the door and says my wife and I want to donate an aquatics complex in Manistee, and Sandy Saylor says you know something about swimming,” Van Fleet recalls. “‘Will you help me build it?’

“We talked about it for a while and I said yeah, I’d help him,” Van Fleet continued. “So we ended up with a nice eight-lane swimming pool in Manistee.”

Van Fleet, who also had coached at Florida State, coached and served as athletic director at Oakland University and then served as AD at Long Beach State (Calif.) during an illustrious career at the college level, took the next step naturally.

Manistee girls swimming & diving“The superintendent of schools at the time (Robert Olsen) said you build the darn thing, you might as well get some programs started,” Van Fleet recalled. “That was 13 years ago, and I’m still at it.”

At it, Van Fleet continues. He plans to stay with it until he just can’t do it anymore.

“I am still fairly healthy,” he said. “If I can find six people that can carry me out of church, I can think about quitting.”

During his tenure at Manistee, Van Fleet’s teams have dominated the Coastal Conference and produced multiple academic all-state swimmers. The boys team captured the 2020 academic all-state title with a 3.82 team grade point average.

“I am most proud, I think, about our academic progress,” Van Fleet said. “We take great pride in passing some classes.”

Van Fleet is also filled with pride when he reflects on all the swimmers he’s seen go on to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and coaches.

“I am pleased with the number of kids who have gone on to do some pretty big things in the world off our swimming programs,” he said. “I’d like to think they might have learned lessons about goal planning and sticking to it and hard work and all that stuff.

“That’s what lights me up.”

Van Fleet’s initial high school coaching job was at Madison Heights in 1959. He’s coached at camps all over Michigan, including his first at Burt Lake in 1954. Today he owns and operates a summer swimming camp in Irons, 30 miles southeast of Manistee. He also built it.

Jeff Brunner, a veteran MHSAA official in multiple sports including swimming, and father of former members of the Traverse City high school swimming co-op, is among many singing praises of Van Fleet’s impact on the sport.

“Corey has a wealth of information that he has accumulated in his coaching career,” Brunner said. “If I was a high school swimmer, I’d want to learn all I could from him – swimming for him would be such a unique opportunity.”

Andrew Huber, principal of Manistee’s middle and high schools, agrees with Brunner.

“We're humbled to have had Corey as part of our school and community,” he said. “His wealth of experience, knowledge, and relationship building has helped create a foundation of well-being for students and adults alike.  

“His enthusiasm for swimming is infectious, and his energy is amazing for anyone regardless of age,” he continued. “It's been truly impressive to observe him connect and inspire students for the many years he's been in Manistee, and realize his impact is generational.”

The Manistee boys swim team starts practice next week. The Chippewas, along with their girls squad, have battled through COVID. The pandemic is one of many changes through which Van Fleet has guided his athletes.

“We’ve seen changes in training methods,” he said. “We’ve seen changes in diet.

“We’ve seen changes in philosophies in terms of what’s important and what’s not important,” he went on. “Kids have changed, and parents have changed.”

Training methods have been modified the most, along with new multi-lane pools popping up in Michigan, Van Fleet noted.

“Swimming is more technical now,” he said. “The science of swimming has become paramount. 

“It is not just going in and kick a few legs and swim a few hundreds and go home — we’ve gone the gamut,” he continued. “It is very specific now every time you want a kid to do something, and now our swimming pools are showplaces – they are magnificent.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Corey Van Fleet (far right) visits with his Manistee girls team the wall honoring him at Oakland University. (Middle) Van Fleet is in his 68th year coaching swimming. (Photos courtesy of the Manistee girls swimming & diving program.)

Picking Up Seconds All Over, Cranbrook Picks Up Points to Climb Podium

By Jason Schmitt
Special for MHSAA.com

March 11, 2023

ROCHESTER — Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood edged top-seeded East Grand Rapids by one hundredth of a second Saturday in the 200-yard medley relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Oakland University.

The Cranes celebrated their victory in the meet’s first event like they had just won the state championship. Little did everyone in attendance know that when all was said and done, that razor-thin margin would in fact be the difference, as Cranbrook captured its first Finals title since 2017. The Cranes totaled 271 team points, beating out the two-time reigning champion Pioneers (259) by 12 points. 

“I’m one of those coaches, I score out the psych sheet, I score out the entries and EGR was 11 points up on us coming into today,” Cranbrook head coach Paul Ellis said. “(Winning) that first relay, that was a 12-point swing. That got the snowball rolling, and we continued to feed off that and go fast.”

Freshman A.J. Farner, senior Ethan Schwab and sophomores Sean Lu and Joe Wiater got the win for Ellis’s team. Schwab and Wiater swam the top splits in their legs, with Wiater rallying his team to victory in the final freestyle leg.

“That win by one one-hundredth really set the tone for the meet,” Schwab said. “It was great to come out with my team and have fun in the first relay and then bring the energy into the next event.”

Adrian’s London Rising celebrates his victory in the 200 freestyle. Schwab brought the energy to all four of his swims at the Finals. The Michigan-bound Schwab won three of the races he entered and set LP Division 3 Finals records in both the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke this weekend. His time of 1:48.23 in Saturday’s IM beat the record he set just a day earlier in the prelims. He then finished with a 54.31 in the 100 breaststroke, beating out Wayland’s Zachery Jenison by more than two seconds but falling just short of his record-setting time of 54.04, set in Friday’s preliminary round.

Schwab was named Swimmer of the Meet by the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association for his efforts, which also included a runner-up finish as part of the 400 freestyle relay.

Cranbrook’s 200 freestyle relay team of sophomore Robbie Sarle, senior Christos Tzoumakas, Wiater and junior Will Farner beat out top-seeded and 2022 event champion Grand Rapids Christian for the win. It was one of four victories for the Cranes.

“It was just a phenomenal team effort from top to bottom,” Ellis said. “Everyone did their part. Everyone nickel and dimed their way into the top 16 and nickel and dimed their way by moving up a little bit in each final swim that we had.

“We had huge swims from Will Farner, A.J. Farner and Sean Lu. Joe Wiater was injured last year. He came back and was consolation in the 50 and top eight in the breaststroke. It was a whole bunch of guys from all different classes that did it for us. I’m thrilled with everything they did.”

East Grand Rapids, which came in having won the Division 3 title in both 2021 and 2022, actually took slim leads over Cranbrook after eight events and again after 10. Junior Carter Kegle won the 500 freestyle for the second-straight year, beating out Plainwell freshman Sam Harper by five seconds. The win helped his team take a 10-point lead over Cranbrook. Kegle would finish second in the 200 freestyle and helped his Pioneers win the 400 freestyle relay to end the day. Junior Micah Spitzley and seniors Ted Turnage and Logan McCahill joined Kegle on the winning relay.

“We swam great. We broke three or four school records, and we were in the hunt,” East Grand Rapids head coach Milton Briggs said. “Give credit to Cranbrook. They beat us in that (medley) relay and they won the 200 free relay, which they weren’t supposed to. They had a great second day. They swam out of their minds. They’re a very, very good team.”

Chelsea’s Mitch Brown completes a dive on the way to claiming the title in that event. Grand Rapids Christian junior Ben Sytsma won the 50 freestyle and finished runner-up in the 100 freestyle. He won the 50 in a time of 20.57 seconds, edging Manistee junior Alec Lampen by three tenths of a second. 

Lampen rebounded to win the 100 backstroke in a time of 50.30 seconds. 

Chelsea’s Mitch Brown rolled to victory in the 1-meter diving competition. The junior scored 522.25, outdistancing second-place Gryffin Porter of Haslett (428.75). DeWitt freshman Carson Reynolds was third with 419.65 points.

Fremont senior Matheus Garcia won the 100 freestyle, touching the wall in a time of 44.75 seconds. He beat out Sytsma (44.96) and McCahill (45.20).

The state saw a glimpse of the future, as a pair of freshmen walked away with championships. Otsego’s Liam Smith won the 100 butterfly, and Adrian’s London Rising was tops in the 200 freestyle. Smith entered the weekend with the top-seeded time but was second after Friday’s preliminaries to Holland senior James Baer.

“I always put pressure on myself,” said Smith, who won the final with a time of 49.74. “I came in as the 1-seed so I felt like I had to finish as the 1-seed. But at the same time, I have three more years to come in and do it all over again. It feels awesome.”

Rising, who was second to Kegle after the prelims, said he was stressing out heading into the prelims and all night Friday. 

“All night, I was just visualizing my race,” said Rising, who also finished third in the 100 butterfly. “When I came back, I was more nervous than excited but after I won, it was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. Today, I just focused on myself and didn’t underestimate anybody. I thought it was going to be a good race, and it was.”

Holland Christian finished third with 161 points, and Adrian (135) and Grand Rapids Christian (110) rounded out the top five.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS Cranbrook Kingswood’s Ethan Schwab launches into one of his races Saturday at Oakland University. (Middle) Adrian’s London Rising celebrates his victory in the 200 freestyle. (Below) Chelsea’s Mitch Brown completes a dive on the way to claiming the title in that event. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)