Longtime Friends from Rival Schools Heading to Finals as Tritons Teammates

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

November 17, 2023

Traverse City Central’s Ella Cabbage and Traverse City West’s Kira Adams have competed in pools with and against each other for as long as they can remember.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThey also attend schools considered each other’s biggest rival.

Yet, they will be rooting for each other at the weekend’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Swimming & Diving Finals at Eastern Michigan University. Adams’ family will be cheering on Cabbage as much as they do her. Same for Cabbage’s family.

They are not rivals this weekend. The girls with a long-time friendship are teammates. West and Central are in a cooperative program for swimming along with Traverse City St. Francis. The co-op goes by the moniker Traverse City Tritons.

Adams and Cabbage, both juniors, came into the season listed among the swimmers to watch in Northern Michigan. They didn’t disappoint, leading the Tritons to their third straight Coastal Conference title.

This weekend’s Finals will provide them with a very special moment. They both plan to look for each other the second they finish their respective events. They are treasuring the opportunity to compete in the Finals together.

“One hundred percent we always do,” Adams said of the chance they will be the first person they see after competing. “We get to warm up with each other at the same time and prepare to race together as well.”

Cabbage agreed.

Adams swims one of her races this season. “I go right after Ella so we’ll be together the whole way,” Adams said.  ‘We will get see other compete — It is very special.”

Adams and Cabbage hope their families capture more memories for future viewing.

‘We have videos of Kira swimming and me in the background screaming and vice versa,” Cabbage said. “I wouldn’t want to go to states with anyone else.

“Our families are really close,” Cabbage continued. “It’s really special for it being just the two of us in the Finals.”

Adams used the conference finals to meet the MHSAA Finals qualifying time in the 100-yard breaststroke. She also competed well in the 200 individual medley, backstroke and freestyle events in 2023. Cabbage had qualified in the 100 backstroke early in the season.

Cabbage and Adams were at last years’ Finals, Cabbage a member of the 200 medley relay that finished 16th and Adams an alternate for the relay.

They were really looking forward to getting on the road to the Finals this week, recalling last year’s trip featuring inclement early winter weather at Oakland University, second-year coach Megan Petroelje noted. She was the driver for last year’s qualifiers and will be again this year.

“Last year we had quite a snowstorm on our way down,” Petroelje said after noting the weather forecast for the trip to Ypsilanti. “Unfortunately, it was not the best start.  

“We basically fought the weather all the way down and all the way home,” she continued. “I am excited to see two these two perform in a completely different environment than they’re used to, and I think they’re excited too.”

Cabbage launches during a meet this fall. Petroelje is thrilled to have two individual qualifiers. It is the first time in many years the co-op produced two individual finalists. For a long time this season, Cabbage was concerned she was going to be alone.

“Kira slid in at the end, and it was awesome,” Petroelje said. “I am so thankful they get to do this together.

“It is so much more fun to train with someone and have someone to motivate you and keep you accountable,” she continued. “The fact that there are two, I am super excited about.”

Adams and Cabbage have been teammates since their beginning days of swimming with their club Traverse City Breakers. They trained as youngsters in the same pools – the Grand Traverse YMCA and the Traverse City Civic Center. Petroelje also coached the qualifiers as Breakers.

While they currently attend rival schools, the don’t think of themselves as rivals in any way shape or form.

“We’ve grown up swimming together,” Adams said.  “While some people might see it as a rivalry, it’s really not for us because we’ve known each other for so long.”

Tom SpencerTom 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 [email protected] 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) From left: Traverse City Tritons Ella Cabbage, coach Megan Petroelje and Kira Adams. (Middle) Adams swims one of her races this season. (Below) Cabbage launches during a meet this fall. (Photos by Andrea Hartman.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)