No Fazing Holland in Repeat Run

November 21, 2012

By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half

ROCHESTER – Holland High girls swimming and diving coach Don Kimble said his squad talked about it all year.

“The second one is harder than the first one,” he said. “The second one, you’ve got a target on your back. Everybody’s looking for you. You sort of swim a little tight – you don’t want to be the one that loses it.”

On top of all that pressure, the Dutch had some other challenges they didn’t have last year while winning their first Lower Peninsula Division 2 title. Last year, Holland lifted the trophy at the nearby Holland Aquatic Center. This year, the Dutch would had to traverse across the state to Oakland University a few hours east, and face some new teams like Ann Arbor Skyline and East Grand Rapids that moved into Division 2 after competing in Division 1 or 3 in 2011.

But Holland wasn’t fazed by any of it, defending its title in convincing fashion.

The Dutch receive a Second Half High 5 this week after winning their second straight MHSAA championship. Prior to last season, they finished runner-up three straight seasons.

This time, they dominated the relays – taking first in all three, while also finishing first in four individual races. Holland grabbed crucial points with a second-place finish and three third-place finishes in the individual events, while its depth rounded things out on the day with nine finishes between ninth and16th.

Holland sophomore Taylor Garcia epitomized the team’s toughness, finishing first in all four races she swam – the 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay – all while dealing with a broken thumb.

“I think it affected my butterfly turns a little bit, and also I was a little tentative on my finishes,” she said. “I’m glad I just got to swim and didn’t need surgery or anything”.

Kimble was impressed with her performance despite the setback that has hampered her the past few weeks.

“She hasn’t been able to train all out,” he said. “To go the times she did today … it’s remarkable.”

Garcia wasn’t the only member of the Dutch proving her resolve on Saturday.

Junior Holly Morren won the 100 freestyle and finished second in the 50 free, while also helping the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams finish first.

Kimble noted how vastly she improved her performance from the preliminaries the day before.

“Holly came back with a vengeance,” he said Saturday. “She was really disappointed where she ended up yesterday, but made the effort today to step up.”

The third Holland team member to take home an individual title is another reason why the Dutch should be favored to three-peat. Cassie Misiewicz, a junior, will look to defend her 500 freestyle title next year, as well as improve on her third-place finish in the 200 free. She also swam on the first-place 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.

In fact, the Dutch will graduate just one senior who scored points at this year’s Finals – Melissa Vandermeulen, who capped off her career nicely with a pair of third-place finishes in the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, while also swimming on the first-place 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.

Surely there will be more challenges that pop up in the way of Holland’s title run next year.

But no one should believe the Dutch won’t figure out a way to get it done, again.

PHOTO: Holland swimmer Abi Johns gives a thumbs up after one of her events during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at Oakland University. (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.)