Any season. Any MHSAA sport.
Well, almost any.
You name it, and likely Jeff Brunner has officiated it. He may even have been selected to officiate an MHSAA Final in the sport as well.
He first started as a baseball umpire right out of high school. Family and work life created a 20-year absence from officiating for the 1979 grad of Romeo High, where he had played baseball for the Bulldogs.
Brunner, a 20-year MHSAA registered official, is about to work his favorite sport – softball – again. But, the 60-year-old readily admits he loves games so much, the favorite sport can change regularly for him.
“It’s kind of whatever is in season,” Brunner said of naming a favorite. “I love the pace of the game of softball, and I am a big proponent of providing as may opportunities for girls to play sports, whatever that sport may be.
“For that reason I gravitated towards softball.”
He’ll have to wait though to get on the field. Both of his games were cancelled this week due to weather-related complications.
“Weather can create havoc with spring sports schedules – more so than any other season – so from an officiating standpoint, you have to count on some games being postponed or cancelled,” he acknowledged. “You just have to go with the flow and be ready to work when the weather allows.
“I feel a bit bad for softball and baseball players in particular, because those seasons are so short to begin with, and every contest date is important,” he went on. “When bad weather causes cancellations as a result of rain or the extension of winter, it makes the high school season that much shorter for the athletes.”
Brunner, a father of four grown children, is currently registered for softball, football, volleyball, swimming & diving and basketball. He once did lacrosse in addition to starting his officiating career with baseball.
“There is only so much time in the week,” he said. “I can’t do everything.
“I have at least one sport for each of the three sporting seasons,” he continued. “It’s fun.”
Brunner watched his three daughters grow up playing softball and competing in swimming. His son played baseball and competed in swimming. They all graduated from Traverse City St. Francis, swimming through a co-op program. His daughters were all pitchers for the Gladiators. Their first pitching coach was Dad.
His youngest daughter, Julia, just finished competing for Wayne State University at the 2022 Division II Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
It was his kids that got him into officiating, along with the extra money. But today, it’s just to be a part of a game.
“We were always around sports,” Brunner said. “I thought about officiating for a while.
“Originally I did it to maybe earn just a little bit of extra money, get a little bit of exercise, and kind of stay close to the game,” he continued. “Now, it is just plain fun — it’s fun to be around a game, whatever that game is.”
During his officiating career, Brunner has been selected to officiate MHSAA Finals in swimming & diving and football. He’s not likely to get the chance to umpire a baseball or softball Final as his other business obligations interfere with MHSAA spring postseason play.
While working a Final is a goal of most all MHSAA officials, Brunner said it is just another game once it starts. He sees the Final as a great experience for all coaches, participants, fans and officials.
“MHSAA always does a great job of putting on a Final,” he said. “It’s always special.
“You have a few butterflies prior the game or the meet, but once things start you started focusing on the game itself.
The longer Brunner officiate, whatever the sport is, he believes the key to making the right call often comes down to mechanics.
“Mechanics were drilled into me when I first started,” Brunner said. “A lot of making the right call in my opinion is having the right mechanics and knowing where to be.
“You need to be in a good position to make the call.”
Many veteran coaches have noticed Brunner prides himself on being in the right position, and more. It is noted game after game, season after season.
“Jeff Brunner is the consummate professional as an umpire,” said Dave Kennedy, Traverse City West’s varsity softball coach. “He is excellent with his calls and positioning, but he is most concerned about getting the call right.
“Every time I see I have Jeff as part of the umpiring crew for my games, I know the game is going to be very well officiated,” Kennedy continued. “We are lucky to have Jeff as one of our officials in Northern Michigan — he’s definitely one of the best.”
"As an umpire, Jeff's professionalism and easy demeanor are much appreciated,” Hawkins said. “He runs the games he works in such a way that the focus stays on the players.
“Jeff may not know every player on the field personally, but I'm convinced that Jeff takes on his job, which is a difficult one, for them – the players."
Brunner and his son Andrew’s high school baseball experiences made it easy for Jeff to jump into baseball — and the same was true for softball due to his pitching girls. Swimming & diving, though, has been perhaps the most challenging sport to learn how to officiate for Brunner.
Watching his four children compete in pools over the years was a big help. The physical aspect was much easier, but maybe not the rules.
“The hard part is knowing all the rules … knowing what is a legal stroke and what is not,” he said. “It was an easy transition — we had seen so many swim meets.”
Today Brunner is anxiously waiting to get back on the softball field. He’s got his gear ready in anticipation of calling his first pitch of the 2022 season.
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 [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) Official Jeff Brunner has his eyes on the action while officiating a football game. (2) Brunner monitors a starting block during November’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Swimming & Diving Finals at Calvin University. (3) Brunner and his wife Michelle support daughter Julie at March’s Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship meet. (4) Brunner’s gear sits ready for his first game this week before it was canceled due to bad weather. (Photos courtesy of the Brunner family.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)