Performance: Grand Haven's Kathryn Ackerman

November 27, 2019

Kathryn Ackerman
Grand Haven senior - Swimming

The Buccaneers’ standout will graduate next spring as one of the most accomplished athletes in Grand Haven history and one of the top high school swimmers in Michigan all-time. She won her fourth and fifth individual MHSAA Finals championships at Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at the Holland Aquatic Center to earn the MHSAA “Performance of the Week” – and ranks among the nation’s fastest high school swimmers in both of her events this fall.

Ackerman earned her third straight championship in the 200-yard individual medley (1:57.61) and won the backstroke (54.70) for the second-straight year. She also teamed with senior Alonna Clark and juniors Ocean Veldhouse and Mary Violet Springer on the runner-up 400 freestyle relay (3:27.92) and with Springer, Veldhouse and junior Georgia Basil on the ninth-place 200 medley relay (1:47.58). Her IM time was the second-fastest in MHSAA Finals history, from all divisions/classes, behind her record-setting time from 2018. The superiority in the IM is evidence of her impressive versatility – she holds Grand Haven records in that race but also the 200 and 500 freestyles, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke, and has been part of all three school-record relays. Grand Haven as a team finished seventh at Saturday’s Finals, up from 10th a year ago, 12th her sophomore year and 15th when she was a freshman in 2016.

Next up for Ackerman will be another club season as she prepares to swim at next summer’s Olympic Trials and then join University of Michigan’s program, which finished third at last season’s NCAA Championships. She expects to swim the 200 and 400 IM races, freestyle and backstroke moving forward, with an eye on also competing at the 2024 Olympic Trials. Her IM time from Saturday is the fastest by a high school swimmer in the nation this fall according to, and her backstroke time ranks 12th nationally. Ackerman, who also played high school tennis as a freshman, carries a 4.11 grade-point average that places her among the top 15 academically in her graduating class at Grand Haven. Math and science always have been her strengths – and she’s planning to study engineering at U-M.

Coach Doug Thorne said: “Kathryn is by far one of the most passionate, but humble student-athletes I've ever coached. Her love for the sport is like no other.”

Performance Point: “I think the biggest thing was just having the chance to spend my last high school state meet with the girls that I started swimming with – I’ve been swimming with some of the same girls since I was 8 years old, so it was bittersweet,” Ackerman said. “But it was a lot of fun to finish off the meet with the 400 freestyle relay where we were runner-up, and to swim to those two championships was a lot of fun too. To finish off on that note was good.”

Go Bucs: “High school sports have been incredible. Going into high school swimming, I wasn't expecting to accomplish this much just because I've been so familiar with club sports my entire life. To go through these four championship meets and set records, and experience all of these accomplishments that I have, it's been incredible and I wouldn't ask for anything more from high school sports. … (I’ll miss most) the team and the team atmosphere. The girls are so supportive and encouraging at every meet. They're behind the lane, cheering you on, and always wished me good luck before races. So I'll definitely miss the team and obviously the coaches and everyone that surrounds that sport too.”

Go State to Go Blue: “Actually, my entire family, they’re pretty big Michigan State fans. So it’s kinda hard to make the switch (to U-M), but just recognizing that Michigan has such an excellent swim program and school made it easier to make the switch. My family is supportive of anything I do.”

Plan to succeed: “Growing up, I always just focused a lot on my stroke technique. It wasn’t always about swimming the most yards, or high-intensity workouts. It was about doing drills and starting that foundation so I could go faster in high school. It definitely paid off in these four years … and the times that I have right now are looking really good going into Michigan. So I’m looking forward to the next chapter, but I definitely have to thank all of my coaches for all of the work that they’ve done for me. I appreciate all of them and the support they’ve shown me throughout this process too.”

Learning to lead: “There have been some girls that I've swam with on my club team in Holland, and they have always been so encouraging and supportive of their teammates.  I not only look up to them for their characteristics of being supportive and encouraging, but they're also super hard-working, and they're fast, so I've always had them as role models. … It's helpful to have someone who has been that kind and supportive to me. They've exemplified so well what a good leader is. It was helpful to have that foundation as I went through high school and was the leader of the younger girls. (Also) my older sister Anna was on the high school team through her four years too, and she was elected as a captain her junior and senior year. S I also learned a lot from my sister on how to be a supportive and encouraging teammate. A lot (of credit) goes out to my sister as well.”

– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Past honorees

Nov. 21: Emily Van Dyke, Southfield Christian volleyball - Report
Nov. 14:
Taylor Wegener, Ida volleyball - Report
Nov. 7:
Carter Solomon, Plymouth cross country - Report
Oct. 31: 
Jameson Goorman, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Oct. 24:
Austin Plotkin, Brimley cross country
- Report
Oct. 17:
Jack Spamer, Brighton cross country - Report
Oct. 10:
Kaylee Maat, Hudsonville volleyball - Report
Oct. 3:
Emily Paupore, Negaunee cross country - Report
Sept. 26: 
Josh Mason, South Lyon soccer - Report
Sept. 19: Ariel Chang, Utica Eisenhower golf - Report
Sept. 12: Jordyn Shipps, DeWitt swimming - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Haven's Kathryn Ackerman swims to the championship in the 200 IM during Saturday's MHSAA Finals at Holland Aquatic Center. (Middle) Ackerman also repeated as champion in the backstroke. (Click for 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.)