Redettes Continue U.P. Finals Domination

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 21, 2015

MARQUETTE — The Marquette girls put together a solid performance in Saturday’s MHSAA Upper Peninsula Swimming and Diving Finals, retaining their title with 315 points.

The Redettes repeated as champions and claimed their 13th title over the last 14 seasons. 

They were followed by Gladstone with 269 points and Houghton with 223 in their home pool.

Marquette senior Janelle Carroll won the 500-yard freestyle race in five minutes, 48.18 seconds, and helped the Redettes capture the 200 and 400 freestyle relays in 1:49.45 and 3:57.27, respectively, She was also runner-up to senior teammate Logan Vear in 200 freestyle. 

“Janelle had been sick for two weeks and was injured during the season, but she really burned it up today,” said Marquette coach Nathan McFarren. “We’re going to miss our seniors. They’re going to be tough to replace.”

Vear was clocked in 2:06.66 in the 200 freestyle, with Carroll at 2:07.58. 

Also winning for Marquette were sophomores Lyndsey Welch in the 200 individual medley (2:24.54) and Lauren Rotundo in 100 breaststroke (1:13.85).

Gladstone sophomore Katie Stephenson won the 100 backstroke in 1:04.15 and was runner-up in the 50 freestyle (25.87). 

“I’ve been working a lot on starts,” said Stephenson, who led off the winning 200 medley relay. “I finally got beat after two years in the 50 freestyle, which just motivated me more for the 100. I just pushed myself harder in backstroke.”

Junior Jesse Flath, who anchored Gladstone’s winning relay, added second places in the 100 freestyle (57.82) and 200 IM (2:32.41). 

Gladstone coach Tom Desy said he was pleased with the team’s performance.

“This was a very nice performance by both of our teams,” he added. “We knew it’d be tough to beat Marquette. Our kids did very well.” 

Rudyard sophomore Trista MacDowell was a double winner, taking the 50 freestyle (25.67) and the 100 (57.43).

Houghton senior Lauren Jackson retained her diving title Friday with 169.65 points, more then 11 points better than the remainder of the field. 

“I just tried to keep calm,” said Jackson, who plans to attend Northwest Michigan College in Traverse City this fall. “I went in thinking it’d be OK. Then, I watched some of the other kids dive (in warm-ups) and thought maybe my position wasn’t as solid as I thought. My first dive was one of my more iffy dives. But when I went up on my second dive, I thought it was there. My confidence came back.”

Saturday’s performance was the best this season for Houghton, according to coach Erik Johnson. 

“The girls put forth their best effort and scored more points than I thought they would,” he said. “Several of our girls did well in IM and (100) butterfly. We have a lot of developing talent on both teams. We’re looking forward to next year. We had a very good day overall.”

Manistique had a champion in junior Allison Halpin, who took the 100 butterfly in 1:04 and placed third in the 100 freestyle in a school-record 58.1 seconds.

“I dropped seven seconds in 100 fly,” she said. “I’m surprised I was able to do that. The atmosphere up here pumps you up and it definitely helps when you know what to expect. The competition in 100 free was tougher this year and having Gladstone here makes the competition that much better. The races were back-to-back, and I was a little tired in freestyle. But I’m still happy with what I did.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Racers leave the blocks during Saturday's MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals at Marquette High School. (Middle) A competitor swims toward the finish. (Click to see more from Jarvinen Photos.)

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.)