Redettes Make It 12 for 13 in 2014

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 15, 2014

MARQUETTE — Coach Nate McFerrin had every reason to be excited after the Marquette girls gained their 12th Upper Peninsula swimming and diving title in 13 years Saturday.

The Redettes collected 335 points, followed by defending champion Houghton with 277 and Rudyard with 195 at the Marquette High School pool.

“I didn’t think the girls would do this well,” McFerrin said with a smile. “We thought it’d be close. I’m just surprised by the margin of victory.”

Marquette junior Logan Vear won the 200-yard freestyle race in two minutes, 8.52 seconds, edging classmate Janelle Carroll by slightly more than two seconds.

Carroll then won the 500 freestyle (5:53) and freshman Lyndsey Welch added a first in the 100 backstroke (1:06.06).

Vear, Carroll and Welch joined freshman Lauren Clement on the winning 400 freestyle relay. Welch and Carroll also helped the Redettes take the 200 freestyle event, with Welch a part of the winning 200 medley relay.

Senior Lani Belton, who also helped the 200 medley and freestyle relays, was runner-up in the 100 freestyle in a personal-best 1:00.29 and fourth in the 50 freestyle (27.17).

“I thought I would do well in 50 freestyle, but I didn’t think I would do as well as I did in the 100,” said Belton, who will attend Northern Michigan University this fall. “For me, it’s all part of the mental game. I just focused on what I needed to do.”

Junior Lauren Jackson gave Houghton its lone first in diving with 166.95 points.

“I think we had a couple girls who really stepped up,” Houghton coach Roger Wood said. "This was a real good experience for us. We got contributions from all four of our classes. We felt we had a chance coming in, but Marquette swam real well.

“This was little bit of a reversal from last year. Runner-up is not too shabby against a tough opponent. We lost a lot of points from last year.”

Coach Patty Meehan also was pleased with Rudyard’s third-place finish.

“Our girls did awesome,” said Meehan, who jumped into the pool with the school’s nine swimmers after the meet. “We couldn’t ask for much better. All of them got on the podium.”

Rudyard senior Amy Knapp won the 100 freestyle in a school-record 56.87 seconds and the 100 breaststroke (1:14.54) and helped the Bulldogs place second in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays. 

“I definitely had a lot of help from our coaches,” said Knapp, who plans to attend Lake Superior State University this fall to major in physical therapy. “They were with me every step of the way. Today, I certainly had good starts, which is the key. Our whole team did well this year.”

Meehan says Knapp has been very valuable to the team. 

“Amy has become a very strong leader,” she added. “She has certainly been a major contributor.

“We have some very young, talented swimmers coming up. The future looks good, but it’s all about numbers. We’re looking forward to next year.” 

Freshman teammate Trista McDowell, who also helped both relays, captured the 50 freestyle in a school-record 26.12 seconds and was runner-up in the 100 backstroke (1:08.54).

“I had a real good start in the 50 (freestyle), which definitely set the tone,” said McDowell. “Our coaches and my teammates have pushed me real hard. If I can continue to progress the way I’ve been, it could get me into a good college. One thing I definitely need to work on is my stroke speed. I just need to keep fine-tuning everything. 

“We’re doing better as a team this year. We lost only one meet prior to today. Marquette and Houghton have real good teams.”

Hancock senior Olivia Rouleau won the 200 individual medley for the fourth straight time in a school-record 2:20.28. She set another school record while winning the 100 butterfly (1:03.7), shattering the old mark by more than three seconds. 

“It was a little bit stressful going after my fourth straight title in IM,” Rouleau said. “But once I got into it, I was confident. I felt the rhythm.

“I definitely had a real good start in butterfly, although the last 50 yards is always the hardest. Much of it is so mental. This is a great way to end my senior year and high school career. I’m looking for a college and hope to continue swimming, although I’m undecided on where I’ll be going.” 

Rouleau also helped two relays place among the top five for the co-op program, which includes student-athletes from Calumet and Painesdale-Jeffers.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Marquette swimmers and divers celebrate Saturday's 12th MHSAA Finals championship in 13 seasons. (Middle) Rudyard freshman Trista McDowell set a school record and posted two top-two finishes in her first Finals. (Photos courtesy of 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.)