Saline Diver Twists and Turns to the Top

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

November 19, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

SALINE – Camryn McPherson is just a junior at Saline High School, and already her athletic life has been filled with twists and turns.

That suits her just fine.

McPherson, possibly the favorite to win the 1-meter diving portion of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals this weekend at the Holland Community Aquatic Center, got her start in athletics spinning, jumping and balancing her way in gymnastics. However, the sport eventually took a toll on McPherson’s back, and the injury forced her to make the tough decision to quit the sport she loved.

“I really didn’t want to quit gymnastics, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself,” McPherson said. “I had to find something else.”

McPherson was connected to gymnastics. She had been a typical young girl, dancing and spinning and jumping her way through the day. Her parents, Brad and Jen McPherson, were not sure what they had on their hands, but they saw something in her.

“We weren’t gymnastics coaches, but we could tell she was good,” Brad McPherson said. “She got involved in gymnastics at a young age, and it just went on from there.”

It was the sport of choice for young Camryn, but it wasn’t the sport of destiny. Apparently, that was diving, and soon after giving up gymnastics, McPherson spent a summer diving at a local country club. She not only found that she was pretty good at it, but she discovered that having a background in gymnastics was beneficial to her approach in diving.

“A lot of the spins and moves are the same, so that helped a lot,” she said.

Standing on the diving board might feel similar to standing on the balance beam to a certain extent, but the obvious difference of diving into the water made McPherson a little apprehensive at first.

“I was more uncomfortable on platform diving, and I still don’t do that,” she said. “But the diving doesn’t bother me now.”

That is obvious, judging by her scores. Last year as a sophomore, McPherson finished second in the MHSAA Division 1 meet at Eastern Michigan University. Her score of 478.10 was better than the previous division record. However, it wasn’t good enough to beat Saline teammate Amy Stevens, who won the event for the second consecutive year with 488.20.

Stevens is not diving for Saline this year, so McPherson enters Friday as the highest finisher from last year. Also, she beat Stevens in the Regional a year ago and repeated as regional champion this year, stamping her as a favorite and definitely someone to watch this weekend.

Winning the MHSAA championship is the only thing missing on McPherson’s resume from high school diving.

“I do feel a little pressure going into it,” McPherson said. “I did OK at the Regional, but I know I could have done better.”

Competing with Stevens the past few years was beneficial to both divers.

“Amy pushed me, and I always wanted to be as good as she is,” McPherson said. “I think we were able to push each other, and I learned a lot from her.”

The friendly rivalry with Stevens was not the only thing that has worked well for McPherson during her career on the Saline swimming and diving team. Last year, when the Hornets won the LP Division 1 championship in thrilling fashion, McPherson was able to share the joy with her older sister Alex, who now attends the University of Connecticut and is on the women’s swimming team.

Alex swam on the 400 freestyle relay, which won last year’s LPD1 Finals championship. The victory came in the final event of the meet, and that race clinched the team championship for Saline.

“Being able to be on the same team as her was one of the big reasons why I wanted to join the swimming team,” McPherson said. “And then being able to win the state championship with her was really exciting.”

McPherson also is a part of the Legacy Diving team under coach Buck Smith, who also coaches men’s and women’s diving at Eastern Michigan University. This spring, McPherson, competing with Legacy, finished in the top two in both the 1-meter and 3-meter events in the 16-18 girls USA Diving Junior Region 5 championships in Columbus, Ohio.

McPherson won the 1-meter with 406.50 points and was runner-up in the 3-meter with 452 points. Her top scores in the 1-meter came on an inward 1½ somersault in the pike position and a forward 2½ somersault in the tuck position. She received more than 50 points for each dive.

McPherson moved on to the USA Diving National Preliminary Zone C championships at the University of Indiana and finished fourth in the 1-meter and fifth in the 3-meter.

While it is still a way off, McPherson dreams of joining her sister at Connecticut, but the college process is still working its way out.

“We are hearing from colleges, and we went through it with her sister,” Brad McPherson said. “We’ll see how it works out.”

One would guess there could be a few more twists and turns along the way.

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Camryn McPherson dives during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) McPherson was an aspiring gymnast before taking up diving. (Middle photo and head shot courtesy of the McPherson family.)

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.)