This Time, Skyline Ends Close Race in 1st

November 21, 2015

By Butch Harmon
Second Half editor

HOLLAND – After coming in a close second at last year’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 girls swimming and diving championships at the Holland Aquatic Center, the Ann Arbor Skyline girls returned to the same pool this year and came away with some different results.

Moving back into Division 1, Skyline won the first-place trophy as it held off Saline in a tight battle that was close throughout.

Skyline totaled 290 team points for the two-day event to win its first girls swimming and diving championship. Saline, last year’s Division 1 champion, placed second with 238 points while Farmington Hills Mercy, winners of two of the previous four LPD1 titles, placed third with 217 points.

“Last year it came down to the last event,” said Skyline coach Maureen Isaac. “We’ve been runner-ups a couple of times, and it’s very frustrating.  We were here last year at this pool, and to come back this year and do it here means a lot.”

Skyline’s victory took a total-team effort and was won over the two days of the event. Work that the Eagles did on Friday paid off Saturday, as Skyline set up the scoring opportunities to get the win.

“We moved some kids around on different relay teams Friday,” Isaac said. “We took some chances, and it paid off. We had a great group of girls and they are wonderful as a team. It might sound cheesy, but it’s true; they just feed off each other. ”

It also helped that Skyline had senior Katie Portz to rely on. A senior who has committed to swim collegiately at Texas A&M, Portz was named the swimmer of the meet by the coaches association for her performance. Portz won a pair of individual titles and was also part of two Skyline relay teams that captured championships.

“This is just an incredible feeling,” Portz said. “It feels so good and I’m so happy for all of my teammates. We took it to a new level as a team this year.”

Portz played a big role in helping the team do so. She took first place in the 100-yard freestyle in a new LP Division 1 meet record time of 49.34, breaking her previous record of 50.23 set two years ago.  

Portz also captured the 200 freestyle in a time of 1:46.84.

“It felt great winning swimmer of the meet, but the team title means so much more,” Portz said. “Winning the team state is a great feeling. All the hard work that we put into this has paid off.”

Portz’s coach was especially happy that Skyline was able to capture the elusive MHSAA title this season for her standout senior.

“I really wanted us to do this for Katie Portz,” Isaac said. “She has been such an important part of this program both in the pool and out of the pool. It was important for us to do this before her career was done.”

In the 200 freestyle relay, Portz teamed up with sophomore Maddie McAdams, sophomore Emily Lock and senior Kaelan Oldani to take first place in a time of 1:35.67.

Skyline cemented the win as it also captured the final event of the meet, the 400 freestyle relay. Portz anchored the team that included junior Emma Cleason, Lock and sophomore Georgia Mosher that turned in a winning time of 3:24.56.

Skyline also had two other individual champions crowned. Cleason took first place in the 200 individual medley in a time of 2:01.51, while Mosher claimed the 500-yard freestyle in a time of 4:54.65.

Saline junior diver Cam McPherson captured an individual title. She took second place last year and was sixth as a freshman.

“Last year I feel I didn’t focus as much,’ McPherson said. “This year I felt like I had a lot better focus. I thought I had some real good dives. I was also more focused to help my team as we needed all the points we could get.”

Sophomore Katie Minnich led the way for third-place Mercy as she repeated in the 100 backstroke in a time of 54.67.

“Winning it a second time is real special,” Minnich said. “I was confident that I could do it. There was pressure on me to win it again, but I like the pressure. There is always pressure and if there is not any pressure, it’s not worth doing.”

Minnich was also a member of Mercy’s 200 medley relay team that also won. She swam the first leg and was followed by junior Allison Lobbia, junior Alaina Skellett and freshman Annette Dombkowski as they turned in a winning time of 1:44.44. 

Grand Blanc junior Emma Curtis was another repeat champion. Curtis repeated in the 50-yard freestyle in a time of 23.07, a new personal record.

“It was a lot more exciting this year,” Curtis said. “I wanted to go 22 (seconds) and I just missed it by a few hundredths of a second. I felt a lot better this year and felt a lot less stress. I want to come back next year and win it as a senior.”

After finishing second at Finals the past three years, Zeeland senior Morgan Bullock broke through to the top step of the victory stand. She won the 100-yard butterfly in 54.42 seconds in front of her hometown fans.

“I’ve been runner-up in everything at state since my freshman year,” said Bullock, who will swim at the University of West Virginia. “This is my senior year and I’ve worked real hard for this. I just wanted to go out and do the best I could. I liked that I had a chance to win it close to home. A lot more of my teammates and friends and family members were able to see me win it.”

Rockford, the fourth-place team, was paced by junior Sydney McDowell, who won the 100-yard breaststroke in a time of 1:03.84.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Skyline’s Emily Lock was among contributors to her team’s MHSAA championship. (Middle) Zeeland’s Morgan Bullock capped her high school career with her first title. (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.)