Title Awards Adams' Sustained Success

December 12, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The Rochester Adams girls swimming & diving program had known plenty of success before this season.

The Highlanders entered the fall with seven straight top-10 MHSAA Finals finishes and having celebrated 12 individual event champions over their impressive history. Adams was coming off a third place in Lower Peninsula Division 2 in 2017 – its best showing during that recent run – and with one of those individual champs in senior Lisa Lohner back to lead another title chase.

On Nov. 17 at nearby Oakland University, Adams finished the climb by earning the first MHSAA Finals championship in the school’s swimming & diving history.

The Highlanders – the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for November – scored 250 points, 30 more than runner-up Birmingham Seaholm. And the title actually was the first for either of the school’s pool programs, girls or the similarly prolific boys, who tied their highest finish by coming in runner-up in Division 2 last winter.

“It is just kind of that elation of always having strong kids in our program,” Adams coach Tim Hickey said in describing the lasting feeling from finishing the title run. “Swimming is pretty big in our area, so we’ve always had some great athletes come through the program, (and we’re) pretty consistently top 10 in the state. I guess to make that final hurdle to put it all together and win that first title is just an incredible feeling. It’s so nice to see all that hard work the athletes put in really paid off for them.”

Of course, Lohner was a big part of the effort, helping push that individual event championship total to 15. She finished first in the 500 (4:58.17) and 200-yard (1:51.49) freestyles and anchored the winning 200 freestyle relay (1:36.76) and seventh-place finisher in the 400 free (3:36.13).

But her teammates picked up a sizable scoring load. In fact, the Highlanders scored in every swimming race – including the 50 freestyle, where they took eighth and a tie for 12th despite entering the meet without an athlete seeded to score among the top 16.

Adams took 15 athletes to the meet, and 11 scored points – with that scoring spread across three freshmen, three sophomores, one junior and four seniors. Joining Lohner in scoring in one or more events or relays were seniors Maddy Fleury, Alex Waack, Valentina Rengifo, junior Fernanda Camacho-Castro, sophomores Claire Sweetwood, Meghan Fleury and Allison Danko and freshmen Lauren Woodman, Yitian Zhang and Olivia Goodman.

“A lot of things just came together this year,” said Hickey, who completed his 24th season leading the program. “We had several athletes back from injuries who either missed last year completely or we didn’t even know at the beginning of the year if they’d be able to compete. We had just a very strong senior class which has obviously been at that level for many years, three freshmen coming in … again, a lot of pieces of the puzzle all coming together this year.

“What makes it really great is that it was a total and complete team effort. We needed everyone there and everyone to perform well, and it really happened.”

Adams also won the Oakland Activities Association Red championship for the fifth straight season, ahead of Seaholm and also Division 1 Finals third-place finisher Harrison/Farmington.

Lohner will continue her career at University of Toledo.

Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19

October: Leland boys soccer – Read
September: Pickford football – Read
August: Northville girls golf – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Rochester Adams’ Lisa Lohner swims to the championship in the 500 freestyle at last month’s LPD2 Finals. (Middle) Fernanda Camacho-Castro readies for her leg of the 400 relay while Alex Waack cheers on Valentina Rengifo. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

East Grand Rapids' Briggs to Receive Deserved Spotlight for Half-Century of Swim

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)