Catcher's Grit Shines in Health Scares

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

April 9, 2018

RICHMOND – Evelyn Swantek couldn’t have imagined what her day would be like when she awoke on Aug. 8 of last year.

Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt on a seasonably warm summer morning, Swantek went for a mile run as part of the training that all varsity volleyball players at Richmond High School were expected to complete.

Near the end of her run, Swantek noticed something wasn’t quite right. A bit of fatigue, yes, but it was more than that. She went home and told her father, Dave Swantek, that she was going to take a nap. But when she awoke, her world changed dramatically.

“It came out of nowhere,” she said. “I woke up and couldn’t talk. Part of my face went numb and I couldn’t see out of my right eye. And my neck was really big.”

A bit dazed by the sudden physical change of the youngest of his three daughters, Dave Swantek drove her to the hospital not knowing what was wrong.

Thankfully, Dave was home on a vacation day while his wife, Julie, was at work. He was attending to a couple of odd jobs around the house when his daughter came home.

“Evie came in and said she was tired, and wanted to take a nap,” he said. “She got up and came downstairs; immediately I knew something was wrong. It’s something, as a parent, you just don’t want to see.”

The Swanteks arrived at McLaren Hospital in Mount Clemens and, after the diagnosis, were told that Evie had developed blood clots – one in her throat and one in her face, and that she had suffered a Transitory Ischemic Attack (TIA), commonly known as a mini-stroke.


Dave Swantek said the doctors immediately took his daughter off the blood-clotting medication she had been taking since January.

On New Year’s Eve, 2016, Evie experienced abdominal pain while celebrating the arrival of the New Year with family members. She was taken to McLaren Hospital, where exploratory surgery was performed and she was diagnosed with endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition in which a layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. One of the main symptoms is pelvic pain.


At the time, the Swanteks never gave it a second thought. Evie took medication, didn’t miss a day of school and continued to compete on the varsity basketball team. After that season ended, Evie made the varsity softball team for the first time and was named the starting catcher by coach Howard Stuart. Richmond won the MHSAA Division 2 title in 2016, and the Blue Devils reached the championship game again in 2017 only to lose to Ida, 8-4, in nine innings in the Final.

Seven weeks later, the Swanteks’ world turned upside down. And it would take nearly three months for their world to be turned right side up.

“It was a warning sign,” Dave Swantek said of the blood clots and the mini-stroke. “The medication she was on was clotting. Then they took her off of it. It gave us time to find out what was wrong. And this went on for a long time.”

Not knowing the exact cause and the proper medication was disconcerting to the Swanteks.

“They had no clue,” Evie said. “I kept asking (the doctors) what’s wrong. They said they didn’t know yet. I was sitting in the hospital just thinking, this is scary.”  

For about a six-week period, Evie was in and out of the hospital three or four times – doesn’t recall the exact number. The illness prevented her from competing in volleyball and basketball, and for a senior, that can be difficult to handle. She also can’t give the exact number of days of school she missed, but she does remember missing a couple of football Friday nights, which did not sit well with her. Evie was able to attend Homecoming, however.

All during this time one thought, one goal, weighed heavily.

“Not knowing if I was going to play softball was hard,” she said. “I kept asking the doctors, ‘Will I be able to play?’ That’s my favorite. I’ve been playing since I was 7. I’ve been playing travel (softball) since I was 8. And I’ve always been a catcher.

“It was hard on my parents, too. It was frustrating.”

This frustration and uneasiness came to a head one evening while Evie was watching television.

“I started to have these chest pains,” she said. “I’m lying on the coach, and it’s starting to hurt real bad. And I have a high threshold for pain. I broke my wrist (glove hand) and played three more tournaments, so it has to be a lot of pain for me to do something about it. I had had these chest pains before, but this time it was really bad. I rolled up into a fetal position, it was so bad.”

Said her father: “I remember that. I rushed to (McLaren) hospital and the people in the emergency room looked at us and it was like, what now? It took them three days to find out. The doctors kept saying they don’t know.”

Dave Swantek said the doctors changed medication, from one blood thinner, taken orally, to one that was administered intravenously. In the end, that did the trick. Evie said she’s feeling better since the switch was made and the application, after a couple of tries, became second nature. She’s able to administer the shots by herself.

Dave Swantek gushes when he talks about how well his daughter has handled this situation. He said the doctors who have either diagnosed or treated Evie have offered to have a psychologist meet with her in an effort to make sure she recovered mentally from the ordeal.

“The coping mechanism she has displayed is amazing,” he said. “She’s been amazing through it all. She lost two sports – two sports she played her whole life. She loves volleyball and basketball. There were times they were throwing all kinds of medication at her, trying to find out what works. When they can’t tell you what’s wrong with your daughter, it’s a challenge. It was a rough time. She did a wonderful job.”

There is a happy ending. Evie is playing softball and expected to be one of Richmond’s top players. She’s down to one shot per day and she’s hoping, after she and her parents meet with the doctors April 26, that she will be taken off medication.

And her future looks bright on the diamond. She’s received a scholarship to Oakland Community College where one of her sisters, Ally, a sophomore, is a student.

“I’ve had the best support system you could imagine,” Evie said. “My parents, my family, have been so great. It’s been very comforting.”     

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Richmond catcher Evie Swantek frames a pitch during last season’s Division 2 championship game. (Middle) Swantek powers through a swing during the Final. (Below) The Swantek family: parents Julie and Dave and daughters Emily, Ally and (far right) Evelyn. (Family photo courtesy of the Swantek family.)

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)