Detroit Powers Succeed Amid Lower Numbers

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

April 20, 2016

Participation in spring sports, following a similar decline in student-aged population in Michigan, has been on a decline statewide over the last decade.

But while some like baseball have experienced a slight bounce-back over the last few seasons, softball in particular has seen its numbers continue to fall.

Coaches and administrators in the Detroit area point to a number of factors intertwined that produced a snowball-like effect – and now it seems to have come to a head.

Three softball programs in the Catholic League Central, a division that competes at a high level statewide, don’t have sufficient numbers to field a junior varsity this spring. Many programs don’t sponsor freshmen teams for the same reason. 

But for schools like Birmingham Marian, Farmington Hills Mercy and Livonia Ladywood not to have a junior varsity softball team is quite shocking to some – especially considering that Mercy enters this season ranked No. 3 in Division 1 and Ladywood is No. 2 in Division 2.

Specialization fallout

Marian athletic director Dave Feldman isn’t among those stunned. He saw this coming. Feldman points to the 2007-08 school year when the Michigan High School Athletic Association was forced, by court decision, to switch the volleyball season from the winter to the fall and the girls basketball season from the fall to the winter.

Feldman has a daughter, a freshman at Marian, who participated on the junior varsity volleyball team this fall. When that season was over she joined a club volleyball team. Feldman said the club volleyball season begins in December and continues on into June.

“It’s not AAU,” Feldman said. “But you need to be an AAU member (to play). They play all of the time. Heck, they played on Easter Sunday. And every club is filled.”

The pressure on athletes to play year-round is arguably greater now than it ever has been, and can come from coaches, peers and family – based on a frequent misconception that if athletes want to earn a scholarship, they better keep up with the Joneses or be left behind.

Feldman said he’ll back his daughter with whatever decision she makes. If she wants to play volleyball nine or 10 months a year, he’ll support that. But Feldman said, financially, it’s getting out of hand. He estimated between the cost of airfare, hotels and meals that he’ll spend $6,500 in support of his daughter playing club volleyball. 

And, according to Feldman, the increase in attention on volleyball is affecting participation in other sports.

“(Girls) basketball is fighting for its life,” he said. “Our field hockey program (a fall sport) is fine. Our lacrosse teams are fine.

“We have 15 playing volleyball at all three levels. We had 16 (total) try out for softball and we made two cuts. We haven’t had a JV the last two years. The last time we had a freshman (softball) team was in 2004 or 2005. The last few years the numbers have dropped off. It’s the specialization.”

Simply signs of change?

Warren Regina is another member of the Catholic League Central. Regina athletic director Diane Laffey also is the head coach for softball and basketball, and she said she thinks lacrosse has drawn some athletes away from softball – which makes sense, although the total number of girls playing high school lacrosse in Michigan has increased only about 1,000 over the last decade, while softball participation is down 4,000 athletes over the same time.

One should not use Regina as an example of decline – Laffey’s team won the Division 1 championship last spring and fields a softball team at all three levels. At the same time, Regina also has seen a rise in participation in lacrosse. There are 18 playing for both the varsity and junior varsity this spring, the highest participation in school history.

Mercy varsity softball coach Alec Lesko said, simply, that times have changed. Mercy reached the Division 1 Semifinals last season, just as Ladywood did in Division 2 the year before – yet despite this success, Mercy’s number of softball players also has declined.

“(The students) have many more options,” Lesko said. “In addition to their school work there’s band, theatre, honors society clubs. In the past kids would play three sports and be in the band. All of my daughters were multi-sport athletes. By their sophomore year they had to make a decision (on which sport they would concentrate).

“It’s also economics. They want to earn a scholarship. You hear horror stories about (the cost of) student loans. Even the big schools have trouble getting the (students to play softball).

“As far as college, and I can only speak about softball, the Big Ten coaches want the player they recruit to play other sports,” Lesko added. “I hope to have a JV program next year. A player that misses 30 JV games, we will feel that crunch later. There are those who think JV softball is a waste of time, that you should just compete in travel (during the summer). We will get some of those kids. Those who compete in travel then come to us as sophomores.”

Reasons for optimism

Don Peters is the softball coach at Clarkston, and between coaching travel and at the high school level he’s put in 35 years. He coached travel before taking over the Clarkston program. Peters said the two complement each another, or at least they should.

“I know some disagree,” he said. “The girls have a lot of choices in the spring. Look at all of the sports they can play. I don’t think lacrosse has cut into the numbers. Not yet, but it’s probably going to. We haven’t been affected. We have 45 (covering three teams) in our program. We really push softball in our community because it’s been established.”

Peters said coaches in softball and baseball need to make the game enjoyable, and one way is to reward those who chose to participate by playing them on a regular basis. A student who is No. 14 or 15 on a squad often will play once a week and, with all of the options available, isn’t willing to put in the practice time for limited game action.

Mercy senior first baseman Abby Krzywiecki played a variety of sports before her freshman year. It was then she decided that softball would be her main sport and she chose to pour all of her energy into it. 

She said it’s not all gloom and doom for her sport.

“We had a small freshmen class (last year),” she said. “When I came in we had a large class. It was one of the biggest. It’s not that we’re not getting softball players. In the travel world, it’s becoming more intense. We have more younger people playing. The sport is getting more intense. The talent level is getting higher.”    

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 with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Farmington Hills Mercy hitters prepares to connect during last season's Division 1 Semifinal against Caledonia. (Middle) Warren Regina coach Diane Laffey hoists her team's championship trophy after the Saddlelites downed Caledonia in the Final last spring.

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 4, 2023

Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.

Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.  

She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.

See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:


Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.

Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.

A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.

Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.

Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.

Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.

Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.

Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.

A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.

PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.