Joseph Coaching Tree Continues to Bloom

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 17, 2017

STERLING HEIGHTS – Annis Joseph died last year at the age of 92, and the former baseball coach, husband, father and grandfather supplied his extended family stories to tell that will last a lifetime.

Ryan Joseph is one of his grandsons and forever in debt to the person who created such a love for sports, whether playing or coaching, for so many members of his family.

One such story touched Ryan at an early age and represents a chord that connects this family through more than 60 years of coaching.

Ryan Joseph, 29, is in his second season as the varsity baseball coach at Utica Ford. Back in the mid-to-late 1990s he watched East Detroit’s baseball team, coached by his father, Matt, play against Ferndale, coached by his grandfather.

“My dad ran a squeeze play to win the game,” Ryan said. “It was a play my grandfather used all the time, and my dad learned from that. The newspapers were there, taking pictures afterward of my dad and my grandfather together. That was the first memory I have of my grandfather.”

Annis Joseph coached for 53 years, and most of his time as a coach was spent on a baseball diamond in Ferndale. He and his wife, Josephine, raised seven children, four boys and three girls, and all of the boys played a variety of sports throughout high school. All also eventually became coaches.

Matt Joseph is the seventh child, and what his father started in the 1940s, coaching and working with the youth in the area, will continue for years to come.

Matt Joseph and his wife, Darlene, have three children, and all three are coaches. Matt is in his 32nd season. He’s currently the head coach of two varsity sports at Utica Ford, softball and girls basketball. He’s also a counselor at the school.

“Sports has always been a big part of my life,” Matt said. “I love it. I love coaching. I love working with young adults, and the camaraderie you build with coaches and referees. (Being a coach) has helped me in my life. You have to have patience (to coach). It’s becoming a family thing.”

His son is not only the baseball coach at Ford, but he just completed his first season assisting his father with the girls basketball team. Ryan started coaching in 2010 at Jeanette Junior High in Sterling Heights working with the eighth grade boys basketball team. He also coached freshmen baseball at Sterling Heights Stevenson for five seasons before going over to Ford. Ryan also coached football for four seasons including one at the freshmen level at Stevenson. This season he started coaching a 13-and-under summer league baseball team as well. 

Matt’s eldest daughter, Emily, 27, just completed her fifth season as the girls junior varsity basketball coach at Macomb Dakota. Emily is also a mathematics teacher at the school.

The Josephs’ third child, Teresa, 25, just completed her third season as the girls varsity basketball coach at Grand River Prep in Kentwood near Grand Rapids. Teresa also teaches math at the school.

Matt, 54, began his career in education as a math teacher. He graduated from Madison Heights Bishop Foley in 1981, and he said there was a math teacher he had as a junior who sparked his interest in the subject.

His children followed his lead, all except his son who chose a slightly different path. Ryan is a French teacher.

One of Matt’s brothers, Mike, switched careers after a spell. He quit his job, went back to college and earned his teaching certificate. Mike teaches at Hartland and is the girls varsity golf coach there.

It’s in the blood.

“I knew in high school I wanted to be a teacher,” Matt Joseph said. “I love what I do. I wake up and it’s not a chore going to work. I knew I wasn’t going to make a lot of money. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

The other male offspring of Annis and Josephine are Dave, 64, and Ray, 63. Mike is the eldest son at age 69.

Dave and Ray spent a majority of their careers coaching girls basketball. Dave spent the last 12 seasons as the varsity coach at Bishop Foley before recently resigning. Ray was Dave’s junior varsity coach the past 21 seasons.

“My dad started it all,” Dave said. “He owned Annis Market on 9 Mile (Road) and Hilton in Ferndale. He coached federation ball, and each team had to have a sponsor. The market was ours for a number of years. Growing up we would go along with Mom and Dad to the ball field. My dad coached, and my mom would sell concessions. So we were in sports all of our lives. We all started at a very young age. My dad coached me until I was 18. It was fun. Those were great times.”

Dave Joseph said what he’ll miss most is watching the improvement of the players coinciding with the improvement of the teams. What happened in between was what adults would call the foolishness of youth, what Dave termed ‘giddiness’.

Matt has had the most success. He started coaching at the varsity level in 1990 at East Detroit as he ran both the baseball and boys basketball programs. From 1996-2000 he coached three varsity teams adding girls basketball to the list. After the 2000-01 school year, Matt left East Detroit and accepted a counseling position at Ford. He remained the baseball coach at East Detroit, and in 2004 he was hired as the girls varsity basketball coach at Ford.

It was during this time that Ford’s baseball coach Dan Barnabo switched over to coaching softball. It took Barnabo time to convince Matt to make the same switch.

“He convinced me to help him,” Matt said. “At first I said, ‘No, I’m a baseball guy.’ I finally did it. Then we switched again. (In 2011) I became the head coach and Dan’s my assistant. And he still is.”

As a school, Ford has never been to an MHSAA Softball Final, but Matt took his Falcons to the program’s first Semifinal in 2014 as Ford lost in Division 1 to Portage Central, 1-0.

Ford is 20-4 this season, ranked No. 6 in the state coaches poll, and could play No. 2 Macomb Dakota, last season’s Division 1 runner-up, in a District Final.

Dave Joseph’s teams didn’t make it as far as Matt’s in softball, but Dave’s 2013-14 Bishop Foley team did win the Detroit Catholic League C-D title.

And success is measured in many more ways than District or league titles. As a person, Matt Joseph is content. He’s lived a good and happy life and is proud of where he came from and the guidance he and his wife gave their three children.

“I just believed in what I was doing,” he said. “And my kids did all the things I did when I was growing up. They came with me to East Detroit as a water boy or water girl and a bat boy. It’s what we did as a family. And they all played at least two varsity sports.”

Evidently Annis Joseph sold more than fruits and vegetables at his market. He was able to convince many in his family that by participating in athletics, and becoming passionate about them, those experiences could lead one to riches not measured in dollars and cents, but where commitment and family are their own rewards.

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) One branch of the coaching Josephs surrounds grandfather Annis, clockwise from top left, Ryan, Matt, Emily and Teresa. (Middle) Annis, left, and Matt Joseph when Annis was coaching at Ferndale and Matt at East Detroit. (Below) Matt Joseph celebrates a basketball championship with daughter Teresa during her playing days. (Photos courtesy of the Joseph 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.)