By Brian Spencer
Brad Walraven initially wanted to coach baseball. And he planned on staying in his first softball job, at Bay City All Saints, just four seasons – long enough to coach his younger sister through her graduation from the school.
But though the last 33 seasons weren’t part of his original plan, there’s no question they’ve worked out well for hundreds of athletes who have come under his leadership.
Walraven has won four MHSAA softball championships and is among only six high school coaches in his sport nationwide with at least 1,000 career wins, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Walraven achieved that milestone when his Frankenmuth team swept Essexville-Garber 7-2 and 7-0 on May 21.
The victories made the Eagles 27-4 this season – and Walraven 1,000-276 in 33 seasons total, including the first 30 at All Saints. In MHSAA history, his career wins total is behind that only of Warren Regina’s Diane Laffey, who has a 1,048-395-3 record heading into this week’s District tournaments.
Walraven also has won 25 District and 16 Regional championships, and taken 10 teams into MHSAA Finals championship games – including the Eagles last season in Division 3. Frankenmuth now is 32-4 this spring, heading into Saturday’s District on its home diamond.
You started out coaching with the plan of sticking in it for four years. What about the game of softball and coaching it has kept you around for 33?
My priorities in coaching and philosophies have changed (over the years). In my fourth year of coaching, my sister was a senior. That year we turned the program around and started winning games. They were competing. The competition has had me coming back since, along with learning more about the game.
Did you always want to coach softball? If not, what did you want to do?
No; the funny thing is that I graduated from Bay City All Saints after I won a state championship in baseball. After I graduated, I wanted the baseball job at Bay City All Saints, but they said I was too young to coach baseball. However, they did want me to stick around, and they gave me the softball job.
In your 33 years of coaching, what has been the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?
I read this somewhere; if you just keep working hard, good things happen to good people. Though my philosophies have changed, this philosophy has been pretty solid. I’ve also had girls come back from playing with me that say how I had taught them discipline, and that they have carried that with them to the next steps in their lives. As a coach, hearing that from past players is very rewarding.
Are there specific seasons or teams that stick out more than the rest? If so, why?
In 1999, we won states at Bay City All Saints. We set the state record with a 44-3 record. This record I believe is still intact. (All Saints’ 44 wins that spring is now tied with the 2007 White Lake Lakeland team for the most in one season.)
Last year (2011), Frankenmuth got to the Finals and lost in Battle Creek (to Clinton, 4-2 in the Division 3 championship game). It was the first time Frankenmuth had been there since 1991.
What piece of advice can you give to aspiring coaches?
Listening is an important skill. Learn from other coaches. If you think you know it all, you don’t. Every time you go to clinics, you pick up something and learn something new. You must be able to adapt. Every season is different, as you get a new set of players and personalities to deal with.
How long do you plan on coaching?
This is a very open-ended date. I was actually going to quit three times in my career for various reasons, but I’m glad that I stuck it out. Given that my health stays good and I continue to wake up every morning excited about coaching, I would love at least another five years in Frankenmuth.
PHOTOS courtesy of The Frankenmuth News.
While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.
The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.
“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”
Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”
The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.
“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”
This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.
“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”
Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.
“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”
Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.
“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”
PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)