By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
When they were younger, “they weren’t the best,” Millington softball coach Greg Hudie admitted Thursday in recalling the group that became the core of his varsity the last four seasons.
Millington – after falling just short in finishing Division 3 runner-up a year ago – returned to Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium two weekends ago and this time left with the school’s first MHSAA championship in any sport.
The MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for June was one of two title winners during the 2018-19 school year – joining the Ypsilanti Lincoln boys basketball team – to win the first Finals championship in school history.
“Just being the first state championship in our school is pretty remarkable,” Hudie said. “No matter how many we have now, it’s pretty cool that everybody will remember it. If it’s 50 years from now, and we have 10 state championships, this was still the first one. And the group of girls we did it with was very awesome as well, very good all-around – academically, athletically, a really tight family team.”
Millington finished 38-2-1 this spring, capping a four-year run at 150-16-1 with four league, District and Regional titles, three Semifinal appearances and this first championship.
The District title won in 2016 actually was the program’s first, and that year’s postseason run to the Semifinals helped set the tone for a freshman class that would become nearly unstoppable by the end of their careers.
Pitcher Gabbie Sherman, catcher Sydney Bishop, infielders McKenna Slough and Hannah Rabideau and outfielders Elizabeth Bees, Leah Denome and Samantha Ayotte all finished as four-year varsity players. Sherman, Bishop, Slough and Denome started the entire way (Rabideau was slated to do the same but was injured that first season). Current juniors Darrien Roberts and Madi Hahn joined the varsity as freshmen in 2017 when the team’s run ended in the Quarterfinals. Shortstop Sabrina Gates earned a starting job as a freshman in 2018 and then-sophomore Neveah Hendricks moved into the outfield as the team came within a 7-6 championship game loss to Coloma from claiming a first title.
This spring, with all of those players back and freshman Trinity Fessler taking over an outfield spot, Millington blasted through the regular season losing only to eventual Division 1 semifinalist Clarkston and Division 2 semifinalist Eaton Rapids, while defeating back-to-back Division 2 champion Escanaba. The Cardinals outscored their seven postseason opponents by a combined 56-4, closing with an 11-0 shutout of Marine City in the Quarterfinal, 7-1 win over Standish-Sterling in the Semifinal and 8-0 clincher over Schoolcraft in the championship game.
The build-up began long before high school. During elementary, Sherman was the first to start playing higher-level travel ball in the surrounding area. But around the time her class was playing 10-and-under, she and her family decided to play on a team with the other Millington girls – and as the pitcher she was able to carry the load while they were learning the game.
In fact, the team jokingly recalls now how Bishop nearly didn’t make that 10U squad. But Hudie said his catcher has worked harder than anyone he’s coached during a decade leading the program – and by sophomore year she’d earned all-state honorable mention.
This team rewrote the school’s record book, and the home run category is maybe the best example of what these seniors brought to the program. Millington would hit about five home runs a year during Hudie’s first six as coach – then had 44 in 2016, followed by 28, 38 and this spring 48. Bishop broke a decades-old record with 14 homers as a freshman, and Roberts blasted 18 to break the record this spring.
Roberts, Denome, Rabideau, Bishop and Sherman made the Division 3 all-state first team this season. Hahn joined those five on the all-Tri-Valley Conference East first team, with Slough and Gates making the second.
Sherman will continue her career at Kent State, while Denome will play next at Spring Arbor, Rabideau at Mott Community College and Bees at Rochester College. Bishop, who graduated with the GPA over 4.0, had a number of softball scholarship offers and will try to walk on at Oakland University.
“It will be hard to duplicate. Hopefully we can keep it going. … Obviously these girls were paving the way,” Hudie said. “We had a couple of girls before them, had a couple scattered (over more classes), and obviously freshman year they didn’t get to the Semifinal just on their own. But this group kinda showed how to stay together, how to put work in together, and I think that helped the program out most.
“Just showing five or six awesome girls who are willing to put in the time together in the weight room, in the batting cage (what they can accomplish). That really taught our program, our younger girls, and that’s neat.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19
May: Gladstone boys track & field – Read
April: Garden City baseball – Read
March: Holland West Ottawa boys swimming & diving – Read
February: Lowell wrestling – Read
January: Farmington United gymnastics – Read
December: Warren Woods-Tower wrestling – Read
November: Rochester Adams girls swimming & diving – Read
October: Leland boys soccer – Read
September: Pickford football – Read
August: Northville girls golf – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Millington’s players raise their first MHSAA Finals championship trophy in school history June 15 at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) The Cardinals’ Leah Denome rounds first base after one of her four hits in the title game. (Below) Millington poses with its trophy and in front of the Secchia scoreboard after its championship win.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023