Big Hitter Now Chelsea Show-Stopper

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

October 8, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half 

CHELSEA – Emma Hess has spent much of her young life chasing dreams and overcoming odds.

Too young to be involved with the volleyball team? She became a ball girl and manager for the Chelsea High School varsity as a fifth-grader.

Too inexperienced to get a part in a movie? She has been in three movies and moved to California for a year to pursue acting before she decided to return to Chelsea.

Too short to be an outside hitter on the varsity volleyball team? She played on a club volleyball team, took jump training to help elevate her leaping ability and made the Class B all-state team as a junior outside hitter.

Now a senior, the 5-foot-8 Hess is leading Chelsea to another fine season. The Bulldogs are 20-8 and ranked No. 7 in the latest Class B state poll.

Learning the game

Being the daughter of a former setter at Ohio University, Hess was introduced to volleyball at a young age and had the passion to play. Mary Jo Hess, Emma’s mother, was the seventh-grade coach, so Emma had a chance to be manager as a third-grader.

Two years later, she was doing the same thing for Chelsea coach Laura Cleveland’s varsity team.

Cleveland wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the little girl with a big smile when they first met.

“I saw a small little kid, but the biggest thing I saw in Emma – she had a great smile – was that she had a great attitude for learning,” Cleveland said. “When she came in when I was coaching, she would listen to what I was saying, and she would watch the girls and watch the demonstrations and then she would go over and practice it.

“She has a love for the game, and she has an attitude for learning. I think she always had a passion for it since she was little. She made the decision to pursue the passion, and it’s really turned out terrific for her in terms of being able to enjoy playing and playing at a high level because she has put in so much work.”

Hess began playing organized volleyball in the seventh grade, but at the same time she had another dream. After watching several movies on the Disney Channel, Hess told her mother that she wanted to become an actress.

In front of the camera

Sam and Mary Jo Hess listened to their daughter and decided to help her achieve her dream.

“I didn’t they took me seriously, but my mother found me an agent in Michigan, and I got a couple of jobs,” Hess said.

Mary Jo Hess conceded that there was some apprehension about letting Emma pursue acting at such a young age.

“I never would have pursued it for her if I hadn’t gone and seen about getting an agent and heard from some real professionals in the business that were saying, ‘This is really something you should do,’ ” Mary Jo Hess said. “I wanted her to play volleyball since she was a little girl, so when the acting thing came along, I wasn’t expecting that at all.

“We wanted to make sure if this was something she would pursue later, we wanted to know the right people and have her in the right place and make sure she would be taken care of. The worst thing that could have happened is, if we hadn’t done that, when she graduates high school she leaves and you hear about a lot of people who get manipulated.”

In a short amount of time, Hess was able to get three movie credits: “Smooch,” “James and Jenna” and “Home Run Showdown” were filmed in 2011 and 2012. She was credited as Emma-Lee Hess.

“She had a ton of success early,” Mary Jo Hess said. “I had heard a quote that said, ‘It’s typically 45 auditions before you book something,’ and by her fifth audition she had booked something that was a good gig for a commercial.”

Perhaps the largest hurdle of the three movies was landing the role in “Home Run Showdown,” which had more than 1,000 kids audition for parts – and Hess was the only girl on a story surrounding a Little League baseball team. It was filmed mostly in the Michigan towns of Milford and Taylor and also in Toledo, Ohio, and the cast was headlined by recognizable actors Dean Cain and Matthew Lillard.

“It wasn’t really big, but it paid money,” Hess said. “It was an experience, and it was really fun. I spent my whole summer with about 30 guys playing baseball and was the only girl.

“I also did a Hallmark movie called ‘Smooch,’ which plays on Valentine’s Day normally, and I also did a short film called ‘James and Jenna.’ I got to meet some really cool people on that.”

So, in the eighth grade, Hess moved to California to pursue acting, but she soon discovered that the business side of it was extremely tough, and she returned home after a year.

“I really wanted to pursue the TV aspect of it, but there was so much rejection out there, and I guess I wanted to do something where I would be rewarded,” Hess said. “I wanted people to know my name in acting, and because it wasn’t happening at the pace that I wanted, I decided to focus on something else, so volleyball became my motivation.

“Being in a town like this, people know me for the movies a little bit, but being known for volleyball is really important to me. Volleyball became my motivation.”

Above the net

In the ninth grade, Hess returned to Chelsea and returned to volleyball. She made the junior varsity team, but she was an outside hitter and not a setter as her mother had hoped.

“Mom wanted to raise a setter, but she has her daddy’s leaps, so I had to let that go,” said Mary Jo Hess, who is an assistant coach on the varsity. “When she was a freshman and setting on the JV, a short time afterward Coach Cleveland moved her, and that was OK, and of course I defer to her for everything.”

Cleveland saw something special in Hess despite being a few inches shorter than ideal for an outside hitter.

“As a freshman, we tried her as a setter, but then I thought, ‘No, that one’s a hitter,’” Cleveland said. “The thing about volleyball is that height would be great, but really it’s speed, and Emma has speed. If you’re fast and jump well and are faster than the block, those are things you really want.”

Although Hess is able to elevate above the net and delivers some powerful kills, her game is not all about speed and power. She has excellent vision and often will place the ball in a vacant spot on the court with a softer hit for a kill.

“I have a height disadvantage, especially being on the outside where most sets go to,” she said. “I really try to beat people at their own game, so if you’re not going to be on the line, I’m going to shoot it there.

“I try to read beforehand and pick out things that I know they’re not going to be able to pick up. That’s a big part. Being able to tip smart is really important. I have to go up and jump really high, and I use everything I’ve got to get up, and I swing hard. I don’t want them to be able to touch it because that’s the best feeling, getting a kill.”

Hess made varsity as a sophomore, and last year she made all-state as a junior.

“I love hitting a ball that no one touches, and even if there is a block, knowing that at my height and at that disadvantage, to take advantage of another team like that is great,” Hess said. “You get so excited, and the crowd pushes you so much.”

Never satisfied, Hess then set another goal for this season.

“This year, I want to run the defense and have the most kills,” she said.

Cleveland confirmed that the latest challenge is another win for Hess.

“She really is reading well and is in the right positions, and that is one of her biggest assets,” Cleveland said. “That’s both offensively and defensively.”

Hess wants to continue playing volleyball in college and has talked with Ferris State, Northwood and Eastern Michigan. She has a 3.977 grade point average, so academics won’t be a problem. Ambition won’t be a problem, either.

“I definitely want to do something in political and social studies and maybe major in political science,” Hess said. “And then I want to go to law school.”

It might not be wise to bet against her.

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Chelsea's Emma Hess hits during a match this season. (Middle) Hess played a prominent role in the 2012 film "Home Run Showdown." (Below) Hess goes high over the net on a kill attempt. (Photos courtesy of the Hess family.)

VIDEOS: Below are a video of Hess' highlights and also the trailer for "Home Run Showdown." Hess plays the role of Fassi. 

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 5, 2024

It won’t be hard for Jayden Marlatt to remember opening day on the softball field from any of her four years at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAs a freshman, she missed the opener due to needing to quarantine. Her sophomore and junior years started on the road because the Cardinals’ field was under construction.  

This season the Cardinals will open up — weather permitting — on their brand-new field, hosting Mio on Monday, April 8.  Marlatt is slated to be the starting pitcher again and add to her school record collection.

While Johannesburg-Lewiston is looking forward to playing on the new diamond, Marlatt and her teammates have high hopes of finishing the season almost 200 miles south. They’re looking to get back to Michigan State University – the site of the Division 4 Semifinals and Final.

The Cards have had their sites on that goal since they fell 4-2 to Mendon in last year’s Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. The loss ended a 30-4-1 campaign that saw the Cardinals play every game on the road for a second consecutive year, but come up only one victory short of a first championship game appearance.

The trip to East Lansing also came after the Cards won the program’s first District title since 2008 and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981.

“It has been a long two seasons on the road,” said eighth-year head coach Kim Marlatt, noting the team utilized a Little League field for practices during the stretch. “They’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason, so it is excited to get going.”

Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. The new field isn’t the only new things this spring. The Cardinals will have a junior varsity team for the first time during the Marlatt’s tenure. The JV squad is coached by Ryan Marlatt, who has been serving the program the past eight years as assistant coach. He also has been the head girls basketball coach at JoBurg the past two seasons.

The Marlatt coaches are the proud parents of Jayden, who continues to garner recognition as perhaps the greatest athlete in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s history. 

The three-sport star had a huge hand in all that JoBurg accomplished last season leading the team in batting average (.670), home runs (13) and runs batted in (61). As the team’s ace pitcher, she collected 249 strikeouts and compiled a 1.32 ERA.

“Jayden has put in the hard work,” Kim pointed out.  “She is a very humble athlete. ‘She doesn’t like to talk about herself. She likes to compete, and she likes to be on the top of her game for her teammates.”

Jayden has been named all-conference and all-state in softball, basketball and volleyball nearly every season over her four years at JoBurg. She’s led her teams to Ski Valley Conference, District and Regional titles along the way.

She’s also been named Player of the Year by multiple publications. And she’s a front runner to be voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ski Valley Conference in softball. Earlier this year, league coaches voted her the MVP for both basketball and volleyball.  

“The Ski Valley never used to vote on an MVP,” Ryan Marlatt said. “Hopefully she can add the triple crown and get softball this year.”

Jayden Marlatt, who has played all three sports all four years, acknowledged softball is perhaps her most treasured, and she’ll continue in that sport at Ferris State. Her career total of more than 500 strikeouts, and her 14 home runs last season, are both JoBurg school records. "I like them all but probably softball,” she confirmed when asked to name her favorite sport.

She averaged 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and four steals per game this winter helping the Cards basketball team to a conference runner-up finish. She was key to JoBurg's ability to put a 12-game winning streak together, and she topped the 1,000-point career mark along the way.

Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season.Her outstanding senior year on the basketball court and this spring’s possibilities nearly vanished as the volleyball season ended.

She suffered what looked to be a serious lower-leg injury in the final game of the JoBurg volleyball season. “She finished in the emergency room,” Kim Marlatt said.  

Diagnosed a high ankle sprain, it was an aggravation to an injury from her junior year in basketball. She wasn’t quite at 100 percent on the basketball court this season until the holiday break. She’s starting the softball season healthy, though.

Before the injury, Jayden led the Cards to their third volleyball conference championship over the last four years. After becoming JoBurg's all-time kills leader during her junior season, and with many of her teammates from her first three seasons graduating, Jayden had to fill a variety of roles while anchoring the offense from her outside hitter spot.

She ended up leading the team in both kills with 421 and digs, with 431, in her final season on the volleyball court. And she is listed among MHSAA’s all-time leaders in kills for a single match and career.

It’s more than Marlatt’s stats that stand out for Kristine Peppin, the school’s volleyball coach the past 15 years.

“It is not about the size of the school or the size of the player, it’s the heart that they have inside,” she proclaimed. “This girl would be a successful player on whatever team she was on. 

“Yes we’re a small school, small town,” she continued. “That kind of leadership and heart and drive to be the best is what’s given her that success.”

Marlatt’s work ethic is second to none, Peppin noted. She never saw Jayden give less than a “1,000” percent in practice or games in her career. 

Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt.“She’s a super hard worker and extremely modest for the kind of skill she possesses and the success she’s had,” Peppin said. “Her teammates think it’s amazing to be on her team.”

Marlatt’s volleyball skills caught the eye of at least one of her conference opponents’ coaches back in junior high. Ron Stremlow was performing one of his many coaching duties for Fife Lake Forest Area when he first saw Jayden on the volleyball court.

“I could tell then this girl was somebody special,” said Stremlow, who became one of the winningest coaches in state volleyball history with the Warriors. “When she got in high school, it just took off.

“She puts the time into it, and she works hard,” Stremlow continued. “Kids like that get what they deserve – they work for it.”

Stremlow, now retired, also acknowledged he’s enjoyed being able to watch the hard-throwing Marlatt on the softball field the last couple of seasons as Forest Area hosted the Cardinals consecutively due to JoBurg’s lack of a home field.

It’s something he’ll have to travel to do this year though, as JoBurg is scheduled to host the Warriors on April 15.

The Cardinals also will host a Regional on their new field June 8. The winners of District play at Rogers City, Harbor Springs, St. Ignace and Gaylord St. Mary will participate.

To play in the Regional, the Cards will have to emerge from the Rogers City District featuring the host Hurons, Atlanta, Hillman, Onaway, and Posen.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Jayden Marlatt drives a pitch during softball season. (2) Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. (3) Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season. (4) Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt. (Action shots by Dylan Jespersen/Petoskey News-Review; family photo by Breya Domke.)