By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
CEDAR SPRINGS – Ryan Ringler’s wrestling journey has spanned nearly 14 years and included countless miles on the road traveling to tournaments, practices and college recruiting visits.
These experiences came with costs, both social and monetary, and the Cedar Springs senior standout has done what he could to help fund his dream.
Mowing lawns, roofing, painting and installing sprinklers are some of the odd jobs Ringler picked up to earn money.
“I do whatever jobs I can get to raise money because these trips are very expensive,” Ringler said.
All of Ringler’s hard work on and off the mat was rewarded as he recently committed to wrestle at Central Michigan University.
A dream was finally realized, and it took the help of a small town community to make it a reality.
“I’m really happy for him and his whole family because it’s been a goal he’s had for a long time,” Cedar Springs wrestling coach Nick Emery said. “The goal was to get Ryan to a Division I school to see what he could do and to prove that all the hard work and time and money and his parents driving all over the country was worth it.
“Just everyone coming together, and going out of their way to raise money. A lot of people were involved, and it was a community project at times.”
Ringler’s passion for wrestling started at age 3 when he would go to practices with his older brother, Jordan.
He started competing himself shortly after and quickly developed into a young talent.
For Ringler, traveling to various tournaments is fun.
“I like to travel around, and just getting to know the different guys from different schools and getting to see different styles and techniques of wrestling intrigued me,” Ringler said. “That’s what made me fall in love with the sport.”
Ringler competed in MYWAY wrestling and earned five state championships on the circuit. He garnered attention the summer before his freshman year – he took part in several national tournaments, and went unbeaten at the prestigious Virginia Beach duals.
Ringler’s success continued at the high school level.
As a freshman making his first trip to the MHSAA Individual Finals, Ringler lost his first match but rallied to win the next five en route to a third-place finish.
He also placed third as a sophomore, but broke through last season and won a Division 2 crown at 171 pounds with a 9-4 decision over Holly’s Cade Dallwitz to finish the winter a stellar 53-1.
“I was really expecting to be at the top my sophomore year, but that loss really motivated me and I wanted to be at least a two-time state champion,” Ringler said.
As a senior, Ringler is eyeing a repeat performance at the Finals. He’s currently 31-0 and nearing 200 career wins.
“Right now it’s more about getting ready for college wrestling,” Ringler said. “As a senior it would be cool to win another state title to end my career.”
Ringler has another talented teammate beside him this season. Sage Serbenta, a junior, finished fifth at the Finals last season competing for Grand Rapids Christian and wrestles at 189 pounds.
“He’s gotten bigger and he’s pushing me with his speed and strength,” Ringler said. “It makes us both better with conditioning, and we push each other mentally and physically.”
Emery has high hopes for both wrestlers.
“Sage has pushed Ryan in practices, and I think both of those guys could win state titles at either 171 or 189 pounds,” Emery said. “They have as good a chance as anybody else.”
Ringler’s wrestling prowess matches his elite skills on the football field.
A four-year varsity football player, he helped lead the Red Hawks to a 10-2 record in the fall. As a fierce linebacker, he racked up 110 tackles while rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. He received all-state honors to go along with his all-state accolades in wrestling.
“Ryan has been a very successful multi-sport athlete, and his success on the field and on the mat is not by accident,” Cedar Springs athletic director John Norton said. “He’s a tireless worker, always doing extra to gain the competitive edge. The most exciting thing is that he is showing a generation of athletes that it is possible to be a standout in multiple sports at the highest level and earn a college scholarship without specialization.”
Achieving all-state status in multiple sports is another level of accomplishment, and Ringler is humbled by the honors.
“It’s very unique, and a lot of people don’t get all-state in both wrestling and football,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do in two very difficult sports. It’s a nice accomplishment, and something I can put on my wall when I’m older.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Cedar Springs’ Ryan Ringler prepares to make his first move during last season’s Division 2 championship match at 171 pounds at Ford Field. (Middle) Ringler (24) pushes ahead this fall against Saginaw Swan Valley. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom 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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)