Coaching Cousins Build on Macomb Roots

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

January 18, 2018

MACOMB – Success must begin somewhere.

And for the Macomb Dakota wrestling program, its beginnings can be traced to a church in Mount Clemens nearly 25 years ago.

Ed Skowneski, a longtime educator in Macomb County who was a football star at Wayne State University during the 1970s, got with a few buddies and formed a youth wrestling program named the Bad Boys Wrestling Club.

This program would eventually produce six MHSAA champions and approximately 20 others who reached the Individual Finals. It also helped inspire two of those wrestlers to become coaches at the high school level. 

Eddie Skowneski, Ed's son, leads the Macomb Dakota program ranked No. 3 in Division 1 this week by Michigan Grappler. Nephew Anthony Biondo assists top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central.

Before the Bad Boys – which would eventually evolve into Team All Sport – there were pockets in the county where the sport thrived, such as Fraser High where Al Kastl had built a strong program. But for the most part, Macomb County was a step or two behind nearby counties such as Genesee, Lapeer, Oakland and Wayne, where the sport had well-established programs like Clarkston, Davison, Detroit Catholic Central, Hazel Park, Lake Orion, Montrose, New Lothrop and others.

Skowneski teamed with people like Bob Palazzolo, Rick Julien – an assistant under Kastl at Fraser who later became Fraser’s head coach – and later, Vince Biondo, Skowneski’s roommate in college, to organize a competitive youth program.

“We had some good kids back then,” Skowneski said. “We had six state champions come out of there. We practiced twice a week at the church, but it was more like a hall or reception room. After one year we moved to Fraser, Mark Twain Elementary (School), where I was a principal. That made it easier, for travel and everything. We had our own mats in the school, and it started to grow.”

A team from Macomb County has yet to reach an MHSAA Division 1 Final, but they’re getting close. Last season Dakota reached a Division 1 Semifinal for the first time, and it was just the third time a Macomb County team had advanced that far in the top division/classification.

Two other county schools fared well last season, too, in other divisions. Warren Woods Tower lost in the Division 2 Final to Lowell, and Richmond won the Division 3 title.

Skowneski’s motivation to become a coach came from his son, Eddie, and, later, his nephew Anthony Biondo, Vince Biondo’s son. Eddie Skowneski got his start with the Bad Boys at age 9 with his cousin who is two years younger. The two became best friends and would become two of the county’s top wrestlers during the early to mid-2000s at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

Each would reach the Individual Finals three times. In 2003, Skowneski won the 140-pound title over fellow county wrestler Justin Petrone of Roseville, 1-0. Biondo was a three-time champion placing first at 103 in 2003, first at 112 the next season and first at 145 in 2006.

Skowneski would earn a scholarship to Michigan State University, where he was a three-year starter. Biondo went to University of Michigan and was a three-time NCAA Tournament qualifier. His best season came as a senior when he went 2-2 at the NCAAs and earned his 100th career win.

“Those Bad Boys days, those were some great times,” Anthony Biondo said. “It was a great group of kids. I just remember being in that church with Uncle Ed. I really wasn’t into wrestling when I started. I was into hockey and football. I started going there one day a week, and it just grew. My first year wrestling (at Chippewa Valley), I won the state title. It was just that one-on-one thing that I liked. My dad was a huge goal-setting type of guy, and I just kept at it.”

Their wrestling careers didn’t stop after graduation. Skowneski became an assistant coach at Fraser for one season then went to Warren DeLaSalle for two as an assistant before becoming the head coach at Dakota in 2012. Biondo is in his seventh season as an assistant coach at Detroit Catholic Central, the top-ranked team and reigning champion in Division 1.

Eddie Skowneski, 31, said he’s had a number of mentors throughout his wrestling career who have contributed to him becoming the coach he is today. His father is one, but he also said his high school coach John Jeffire at Chippewa Valley, St. Clair Shores Lakeview football coach Pat Threet and his college coaches all have had their influence.

When Ed Skowneski retired as school principal at Mark Twain in 2015, his son quickly found him a part-time job as his assistant at Dakota to keep him active.

“He’s always been a great coach,” Eddie said. “Coaching with my dad, it never really stopped. With him, it’s the little things. He always said, if you have good technique, you can beat someone who is more physical than you are. With my dad, he goes to each person and shows them the proper technique. With me, sure I want them to work and train hard. But I want my wrestlers to do it the right way.”

Ed Skowneski got out of coaching when his son went to high school. He said he had taken his son as far as he could and that it was better to have Eddie continue his progression with someone else as his coach. 

Now that Ed’s back in it, coaching with his son no less, he couldn’t be happier.

“When he first got the job at Dakota, I thought of helping him but I just didn’t have the time,” Ed Skowneski said. “I’m enjoying it now. I’m not the head coach. He has the issues. I just work with the kids. It’s fantastic. It’s rewarding. We have a great group of kids and good parents.

“I look forward to the tournaments, which sometimes keeps me up at night. It’s nice that my son and I can do this together.”  

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: Longtime coach Ed Skowneski stands with son Eddie (left) and nephew Anthony Biondo after a youth event when they were children. (Middle) Father and son hold up Eddie’s bracket sheet after he won the Division 1 championship at 145 pounds in 2006; to the right, they pose together during Biondo’s wedding. (Below) Ed Skowneski and Biondo, also before the latter’s wedding. (Photos provided by the Skowneski family.)

Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 10, 2023

SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.

Greater DetroitThat question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”

“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.

It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.

Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.

It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.

“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”

Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.

The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.

“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”

Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.

But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.

Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.

Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.

“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”

Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.

With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.

“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.

Both also learn from each other’s experiences.

“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”

Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”

This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.

With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.

That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.

But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.

With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)