Frankfort Follows Coach to Title Success

February 16, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

FRANKFORT – When Frankfort captured its first MHSAA Division 4 District wrestling championship in 22 years last Wednesday, Jaime Smith was asked if another first had been achieved that night.

Was she the first woman in MHSAA history to coach a boys wrestling team to a District title?

"I said, 'I'm going to assume so,'" Smith replied.

It's a milestone that might be hard to verify. If it's not a first, it's certainly rare, according to the MHSAA.

Frankfort's feat under Smith might have come as a surprise to some, but not to those at the school.

High school principal Matt Stapleton called Smith “a quality coach and a quality person," who knows how to get the best out of her students and athletes.

“She’s really passionate about wrestling, about family, about teaching and working with kids,” he said. “Those are the type of (attributes) you need to build a program.”

Frankfort defeated Fife Lake Forest Area and Traverse City St. Francis to claim the District. Freshman Kody Michel's win at 152 pounds decided the outcome in the 42-36 finale with St. Francis.

The championship added to what's been quite a winter for boys athletic teams at the small Class D school. Earlier Wednesday, the Frankfort-Benzie Central co-op squad won the Lake Michigan Ski Conference title. Two days later, the state-ranked basketball team inched closer to the Northwest Conference championship by beating Kingsley to improve its record to 13-1.

Such success is not lost on junior wrestler and two-time Regional qualifier Daymian Tabbert.

"We had to do our part," he said.

Smith, who has an extensive wrestling background, took on the task of resurrecting the program four years ago. Frankfort previously participated in a co-op with Onekama. When that dissolved, the Panthers did not have enough wrestlers to field a team.

In fact, when Smith was hired by the district in 2010, she volunteered to help the school's lone tournament wrestler, Jacob Chappell, who was training at Benzie Central and competing as an individual. The following season Smith was named the coach. She started with six wrestlers that first season, and now has 11, including senior captain Brandon Coxe, who has been in the program all four years. The District crown was the exclamation point of his varsity career.

"It was a very special (night) for the entire team," he said. "We all worked very hard for it. We (Frankfort) haven't done anything like this in a long time. We've come a long way."

Coxe (171), Michel, Tabbert, Ben Tiesworth (112), Isaac Dean (130) and Levi Hubbard (140) were all double winners in the District. Michel, a Regional qualifier at 145, provided the most dramatic moment. Smith moved him up a weight class against St. Francis, knowing it would be the swing match of the night. Given little time to think about it, Michel delivered.

"You need enough time to prepare yourself, but not enough time to scare yourself," Smith said.

Perhaps the day's biggest decision came prior to the matches. Frankfort had a snow day, and conditions were so iffy that the athletic department considered not putting the team bus on the road to St. Francis, a near 40-mile drive.

"Fife Lake was going so we would have automatically forfeited had we not gone," Smith said.

After some discussion, the team was allowed to travel. And, as luck would have it, the storm system, which had produced whiteouts earlier in the day, cleared out.

The District win that night created a buzz at school the following morning. Team members, accustomed to anonymity, suddenly became the center of attention, receiving congratulatory praises from students and staff.

"It was a cool experience," Tabbert, who is 27-12, said.

It was an experience Smith hopes to build off as she develops the varsity – there is no feeder program in the junior high.

"I've already had two kids talk to me about coming out (for the team next season)," she said. "That's (District title) monumental. It will make recruiting easier."

Prior to arriving at Frankfort, Smith coached girls and boys soccer at Traverse City Central. She led the girls to two District titles. Smith was a four-year starter and captain of the soccer team at Olivet College.

But wrestling has always been part of her life.

"I grew up (in Alpena) with five brothers," she said. "We wrestled freestyle on Saturday, folkstyle on Sunday. That's what we did since we were old enough to get across the mat."

She eventually wrestled for the high school team until she made the decision to focus on soccer.

In college, she got back into wrestling, competing in open freestyle tournaments. She also started officiating youth tournaments.

It was at Olivet where she met her husband Ethan Smith, who was a four-time MHSAA Finals wrestling qualifier at Traverse City Central.

“People ask me, 'What's your favorite sport?'" Jaime Smith said. "I love soccer, but I was successful at it because of the discipline and characteristics I learned from wrestling."

It was a no-brainer, she said, when Stapleton approached her about the wrestling job, even though it's been almost exclusively a male-dominated position.

"It felt pretty natural," she said. "Wrestling is in my blood, and there's no way I was going to let (the program) die.

"Were there concerns about me being a female? Absolutely. But my boys, my gentlemen, make that really easy. There's a respect, trust and understanding between us. I have never had an issue with one of my athletes. People always ask, 'How do you make that happen?' It's on them. They allow it to be comfortable and appropriate."

She's had a harder time convincing others, though. At coaches meetings, and even at matches, she’s been mistaken as a mother of a wrestler, and not the coach. Another time, after a match, the opposing wrestler came over to shake the Frankfort coach's hand and walked right past Smith.

"He was looking for a male coach," Smith said.

"But it doesn't bother me," she added. "All that matters (on the team) is the respect that we have between each other."

Smith believes there will be more women following her path. For proof, she points to the increased participation of girls in the sport.

"When I was wrestling (in youth and high school tournaments), I was one of the few and far between," she said. "Now, especially in the lower weights, you can show up at a tournament and create a girls bracket if it's a round-robin. I hope, if they're qualified, you'll see more of it in the future."

As for the immediate future, Frankfort will be the decided underdog when it competes in Wednesday's Team Regional at Leroy Pine River. The Panthers open with Charlevoix. Although numbers are improving, Frankfort still voids three weight classes.

The Panthers will have two wrestlers, Tabbert and Michel, in the Individual Regional on Saturday at Rogers City. Both are underclassmen, which bodes well for the Panthers next season.

"If you look at it, numbers (in wrestling) seem to be waning in northern Michigan," Stapleton said. "But certainly, we're gaining momentum."

For Smith, that’s encouraging.

"It's exciting to be talking about the wrestling program again," she said.

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Frankfort's Daymian Tabbert wrestles under the watchful eye of coach Jaime Smith, top right-hand corner. (Middle) Smith confers with Ben Tiesworth during a match. (Below) Frankfort poses with its first District title trophy in 22 years. (Photos courtesy of the Frankfort wrestling program.)

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.)