'Little Mike' Builds on Family Legacy
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
January 8, 2016
Driven but not obsessed, senior Michael Higley has carried the torch for a family that first put Edwardsburg wrestling on the map.
The senior 119-pounder is stalking his fourth straight trip to the MHSAA Division 2 Individual Wrestling Finals and a title that’s eluded him.
All the while, he’s managed to achieve success without feeling much pressure or sacrificing the other important aspects of student-athlete life.
A third-generation MHSAA Finals qualifier, Higley has added much to his family’s grappling legacy in southwest Michigan. His grandfather, Mike (Big Mike), was the school’s first Finals qualifier as a junior in 1966 — just the third year of the program’s existence.
Higley’s father and current Edwardsburg coach, also named Mike (goes by Middle Mike), earned a spot on the podium in 1985 (fourth) and 1986 (third). Other members of the extended family were standout wrestlers in nearby Mishawaka, Ind.
“Little Mike” has had the best career of them all with the biggest prize still up for grabs. Ranked third in his weight class by michigangrappler.com, he boasted a 15-1 record as of Jan. 5.
“It has been awesome,” his father said. “We butt heads from time to time over different things, but it’s a very healthy relationship. We’re good friends and do a lot of hunting and fishing. This is just part of it. This helps create who he is as a young man, but it doesn’t define him as a young man.”
Coach Higley mentioned all the wrestlers he’s seen over the years who have measured their success as a person by what they’ve accomplished on the mat.
“He and I have had a lot of fun enjoying all the things that have come along the way,” Coach Higley added.
Michael Higley plans to study nursing while competing for NCAA Division II University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He’s looking to graduate with nearly a 4.0 grade-point average and is currently taking college classes. The work he’s put into academics has netted considerable financial aid.
But there’s unfinished business remaining in the prep ranks.
As a freshman at 103, Michael Higley earned Division 2 all-state status with a seventh place finish and 48-6 record. He was fifth overall at his weight in 2014 and placed a third time as a junior in 2015 when he turned in a third-place performance at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The pattern of improvement would put him at the top of the podium come March.
“I’m really excited for my last chance,” he said. “It has been my goal to get a state title since I was little and started wrestling at the age of 7.”
For nearly that long, he’s been battling with teammate Hunter Vargo, a senior at 125 pounds ranked fifth in Division 2 with a 16-2 record. Vargo is seeking a return trip to the Palace as well. He and Michael Higley have formed a perfect and productive practice partnership over the years on top of a close friendship.
“It’s great having him in the room,” Higley said. “He’s so great at scrambling; we get better every day pushing each other.”
Like any constantly competitive program, it starts at the lower levels. Before “Middle Mike” began coaching the varsity team five years ago, he was heavily involved in running camps, clinics and clubs for well over a decade ago.
“It was crucial in the development of these kids and getting them exposed at an early age to the fundamentals,” he said. “It has been critical to us in order to maintain that level we’re at.”
The Eddies advanced to the Team Regional Finals in 2014 and fell to Niles. Last winter, Edwardsburg failed to get out of an extremely tough District after losing by five points to a resurgent Sturgis squad. Still, the program made it a close Wolverine Conference race with perennial power Allegan to finish second in the league standings.
Coach Higley expects Edwardsburg to be in the mix again this season, but he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the Eddies don’t suffer any attrition.
“We’ve got some great individual athletes but our depth is thin,” he said of a team still dealing with some football-related injuries.
No matter the outcome for the team or individually, Michael Higley has cherished every minute being able to add to an Edwardsburg wrestling tradition.
“I’m really pleased with what I’ve done so far and what this class has done,” he said. “We all plan on helping when we get out of college and staying involved. I’m glad how we have represented the school overall.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) "Little Mike" Higley, in blue, wraps up an opponent. (Middle) Edwardsburg coach "Middle" Mike Higley and his son "Little" Mike have been their family's second and third generation of MHSAA Finals qualifiers. (Below) "Little Mike" Higley, top, is 15-1 this season. (Photos courtesy of the Higley family.)
Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
That 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 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.)