MHSA(Q&)A: St. Johns wrestling coach Zane Ballard

March 4, 2012

This weekend had to resemble, at least slightly, a typical dual match for St. Johns coach Zane Ballard – except he was at The Palace of Auburn Hills for the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals.

But with 13 qualifiers, Ballard guided all but one of his regular line-up at some point over the tournament’s three days. Seven Redwings won championships and two more finished runners-up, just more reminders of how his program has evolved over the last four seasons from solid to arguably the state’s strongest.

St. Johns was 59-51 in the four seasons before these seniors entered high school. The Redwings finished 121-7 during their four-year run and won a third-straight MHSAA Division 2 team title Feb. 25. They haven’t lost to an in-state opponent since 2010. And four of those champions -- plus three more Finals placers -- should be back next season.

Second Half caught up with Ballard on Saturday after one final podium appearance – and the placing of one last medal around the neck of four-time undefeated champion Taylor Massa.

Did you ever imagine you’d have almost your entire line-up at the Individual Finals?

I never envisioned it in the past. But this year, I knew it was possible to do it. This is one of those tournaments, it’s so tough. It’s grueling. … To pull that all together to get nine guys to the Finals, that’s unimaginable. Everything has to go right.

How has coaching changed for you in the last four years, as opposed to first four of five at St. Johns?

It’s like an almost entirely different job. I’ve grown as much or more as any of the wrestlers have. Before four years ago, we had a middle school program but they came in pretty fresh wrestlers. The last four years, kids have been coming in with the capabilities to win a state championship right off the bat.

Is it more fun to coach now, or just different?

Winning’s fun. But it’s different. You’ve got to train them. You’ve got to keep them focused. You have to create workouts for them to keep their attention. They might think they have an easy weekend, and you have to keep them focused. And there’s a lot that plays into it behind the scenes than just the training part.

How do you guys improve on this? How do you keep them coming back for more?

It’s cliché, but we’ll take it one year at a time. We’ll come back next year and have a great showing and do whatever we can to get back. It’s not going to be for lack of training, because if I know these guys, probably most of them will work out tomorrow. They’re ready to go.

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.)