Shores' Karel Blazes Smart Path to Stardom

January 5, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Samuel Karel is not only the epitome of a true student-athlete. He is also proof that there are many different roads to becoming a high school all-stater.

Especially in wrestling.

“You don’t always have to be the most athletic or the most naturally talented to win the match,” explained Karel, a senior returning all-state wrestler for Muskegon Mona Shores, who is 15-3 with 10 pins this season at 160 pounds.

“You can put in time and effort and find a way to come out ahead.”

Karel has certainly done that, improving from a mediocre grappler as a freshman to a legitimate MHSAA title contender as a senior. But his ascent has been aided by an often overlooked skill in athletics, an intangible which has decided more games and matches than anything else in prep sports but is not as readily apparent as size and speed.

That skill is intelligence.

In addition to pursuing his championship dream on the mat, Karel sports a gaudy 4.24 grade-point average while juggling a class load featuring four Advanced Placement classes – AP Statistics, AP Literature, AP Environmental Science and AP Microeconomics.

Mona Shores coach Blake Groenhout said Karel brings that cerebral approach to the wrestling mat, which has enabled him to figure out a way to beat many opponents who possess superior athletic ability.

 “Samuel’s biggest strength is that he is a real technician,” explained Groenhout, who said Karel has always been good on his feet but has improved on the mat. “He works really hard, and he’s always thinking ahead and is able to pull off some big wins in that way.”

A great example of that came at last year’s Division 1 Individual Finals, when Karel found himself in the infamous “blood round” where a victory would make him an all-stater as a top-eight placer at 152 pounds. Unfortunately, his opponent had beaten him 9-2 just one week earlier at Individual Regionals.

This time, Karel fought a smarter match.

The low-scoring bout turned into a chess match, which played into Karel’s hands. Karel scored a takedown in the first period, while his opponent evened the score in the second – and the score remained 2-2 until just a handful of seconds remained. With overtime looking like a certainty, Karel was able to get away for an escape and a 3-2 victory as time expired.

 “I was jumping around and going crazy after that,” Karel said with a laugh.

It was quite an achievement for someone who couldn’t even manage a winning record his freshman year, finishing 14-14 at 145 pounds. He improved to 28-10 his sophomore year at 160 pounds, including city and Ottawa-Kent Conference Black titles, but fell one win short of making it to the MHSAA Finals. He finished 44-9 last year at 152 pounds, repeating as city and conference champion and capping things off with his 8th-place finish at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Making all-state was a notable athletic achievement since most of his accolades have come as a student.

Karel was one of three Muskegon-area high school seniors to be named a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist this fall. He will find out this spring if he is a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship pool, which totals $32 million.

He credits his experience in sports – both as a standout and team captain on the wrestling team and as a reserve and role player on the Sailors’ football team – for giving him discipline and resilience to be successful in school and the rest of his life.

“Wrestling can get boring, working on the same things over and over, so you have to find a way to keep it new and fresh,” said Karel. “I try to have fun in the room every day and try to think back to what motivated me when I first started wrestling.”

Two more secret weapons for Karel are his family and faith.

The youngest of Paul and Deb Karel’s four children, he has plenty of support from older sisters Martha and Lydia, both students at Lee University in Tennessee, and older brother Simon, a freshman offensive lineman at Trinity College near Chicago.

The Karels have been fixtures in the Mona Shores district for almost 20 years and even longer at Olivet Evangelical Free Church, where Samuel plays guitar and drums at church services (“Music takes away my stress,” he explained).

Karel also will be heading out of state for college, as he will join the club wrestling program at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He plans to major in mathematics and then pursue a career as a mathematician (possibly working for the National Security Agency) or an actuary.

For right now, he is focused on making the most of his final high school season on the mat.

Karel reached the coveted 100-win plateau last month at the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern Invitational. Last week, he finished 3-1 at Grandville’s tournament to improve to 15-3 with 10 pins this season.

As a team captain, he also wants to help two of his teammates try to close out their senior seasons as all-state wrestlers. Sean Halverson is 11-2 at 112 pounds, and Nick Brown is 10-6 at 215 pounds. Those two, along with Karel, form the “Big 3” for Mona Shores wrestling, Groenhout said.

“I made him a captain as a junior, which is rare, but he has such great dedication and enthusiasm for the sport,” Groenhout explained. “He is the one who sets the standard. Our younger guys, like (standout freshman) Josh Hill, they all want to be like Sam.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores senior Samuel Karel, the youngest of Deb and Steve Karel's four children, has won more than 100 matches already in his career, with most of his senior season still to come. (Middle) Karel is a standout on and off the wrestling mat. The senior returning all-stater, also a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, recently won his 100th career match. (Photos courtesy of the Karel 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.)