If you can’t beat them, join them.
When Bill Polk was a high school wrestler at Dearborn High School, he lost his last match – at the MHSAA Finals – to a wrestler from Westland John Glenn.
Now, 30 years later, Polk is racking up wins on behalf of John Glenn as the Rockets’ varsity wrestling coach. Earlier this season, Polk collected career victory No. 500 and sees no end in sight for his ultra-successful wrestling career.
“I still have the passion,” said Polk. “About 15 minutes after we lost in the Regionals, I was meeting with our assistants and talking about camps and jotting down our lineup for 2023-24.”
Polk has been a fixture at John Glenn since graduating from Olivet College and landing a teaching job with the Westland district. Wrestling played a role in that as well.
“The head coach that was leaving contacted me and asked if I would be willing to come in,” Polk said. “We got into a conversation about it, and I talked him into staying a little longer and helping me out. It was nice he stuck around for two years and gave me the reigns.”
His first season as head coach at John Glenn was 2000-01, when the team went a modest 9-6. The Rockets won 17 matches both of the next two winters and 27 in 2003-04.
“I thought I would be winning state titles in a couple of years,” Polk said. “I had no clue of the intricacies it took to do such a thing. It’s been a good journey.”
John Glenn has made five trips to the MHSAA Team Finals, reaching the final four once.
And, Polk added, “there have been about a dozen times where we were one match away.”
He’s done a masterful job of putting together a great foundation at John Glenn.
“It’s not easy. It took 10 years before we had our first final eight appearance. There’s a lot that goes into building a program – changing the culture, building a youth program, getting everything set in the summer. It took some time for all of that and to get buy-in.”
The sport has changed dramatically during his 25 years of coaching, from the year-round training to the tremendous impact that youth wrestling has had on the sport across the state.
“Wrestling has changed so much since then,” he said. “About 20 years ago, you took a few kids to camp and had some summer open mats. Now, the kids are coming into ninth grade ready to wrestle. It’s phenomenal. Our youth program has 90 kids involved. I couldn’t imagine that 20 years ago. What youth wrestling has grown into is absolutely crazy.”
Polk has always welcomed his former wrestlers back to contribute to the program, from youth to junior high to the varsity level. In fact, nearly all of the assistant coaches and youth coaches wrestled for him.
“The group I have now, for the most part, all wrestled for me, were super successful, are young guys and they know the system,” Polk said. “I’m there and part of it, but I’m more or less invisible now. They know what they are doing and are super passionate about it and do an outstanding job. I’m very fortunate with that.”
John Glenn won its 18th District title this year under Polk but lost 36-27 to Temperance Bedford in a Division 1 Regional Semifinal. The Rockets and Mules seem to run into each other every year, and there have been some great state tournament battles.
One of Polk’s signature dual meet wins was against the Mules.
“The first year we finally beat Bedford was huge,” Polk said. “That was a big one. That was the 2008-09 season. That was a statement that we made it and our team was known as a competitive team. The best part about that is we’ve been able to maintain that and stay near the top. We really haven’t had a lot of down years from there.”
At first, Polk’s 500th career win came and went without anyone noticing. He saw a local newspaper report about a coach that had won match No. 400, and his assistant coaches began asking how many wins he had. That was about 14 wins after No. 500, which came Dec. 14 against Dearborn Edsel Ford.
“I told those guys not to say anything and, of course, they made a big deal out of it,” he said. “It’s nice. It’s a good milestone to hit. I just didn’t want it to distract from the task at hand. I kind of feel like a small-town celebrity now. The community was pretty excited about it.”
His 2021-22 team won 32 matches, as did his 2009-10 team. This year’s squad went 29-6.
His record now stands at 522-145.
It’s fitting that he has won so many dual meets, because dual meets are one of his favorite parts about the sport. Twenty or so years ago, dual meets made up only a fraction of the season, but today they are a big part.
“It’s my favorite part – the research that goes into trying to bump guys around to win those big meets,” he said. “It’s a chess match. It’s part of what makes it fun.”
The atmosphere surrounding a big dual meet or quad, he said, can be electric.
“You can’t substitute that environment,” he said. “The team aspect is my favorite. Everyone is involved, from your all-staters to your first-year ninth graders. They can all be there and be part of it, not just four or five guys.”
Polk has coached six Individual Finals champions and nearly 90 placers as well.
As a college wrestler, Polk qualified for the nationals three times at Olivet and was team captain his senior season. It was sometime during his junior year that he realized he wanted to remain with the sport after college.
“I just started thinking I wanted to be involved,” he said. “I didn’t know it at the time or what, but coaching was something that started interesting me. I hadn’t been involved in the sport for very long at that time. I wasn’t a youth wrestler or anything. I’m still very passionate about it.”
Polk just turned 49. He has no plans to step away from coaching anytime soon.
“I love it. I’m fortunate to be in a good place surrounded with good people. I’m still having fun. I still really enjoy it,” he said. “I’m going to keep going. I don’t know if I will be one of those guys who are in it 40-50 years, but I’m going to go for a while.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO Westland John Glenn coach Bill Polk holds up a banner honoring his 500th victory. (Photo courtesy of the Westland John Glenn athletic department.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. 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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)