Three Michigan high school coaches with long histories of championship success were honored Wednesday with 2018 National Coaches of the Year awards presented by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NHFS) Coaches Association.
Midland Dow boys tennis coach Terry Schwartzkopf, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep girls volleyball coach Betty Wroubel and Bloomfield Hills Marian and Birmingham Brother Rice golf coach Leon Braisted III – formerly the longtime coach of the girls and boys programs at Birmingham Seaholm – earned three of the 22 available NFHS awards and have led their programs to a combined 13 MHSAA Finals championships.
The following brief bios include excerpts from each honoree’s coaching philosophy, which they were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Leon Braisted III began coaching both the girls and boys Birmingham Seaholm teams in 1998 and guided those programs through the 2015-16 school year. He led the Maples girls to Lower Peninsula Division 2 championships in 2006, 2008 and three straight from 2013-15, and also to five runner-up Finals finishes. His Seaholm boys team was Division 2 runner-up in 1999. Braisted has coached the Bloomfield Hills Marian girls the last three seasons and the Birmingham Brother Rice boys the last two, leading Marian to a Division 2 runner-up finish in 2017. Rice finished seventh in Division 1 this spring. Braisted was inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
“An athletic program opens the door for students to become involved in different sports. Any sport the student joins is quite a learning experience. A coach through practices teaches the players to be ‘team players and learn the rules of the sport.’ During the practices and playing the sport, players learn tolerance, become alert to their surroundings, and most importantly (the sport) offers exercise. As a golf coach for 21 years I recognize that golf is a lifelong sport. The player learns patience, perseverance and (the sport) motivates the individual to desire to improve (his or her) game. At the beginning of each new season, I encourage the students to join in participating on a golf team. I do not turn any students away from being on the team whether they know how to play golf or not. There is much one can learn from being a teammate and facing the challenge of self- improvement, along with meeting new friends. Joining a sports team is more than just excelling on the field. It is the ability to meet others, a place and time where a person can enjoy the moments away from the rapid pace of daily life.”
Terry Schwartzkopf took over the Midland Dow program in 2007 after seven years leading the junior varsity. He guided the Chargers to five straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championships from 2009-13 and a sixth title in 2016. He was named the statewide boys tennis Coach of the Year in 2017 by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association and led Dow to unbeaten seasons in 2010, 2011 and 2014. His team finished fifth at the Division 2 Final this fall and tied for second in 2017.
“I believe that the sport is irrelevant when it comes to coaching. Granted, specific content knowledge is imperative to success, but coaching is about creating a stable environment in which young individuals can mature as individuals and athletes. I believe that athletics help individuals learn how to cope with loss, cope with success, and how to work to achieve a goal. It allows them the ability to feel that they contribute to something greater than themselves, to put team before self, and serves as something that unites players regardless of age or circumstances. Due to this mindset, our teams tend to be a tight-knit bond of individuals who help each other to succeed. In fact, this year alone I have had seven alumni return at various times in order to work with the team, desiring to give back to the program. In fact, my original captain returned to serve as a volunteer assistant coach this year. These legends give faces to the names that my players have heard stories of as they continue to unite this team past, present, and future. … The records, trophies, and competition are a wonderful part of the game of tennis, but the real victories come in watching these young boys turn into productive men willing to serve others, live with integrity, and exhibit character and sportsmanship both on and off the court.”
Betty Wroubel is the third-winningest coach in MHSAA volleyball history at 1,486-308-130 after leading the Fighting Irish to a 64-6 record and Division 2 runner-up finish this fall. She started her varsity head coaching career in the sport at Clawson, guiding that program from 1979-82. She then led the Pontiac and Oakland Catholic program from 1989-94 and has coached Notre Dame Prep since its first season in 1994-95. Her teams won Class B titles in Fall 2007, 2013 and 2017. Wroubel also coaches the softball team – she led Pontiac Catholic to the Class C title in 1983 – and serves as Notre Dame Prep’s athletic director. She was inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014.
“My philosophy of athletics has changed considerably since I started coaching and has continued to change throughout my career. I believe that athletics provide a powerful vehicle to teach and prepare our student athletes not only in sport, but more importantly in life. My responsibility has never been solely to teach my players to play and love the sport of volleyball, but rather to pursue their passion for something they love and how to grow as young, strong females today – to prepare them to handle disappointment, failure, adversity and stress in a healthy manner and success with a humble heart. As important as it is to help the players develop their game skills, it is far more important to help them in their personal growth journey, to prepare them for a world that will be very different than the one I grew up in, and to create a team-oriented culture in a world that is all about ‘me.’ … I try to teach and empower my players to believe in themselves, embrace all opportunities of both success and failure, and how to achieve what they once considered unimaginable; to work hard, be humble, grateful, forgive oneself, forgive others, and always strive to be what God created them to be.”
Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4, which includes Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. Hartland wrestling coach Todd Cheney led the Eagles to the Division 1 title in 2016 – the school’s first in his sport – while Dexter swimming & diving coach Michael McHugh has led his school’s boys program to four MHSAA titles including three straight in Lower Peninsula Division 2. Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer coach Brianna Verdoodt led her program to its first MHSAA title, also in Division 1, in 2018 after Stevenson finished Finals runner-up in 2017.
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982. Winners of NFHS awards must be active coaches during the year for which they receive their award.
While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.
The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.
“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”
Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”
The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.
“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”
This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.
“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”
Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.
“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”
Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.
“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”
PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)