CAP Begins 2014-15 on Record Pace

August 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Gretchen Mohney has come to recognize coaches who think they already know it all.

Then she begins a Coaches Advancement Program lesson by describing an orange banging around inside a fishbowl – a metaphor to explain the brain inside an athlete’s skull when he or she suffers a concussion.

Her most powerful lessons have moved pupils to tears. And it’s always gratifying to witness the “Aha” moments that make the CAP educational experience so powerful.

“My favorite is when they admit that they’ve done something wrong, and they want to know how to do something better,” said Mohney, a highly-respected trainer and strength and conditioning coach who also serves as an instructor for the athletic training program at Western Michigan University. “It’s a pretty awesome moment when they realize there’s more to learn.”

More current and aspiring coaches than ever before are taking advantage of that opportunity as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. 

Since this training year began July 25 at Battle Creek Lakeview, 273 current or aspiring coaches have completed CAP sessions – nearly twice as many coaches as this point a year ago and with the last session of August planned for Saturday at New Buffalo. That makes this the busiest start in CAP history, according to MHSAA assistant director Kathy Vruggink Westdorp, who joined the MHSAA staff in 2004, developed CAP for the 2004-05 school year and continues to oversee the program.

This first month’s total attendance also represents 33 percent of the 818 total CAP units completed at high schools and the MHSAA office during all of 2013-14.

“I think the big thing continues to be word of mouth that this is a quality program,” said Hamilton athletic director Jerry Haggerty, a CAP instructor for nine years. “It’s good for all coaches of all experience levels.”

Setting a standard

Since the program’s inception, nearly 6,300 coaches have completed at least the first-level unit. More than 1,000 have advanced through CAP 4.

The CAP program is broken into six levels, each addressing a set of topics:

  • CAP 1: Coaches Make the Difference, The Coach as Teacher, Sports Medicine and First Aid.

  • CAP 2: Effective Communication, Legal Responsibilities, Psychology of Coaching.

  • CAP 3: Additional Coaching Responsibilities, Effectively Working with Parents, The Coach as Performer.

  • CAP 4: Understanding Athletic Development, Strength and Conditioning, Preparing for Success.

  • CAP 5: Healthy Living, Teaching Emotional Toughness, Resolving Conflicts in Athletics.

  • CAP 6: Current Issues and Topics in Educational Athletics.

“Individuals who go through this have a better understanding of their philosophy, their school’s philosophy, their role and responsibility as well as the meaning behind MHSAA rules,” said Westdorp, a former principal, athletic director, teacher and coach in the Grand Rapids area who was named 2013 Coach Educator of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) for her work with the program.

She trains and evaluates all presenters and instructors, including those who last school year administered 1,238 CAP sessions at seven universities and colleges across both peninsulas.

The non-college CAP sessions are taught by 20 instructors who pride themselves on being available anywhere there’s interest. CAP has been presented at 10 Lower Peninsula schools over the last month, with Upper Peninsula sessions planned for this fall. August 9 was particularly busy – units were taught at Jonesville, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Riverview Gabriel Richard – but Westdorp sees the possibility of presenting at up to five sites on the same day.

Flexibility also is an option; a group of mostly non-school coaches took CAP 2 last week in Baldwin, and were able to complete the course over two days instead of one so they could do so without interrupting their fulltime jobs. For coaches working in schools, CAP units can qualify as continuing education credits with the State Department of Education.

Colleges and universities in Michigan are licensed to present up to five levels through their undergraduate or graduate studies, and the list of those who completed courses the last few years is filled with recognizable names of former high achievers on MHSAA courts and fields. Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac will offer courses for the first time this fall.

Certification in the program occurs after completion of CAP 1 and 2, and then after each subsequent unit, with those completing CAP 6 earning Masters Elite Certification.

The topics of CAP sessions “bleed” into each other, Mohney said, and come with plenty of first-person examples to make them relevant to coaches who then realize they aren’t alone facing issues most encounter.

“I talk to them because I’ve been there. … (I say,) ‘Now, let’s talk real.’ I place them in a real situation,” Mohney said. “’The biggest thing is you guys don’t have to know everything. You just need to coach, be aware of this, this and that. And these are some ideas to go about your plan so you can decrease your stress.’

“Any time a coach hears that, it’s a beautiful thing. Because I’m not sure what coach in high school is in coaching for the money.”

Raising the bar

Certainly, some of this month’s heightened CAP participation can be attributed to an MHSAA Representative Council action in March. Beginning Aug. 1, 2016, varsity head coaches hired for the first time at an MHSAA member school must have completed CAP 1 or CAP 2. Westdorp said some who wish to become head coaches in that near future are getting a jump by completing CAP courses now.

But that’s only a slice of the success story.

Haggerty has directed Hamilton’s athletic department for 15 years and said all of his coaches have taken either CAP 1 or 2. Many coaches take the courses on their own; others are required to do so by their athletic directors.

The Capital Area Activities Conference will offer CAP 1 three times this school year, with 100-150 coaches from their 20 member schools expected for each session. Others leagues and conferences are designing similar arrangements.

Michael Roy coached boys basketball at Lawton and girls hoops at Vicksburg and was certified under the predecessor to CAP – the MHSAA’s former Program for Athletic Coaches’ Education (PACE). He’s beginning his 13th year as Vicksburg’s athletic director, and after hosting several CAP classes over the years decided to begin the program himself this month.

“The need for knowledgeable and experienced coaches is greater than ever before. I thought if I was going to make it mandatory for my coaches to become CAP certified, that I needed to get CAP certified and lead by example,” Roy said. “The heart of any athletic team or program is its coaching staff.  CAP is the surest way for coaches to access everything they need to know how to be a good coach. They learn the art of effective coaching through one of the best-designed coaches education programs in the country. CAP is second to none.”  

Haggerty has spoken with athletic directors who have completed the program and then recognize when their coaches employ strategies learned at CAP sessions. An increasing pool of coaching candidates are heading into interviews with CAP certification in hand, and Westdorp has seen coaches bringing their CAP binders to practices to have those lessons available for quick reference. She’s also watched many CAP graduates using their skills at the highest level – the MHSAA Finals.

A comment by Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski sits at the front of those CAP binders: “A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on x’s and o’s as compared to time spent learning about people.” 

Haggerty starts each session telling his pupils, “I do this for two reasons; one because I think it’s important to look at the non-x and o coaching realms; and two, because this is great fun for me.’”

And those coaches who come into CAP thinking they know enough? Mohney said most finish the first unit looking forward to beginning the next.

“CAP has a lot to do with understanding what you’re about, understanding your role and responsibility in athletics and your leadership role,” Westdorp said. “When I start programs, I talk about my work roles in life, and then (I tell coaches), ‘I want to tell you where I felt I was more influential, and that was as a coach.

“’And don’t ever forget it..’”

Click for more on the Coaches Advancement Program.

PHOTOS: These coaches, counter-clockwise from top left, all have completed at least one CAP unit: Bay City Western softball coach Rick Garlinghouse, St. Ignace girls basketball coach Dorene Ingalls, Ypsilanti Community boys basketball coach Steve Brooks, Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff and Mattawan softball coach Alicia Smith. 

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)