By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor
From online video exchange programs such as hudl.com to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the face of coaching and communicating with teams is ever-changing. How much is too much, and how are the new tools being used by the old guard?
With increasing frequency, today’s coaches are turning to technology to assist in their endeavors, particularly in video review and data compilation, as the number of programs available to them seems to grow on a daily basis.
Among the recent leaders, hudl.com seems to have won the favor of football coaches across the state, reducing video exchange and study to a couple clicks of the mouse.
Several members of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council report that their football coaches use the web-based program, and even local officials associations are using it for film study.
Similar programs are making it easier for today’s coaches to analyze data and compile statistics as well.
“The dispensing of information is much quicker than it used to be,” said Marshall bowling coach Sue Hutchings. “We use a scoring software for our stats.”
In more “visual” sports such as competitive cheer, online video is now essential.
“Video playback and feedback to athletes has helped the sport 10-fold,” said Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg coach Abby Kanitz.
In some cases, coaches are taking the lead on such initiatives.
“I run the MISCA (Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association) website and receive plenty of positive feedback about us posting meet results and top times reports,” said Bloomfield Hills Andover coach David Zulkiewski. “I also visit MHSAA.com weekly. Since I run the MISCA website, I want to make sure I have accurate and up-to-date information posted.”
Technology has also made the world a bit “greener” even in the small corner that is interscholastic athletics. From the required MHSAA rules meetings moving to an online format, to volumes of data now stored on flash drives rather than in file cabinets, coaches are realizing savings in both time and cost.
“The current state of track and field and cross country is so much more manageable than when I began,” said East Kentwood’s Dave Emeott. “I remember compiling actual papers from all over the state to keep track of the opposition, and now thanks to Athletic.net we have this access at the tip of our fingers. These programs have also replaced nights spent inputting data and record-keeping. I am sure I have replaced all that time elsewhere, but it is probably spent with kids and not with data.”
With the saturation and availability of these reports around the clock also comes temptation for those who are driven, and even obsessed, with such numbers. Coaches can rank near the top of that list.
“Technology can be extremely helpful and time-saving for coaches and teachers,” said Grand Haven wrestling coach James Richardson. “But, the disadvantage is the coaches and athletes have a more difficult time getting away from the sport, as we have access to so much information, and others have more access to us. This can lead to too much time being devoted to our sport.”
It also might even take some of the fun out of the actual competition.
“I think the one negative side of technology is the lack of the unknown,” Emeott said. “There was a day when we would enter a meet and not really know how the day would turn out. Now I have most meets scored within 10 points the day before we arrive.”
At times, such advance information also can lead to overconfidence heading into competition.
“Currently the MHSAA Final draw is posted online, and my players often see it and draw their own conclusions before I have a chance to talk to them about it,” said Allegan tennis coach Gary Ellis. “In the past, I was able to present their draw in the light in which I wanted them to see it.”
Another side effect is the indirect push to play beyond high school.
“There is a lot more social promotion and glamourizing of the athletes,” said Mike Van Antwerp, Holt lacrosse coach. “The recruiting pressure has increased tremendously, which is causing kids to commit earlier and go to great lengths to have a chance at being recruited.”
The world has indeed become a smaller, more familiar place. Not only can students and coaches learn pertinent statistics relating to any given opponent, they can also learn personal information about their competition through the deluge of social media vehicles.
It is in this realm where the greatest divide exists between coaches and their athletes when the subject of technology comes up.
Several members of the MHSAA Student Advisory Council indicate that their coaches do not use social media to assist with the daily activities involved with their sport, while others are but only on a limited basis.
It’s not that the coaches don’t know about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or the other platforms. More likely, they are all too well versed in the abuses of such mediums by young adults not yet ready to understand the lasting ramifications of a random tweet or damaging photo.
“We have specific rules for use of cell phones at practice, games, in the locker room, etc.,” said Diane Laffey, athletic director and coach at Warren Regina. “We also have a form for parents to sign if they want the coach to be able to text their daughter about practice or game cancellations or changes. We stress that the texting only be for necessary things, and the parents are to give permission.”
Safeguarding against the misuse of handheld devices is becoming as commonplace as handing out uniforms prior to the season.
“By rule, our players aren’t allowed to bring electronic devices to the court with them. We restrict cell phone usage at practice,” said Portage Central tennis coach Peter Militzer. “Players must ‘friend’ the coach on either Facebook or Twitter, and I monitor their activities to make sure their language and behavior meets our standards. We restricted a player’s opportunity to play on varsity last season due to excessive use of crude language and an offensive user name on Twitter.”
PHOTO: This is a screenshot from Hudl.com, an online service used by high school football coaches for video analysis and archiving.
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.)