Lessons Passed Down the Coaching Tree

July 18, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Lessons, like legends, are meant to be passed from generation to generation.

And just as parents hand them down to their children who then do the same, coaches teach athletes the best of what they learned as athletes themselves. Some of those athletes then become coaches as well, and in turn, educate a next group of teenagers growing up in part through their participation in sports.

As we begin to turn our eyes toward another school year beginning next month, here are a few favorite lessons taught by four recent participants of the MHSAA’s Coaches Advancement Program – with back stories on how they learned those lessons themselves and explanations of why passing them on continues to be important.

We are family

Steve Brooks
Ypsilanti boys basketball

Bio: Brooks led the Ypsilanti High School program the last 10 seasons, guiding the Phoenix last winter to its first Regional championship since 1981. He has been selected as the first boys basketball coach for the newly-formed Ypsilanti Community Schools, a merger of the former Ypsilanti and Willow Run districts. Previously, he coached three seasons at Inkster and also led that program to the Quarterfinals.

Lesson learned: Brooks was in fourth grade when he and a friend happened to ride their bike past Flint Northern’s football practice field during one of coach Fred Crawford’s training sessions. The noise and excitement and especially the defensive coaches yelling first caught the kids’ attention; Brooks and his friend ended up watching through the fence until Crawford approached and asked if they’d like a closer look. “He said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a Viking one day, aren’t ya?’ It was so simple. But it made an impression on me as a young man, the pride and tradition of going there,” Brooks said.

Brooks’ family later moved to a neighborhood in Flint Northwestern’s district. But when the school boundary was redrawn before his junior year – and he had his choice of staying or attending Northern – Brooks remembered saying he would be a Viking one day and made the switch. Building togetherness remains a major focus of Brooks’ Ypsilanti program today, 49 years after Crawford first invited him into Northern’s football family. 

Lesson taught: “At any time, our players can come in and talk about personal things and feel like they can let stuff out and it won’t go further than the people it’s entrusted to,” Brooks said. Making a connection to players begins early through his middle school coaches and remains key to building that familial trust.

It’s a philosophy that goes to Brooks’ core. “When you’re starting to coach nephews and younger brothers of players you’ve had, it’s that same type of feeling and promoting of family,” Brooks said.

Do the right thing

Heather Prentice
Portage Northern competitive cheer

Bio: Prentice has coached Portage Northern the last eight seasons and guided the 2007 and 2008 teams to the MHSAA Finals. Total, she’s coached cheer since 1986, including previous tenures at Climax-Scotts and Laingsburg.

Lesson learned: Prentice learned more from what she felt her high school experience lacked. She loved cheering – but decided as a coach to take an active role in the lives of her athletes. “I’ve matured the older I’ve gotten, and I think what’s become more important the older I’ve gotten is putting more of the focus on what I want my kids to leave with,” Prentice said.

“I’m not a parent, and I’m a person in their lives for a very short time,” she added. “But it’s a very significant period in life, and I try to carry myself as I would want them to remember me.”

Lesson taught: To that end, Prentice focuses on mixing plenty of fun with the hard work and lessons she teaches. Integrity ranks high on that list.

She’ll point out during workouts that if an athlete does 23 jumping jacks instead of 25, only that girl will know. But cutting corners, if it continues, tends to catch up with a person.

The payoff is finding out those lessons have paid off.

“The great thing about coaching for so long is you get letters or emails back from kids; ‘I thought of you today when I was disciplining my 3-year-old child,’ things like that. Or, ‘I went in for a job interview and they asked for one of my qualities. And I said I have integrity. I do have integrity, and you taught me that.’ Those are the cool moments,” Prentice said. “They really did hear me; they did hear what I am saying.

Accept responsibility

Duane Enderle
Birch Run girls and boys soccer

Bio: Enderle has coached Birch Run’s girls program since its start, and this spring led the Panthers girls to the District Final for the second time during the program’s six-season history. He also coached the boys for four seasons before taking the last two off, but will return to their sideline this fall.

Lesson learned: Enderle was a sophomore starter on his South Hagerstown, Md., team during one of the first seasons under eventual longtime coach Mike Tesla. At one point that season, Enderle didn’t make a Saturday practice – and during the next Monday’s game never left the bench.

“I learned at an early age it doesn’t matter how good you are. There’s always a consequence,” Enderle said.

Lesson taught: He’s noticed the last few seasons, both on the high school and club soccer fields, a growing number of players unable to control their emotions. “They get yellow cards and come out of a game for 10 minutes, and if it’s one of the good players it ends up hurting the team,” Enderle said.

He said this year’s Birch Run team saw a different side of him as he pushed accountability a little bit harder. It’s a lesson that doesn’t lose significance, even as athletes change over the years and push boundaries in different ways.

“That’s the biggest thing I try to pass on to them, their own self-responsibility and accounting for all of their actions,” Enderle said. “Everything they do always has consequences.”

One for all

Kim Crum
Mattawan girls lacrosse

Bio: Crum is a 2002 Mattawan graduate and played three seasons for the highly-successful softball program led by coach Alicia Smith. Crum just finished her third season coaching the school’s girls lacrosse team after previously coaching the Kalamazoo United team for three seasons.

Lesson learned: Being part of a team is a full commitment to those teammates, something Crum works to instill in her players each spring. She learned that in part as an athlete under Smith – who last season led Mattawan to its second MHSAA championship in three seasons. “With a group of teenage girls, a group of any teenagers for that matter, they form cliques and opinions of people before they get (on a team),” Crum said. “When we were on that team, there were people that didn’t agree, didn’t get along. But when we set foot in practice, for a game, we were part of a team and it didn’t matter what happened outside of there during the day. I try to tell the kids that now.”

Lesson taught: Instead of finishing practices with “1-2-3-Wildcats,” the team’s mascot, Mattawan closes with “1-2-3-Family!” Crum’s emphasis on “team commitment” also has grown through working with her assistant Matt Stephens, the school’s football coach during the fall.

Playing a high school sport often means seeing those coaches and teammates as much or more than family during that three or fourth-month span. Some of Crum’s lacrosse players have played together in the past or together on other sports teams. But she and Stephens are quick to remind them that each team, each season, is a new group with new dynamics to learn.

“Every time we do something, we look at it as how it affects the group,” Crum said. “We have to figure out how each other work. ... Be patient. By the end, we’ll figure things out.”

PHOTO: Ypsilanti boys basketball coach Steve Brooks (far right) celebrates with his team this March after leading the Phoenix to its first Regional title since 1981. (Photo courtesy of Randy Castro, Ann Arbor Journal.) 

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)