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
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
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.
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
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.)
Denny White brought quite a bit to the Marysville and St. Clair communities.
In 1961, as a junior in high school, White was part of the first team to bring a football state title to Marysville.
Fifty years later, as an assistant coach, he played a vital role in bringing St. Clair its first MHSAA Finals title in baseball.
During the years in between, and decade after, White brought his knowledge of and passion for those sports to hundreds of student athletes.
But most recently, he brought the two communities together.
This past Friday night, the rival schools played for the Denny White Trophy, an award created to honor the late coach and connect the two communities where he was most revered.
“I’m so happy with all the support that has been around the project,” said Brady Beedon, a family friend who helped to create the trophy and was in the booth calling Friday night’s game for Get Stuck On Sports. “It’s the least we could’ve done for a man who helped so many athletes. His legacy deserves to be preserved.”
In a fitting tribute to White, who died Jan. 22 of this year following a long battle with cancer, the two teams played a hard-fought game at East China Stadium, with White’s alma mater Marysville coming away with a 25-20 victory.
Both teams featured players who had been coached by White at some point in one or both of the sports, as his time on the bench lasted through the fall of 2022.
That season, he coached the JV B football team at Marysville. Most recently before that, he had been the varsity baseball coach at St. Clair from 2015-21.
“Not much can unify rivals, but Coach White’s influence goes beyond that rivalry,” Marysville football coach Derrick Meier said at a press conference unveiling the trophy. “He’s affected thousands of local athletes. … It is awesome that someone had such an influence across the board with all local athletes (in multiple) sports. I contacted him my first year coaching varsity, and he was not willing to leave where he was at. I called him three subsequent years; he graciously declined. The last year he did accept, we added a JV B team, his wisdom and knowledge went well beyond just coaching on the field. We’re all lucky for his influence.
“Heroes get remembered. Coach White will be remembered.”
White was a 1963 graduate of Marysville, who then attended Ferris State and Central Michigan. His coaching journey did not begin in the area where he grew up, however, as he coached baseball and football at Newaygo High School before coming to St. Clair.
He spent 35 years in the Saints athletic program, coaching baseball and multiple levels of football.
Much of his time was spent as the pitching coach for St. Clair for coaches Richie Mallewitz and Bill McElreath. That included the 2011 season, when his pitching staff included current major leaguer Jacob Cronenworth, who now plays second base for the San Diego Padres.
Also on that staff were Joel Seddon, who was drafted twice – once out of high school and again after college – and would go on to be the closer at South Carolina; and Jared Tobey, who pitched at Wayne State and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, playing four years in their minor league system.
While White coached nearly 1,000 baseball games in his career, he was involved with more than just high school sports. He also coached a 13-year-old Little League team to a state title and the semifinals of the Great Lakes Regional in 2015.
No matter the level, White poured all he had into coaching, and that included his final season on the sidelines at Marysville, just months prior to his passing.
“Every single kid that he touched with that team, you could just tell, gravitated toward him immediately,” said Travis Disser, who coached with White that final year at Marysville. “His lessons and his light-hearted humor are just something that you can’t replace, or ever hope to. I was lucky enough to learn pitching from Coach White when I was a younger kid, as well. He was the exact same Denny White as he was all those years ago, as he was last year during his battle with cancer. Coach White was a warrior in every sense of the term. His lessons, both on the field and off the field from him, are something that I’ll never, ever forget.”
The idea to create the trophy honoring White came about not long after his death, as Beedon worked with Meier, former St. Clair athletic director Denny Borse and St. Clair assistant football coach T.J. Schindler to create and design the trophy.
The final product is a two-tiered trophy topped with a pair White’s hats – one from St. Clair, the other from Marysville – that have been bronzed. It includes the years in which he won his state titles at his respective schools, and a passage about his life. There is also room to list the yearly winners, as it is planned to represent the rivalry and shared respect for White in the two communities for years to come.
“Whether it was Little League kids over the last 20 years, or some of the football players and baseball players that he coached over the decades that he coached, all of them when they get together have great stories and fondness for all the memories that (White and his fellow coaches) helped them create,” said Sandy Rutledge, the current St. Clair athletic director and a longtime friend and colleague of White. “I think it’s awesome that now as we play for this trophy every year, it will give our coaches a chance to kind of explain who Coach was. The next generation, maybe they didn’t even know him, will know that he is a legend, and he’ll always be remembered.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) From left: St. Clair’s Larry Wawryzniak, Liam Nesbitt and Peyton Ellis, Denny White’s wife Karen White, and Marysville’s Bryce Smith, Carter Saccucci and Caz Carty stand with the first-year traveling trophy celebrating Denny White’s coaching career. (Middle) White was a mainstay in the area’s sports community for more than six decades. (Below) The trophy celebrates his contributions to both schools and will list the winners of their annual football game. (Trophy photos courtesy of Brady Beedon. Headshot courtesy of the White family.)