Przystas Helps 'Shape' Fitness for Future

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 20, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Scott Przystas had plans earlier this week to “crash” a Grand Haven schools party with vegetables grown in his classroom’s hydroponic garden. It may be winter outside, but in his physical education class, it’s time to harvest.

But the Michigan chill doesn’t mean his students – ranging from Young 5’s to fourth grade – will be restricted to the gym for the next three months. When they return in 2017, they’ll head outside and give snow-shoeing a try.  

Teaching includes a lot more than daily dodgeball or rolling out the basketballs for Przystas, a member of the MHSAA Multi-Sport Task Force and this fall’s honoree as Michigan Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the state’s chapter of Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE).

The task force over its first few months has determined that the message on the many benefits of participating in multiple sports must be delivered to students and their families long before these students reach high school and even junior high – making passionate educators like Przystas especially key. He passes on a perspective that “PE is the most important thing we can teach kids, how to be physically active for life” while teaching students at Grand Haven’s Mary A. White and Rosy Mound elementary schools.

“That’s our goal with the elementary PE department in Grand Haven, to make it relevant again,” Przystas said. “Because it’s really easy in our profession (to say) here’s the ball kids, do you want to do. But it’s not gratifying at all. It’s not satisfying to the kid or the teacher.”

Przystas brings the MHSAA task force a wealth of experience as a coach – he’s in charge of the high school’s girls cross country team, serves as freshman coach and varsity assistant for girls basketball and leads the middle school track & field teams. But he also provides an important voice for physical education, an area the task force considers crucial to growing interest in playing many sports instead of specializing in one – which studies have shown can lead to chronic injuries when playing that one sport while leading those children to become adults who are less likely to be physically active and fit. He is in his eighth year in the Grand Haven district and has taught in nine buildings at the elementary, middle, high school and alternative education levels.

“Scott has been instrumental in leading changes to the PE program in Grand Haven,” Mary A. White principal Valerie Livingston said in a report for the Grand Haven Tribune. “His excitement about life-long fitness and nutrition is contagious in the school. Under Scott's direction we have students who look forward to smoothie bars at lunch and are excited to see our new tower garden grow.”

Many teachers

Przystas’ philosophy is deeply-rooted in the positive experience he had growing up in Gladwin, a much smaller community than Grand Haven located north of Midland and Mount Pleasant.

His father Ronald – who formerly worked at the Lansing State Journal and Cadillac Evening News before becoming a reporter, editor at later publisher at the Gladwin County Record – died in a car crash in 1996. But he left his then 10-year-old son a love for sports photography – Scott minored in journalism at Michigan State University – and also plenty of familiarity with athletics. A track & field meet hosted by Gladwin Junior High School bears Ron’s name.

Sports provided an outlet during that tough time. During middle school, Scott would go from a basketball game to hockey practice that same night, filling his time with those sports, golfing and a variety of other like activities.

A few years after his dad’s death, Przystas became a manager for the Flying G’s boys basketball varsity coached by Kirk Taylor, who had gotten to know Ron well over the years. Ron had made sure Kirk understood the importance of Gladwin beating county rival Beaverton – they play for a trophy dating back to 1937 – and so it was memorable when Scott, as a senior during the 2005-06 season, scored a career-high 25 points to help the Flying G’s beat the Beavers despite the fact he really wasn’t a scorer as much as a solid all-around player.

“Scott was part of the best group of captains I have had here at Gladwin in the past 23 years,” Taylor said. “One of his co-captains was quiet and out-worked everybody. Another of his tri-captains was very direct with players. Scott was a little of both, but he always delivered the message with the most positive manner.

“I did not know that Scott would become a teacher and/or a coach, but I did know that he would be very successful at whatever profession he chose.”

Przystas made the all-Jack Pine Conference second team as a senior in 2004 while also earning all-league honors in golf and serving as a pinch-runner in baseball for a couple of seasons – but that was just a start on his athletic endeavors. At MSU, as he was studying toward a degree in kinesiology, Przystas played on the practice scout team that daily took on the women’s basketball team as the Spartans prepped for multiple NCAA Tournament runs. He knew he wanted a career in sports, and that experience got him interested in coaching. He also participated on the MSU triathlon club team, which got him into endurance sports.

He graduated from MSU and before the fall of 2009 latched on at Grand Haven. His first call was to Buccaneers girls hoops coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, and he was on her bench as an assistant for the program’s back-to-back Class A championships in 2012 and 2013 – while also for a time living in her basement before marrying his wife Renee.

Przystas also inherited the high school’s girls cross country program, which he coaches with Renee, and which has made the MHSAA Finals 17 straight seasons. In addition, he became the Lakeshore Middle School track & field coach – and he sees all of these as being related.  

“At a Class A school like this, I’d like to say having most (students) participating in high school sports is because of the elementary PE teachers rocking it,” Przystas said. “Our numbers in cross country are up there (50-60 athletes the last few seasons), our numbers in track are getting up there, and the kids are seeing a familiar face and enjoying the process and sticking with it.”

Passing those lessons on

In addition to Taylor and Kowalczyk-Fulmer, Przystas credits his high school golf coach Ben Ball and Gladwin’s former girls varsity and boys subvarsity boys basketball coach Andy Miceli among those who helped shape his growing up. He also gained valuable experience during his student teaching as an assistant with the Bath High School girls under Craig Poppema, and retired longtime Grand Haven boys hoops coach Craig Taylor – Kirk’s dad – has provided plenty of mentoring.

Przystas – who has served a two-year term on the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports – teaches from a philosophy based on a pyramid. The bottom level is health and knowing how to take care of oneself, with the middle level physical literacy and the body’s ability to solve movement problems to avoid injury. The top of his pyramid is adventure, and that’s what he’s trying to deliver to his students.

But to do so, he also has to be able to relate and communicate with them.

“Scott makes it fun. He’s just very organized – and he connects with whatever age group, whether it’s kindergarten kids or high school girls,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, recalling how excited her 5-year-old son was to have “Coach P” as a teacher. “Freshman girls can sometimes be an interesting group to coach … but he never changes who he is. I’ll stand in the locker room after games and listen to the things he says. Just the quality of person he is, he’s a role model, he and his assistant Kelly Kieft. He’s just a good, positive role model for young people.”

Przystas noted how SHAPE America is pushing for the generation of children being born now becoming an “active” next generation, and as a newer father this hits home – and also helps fuel his desire to help.

He said it’s harder to plant that seed when students are older – but that’s where his responsibility as a cultivator at the elementary level comes in.

“I had a great childhood experience,” Przystas said. “That was the big thing. I fully remember all of the pickup games we had in our neighborhood, the outdoor adventures exploring, playing ping-pong on a chipped-up table.

“(That’s why) I promote to kids in middle school, elementary school, to go check out a lacrosse game. Go to swim camp. Be active this summer. Don’t just be sitting around. We’ve just got to get them outside more and have kids be active.”

PHOTO: (Top) Teacher Scott Przystas (kneeling) works with one of his elementary school classes in Grand Haven. (Middle) Przystas (back row, second from left) has been an assistant on two Class A girls basketball championship teams. (Top photo courtesy of the Grand Haven Tribune.)

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.)