By Jack Roberts
MHSAA Executive Director
One of the responsibilities that schools have asked organizations like the MHSAA to execute is the management of transfer student eligibility. Historically, many associations have linked eligibility to residence ... thus, for some the regulation has been called the “Residency Rule” or “Transfer/Residency Rule,” not merely the “Transfer Rule.”
Over the years, as society became more mobile and families less stable, these rules became more and more complicated; and now, for most state high school associations, this is the regulation that consumes the most (or second) most pages of their handbooks. Over the years, this has also been the regulation most frequently challenged in court.
Over the years, some states have relaxed their transfer rule and others have refined their transfer rule. In either case, the transfer rule remains an imperfect rule, an imperfect net. Sometimes this net snags students who should not be made ineligible, and for those situations all associations have arranged some kind of waiver or appeal process.
And sometimes, and much less easily solved, the net fails to catch the situations it really should ... the transfers that are not hardship related or the result of some very compelling educational need, but those that are obviously for athletic reasons. It is those that we have been most focused on in Michigan.
Our first effort to get at the most problematic transfers was the adoption for the 1997-98 school year of what we called the “Athletic-MOTIVATED Transfer Rule” ... Regulation I, Section 9(E). Examples of an athletic-motivated transfer are included in the rule. The rule only applies to transfer students who do NOT meet any of the stated exceptions for immediate eligibility and are ineligible for one semester under our basic transfer rule. They become ineligible for 180 scheduled school days if there is a finding that the transfer was more for athletics than any other compelling reason.
This effort has not been successful enough because it requires a school that loses a student to another school to promptly allege to the MHSAA office, with supporting documentation, that the transfer was more for athletic reasons than any other compelling reason. The receiving school then must respond to those allegations. Then the executive director makes the decision. The unfortunate result of applying this rule is that it usually causes hard feelings between the schools, and hard feelings toward the executive director by the school decided against. In 17 years, schools have invoked this rule only 45 times.
Our more recent effort to address the most egregious athletic transfers resulted from requests from the coaches associations for wrestling and basketball, which were watching too many students change schools for athletic reasons, usually related to an out-of-season coaching relationship. The new rule – the “Athletic-RELATED Transfer Rule” – is Regulation I, Section 9(F). The difference between Section 9(E) and the newer Section 9(F) is that in 9(F) one school does not have to make and document allegations before staff can act. If MHSAA staff discover or are informed of any of the circumstances listed in 9(F), we can act. Again, the rule only applies to those transfer students whose circumstances do NOT meet one of the automatic exceptions. It applies only to students who are ineligible for a semester under the basic transfer rule. If there is a finding that one of the athletic related “links” exists (usually an out-of-season coaching relationship), then this transfer student who would be ineligible for one semester is made ineligible for 180 scheduled school days.
So far, it appears that 9(F) may be a better deterrent than 9(E). It has been referenced when students are rumored to be transferring, and it has stopped many of those transfers before they occur. We expect 9(F) to be an even better deterrent in 2015-16 because the rule has been broadened to apply to administrators and parents (not just coaches) and to address directing and coordinating athletic activities (not just coaching).
We have said that if this latest effort does not succeed in slowing athletic transfers, then the next step is 180 days of ineligibility – at least in any sport the student played in high school previously – for all transfer students who do not qualify for an exception that permits immediate play. I fear that would catch far too many students who should not be withheld so long from competition and could lead to a period like the early 1980s when the MHSAA, at the request of the state principals association, adopted the core of the transfer rule we have today and which resulted in a period of busiest litigation for the MHSAA when, at one time, the association had more than a dozen cases in court simultaneously on transfer matters. We’ve got to make the current rules work – with tweaks, perhaps; but not with radical revision.
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.)