By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Bob Mirkle calls it a miracle that he’s still alive.
The 74-year-old Norton Shores resident had a brush with death Oct. 18 in front of 7,000 fans packed into Sailor Stadium for the blockbuster Muskegon at Mona Shores football game.
Just as the huge crowd stood for the national anthem, Mirkle was slumping back onto the bleachers from cardiac arrest, later identified as the failure of a heart stent which had been implanted 18 years ago.
“Something’s wrong with grandpa!” screamed his grandson, causing a ruckus in the Mona Shores reserved section, about 10 rows below the press box.
What transpired over the next 30 minutes was an incredible performance by the Mona Shores fans, coaches, media and entire community to save Mirkle’s life. It was a textbook reaction which was lauded by Norton Shores public safety officials – and the Mirkle family.
“We live in a great community,” said Cheryl Mirkle, Bob’s wife, who stayed home that night to babysit two of her grandchildren. “In a lot of other places, he wouldn’t have made it. We were told that 1 out of 9 people who have that situation happen don’t make it. So we believe it was nothing short of a miracle.”
The immediate family surrounding Mirkle – many of whom were at the game to support Shores starting junior linebacker Karsen Marihugh, Bob’s great-nephew, and two other family members who are cheerleaders – helped clear a small area in the packed stands and get Mirkle down flat on his back.
A woman sitting four rows back, who was well trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, was able to clear Mirkle’s airway and immediately start chest compressions.
Mark Konecny, a Mona Shores assistant coach and part-time Norton Shores fireman, recognized what was going on and grabbed the automated external defibrillator (AED) on the sidelines and headed up into the stands. Konecny, who was an all-state quarterback for Shores in 1980 and went on to play two years in the NFL with Miami and Philadelphia, was able to connect the defibrillator and shock Mirkle’s heart back into action.
Joe Kinnucan, who was in the press box about to go on the air with a Sailor Nation Sports Network broadcast of the game, threw down his headset and made a beeline for Mirkle, leaving his son Noah to make his unplanned broadcasting debut.
“There was no second thought,” explained Kinnucan, whose full-time job is Deputy Fire Chief for the Norton Shores Fire Department. “You ask any first responder who is truly vested in their work, and they will tell you that they are always on call. I was just happy to be able to help out.”
The huge crowd and both teams, who were wired for one of the state’s biggest regular-season prep football games of the year, briefly put aside the intense rivalry and went dead quiet out of respect. Shores public address announcer Dan Vandermyde even asked those in attendance to say a prayer as Mirkle was carried underneath the bleachers, where Konecny and Kinnucan and others continued working on him as the game began.
Cheryl Mirkle, meanwhile, who was at home and receiving cryptic, panicked phone calls and texts from friends and family, believed that her husband had died. That is until she got a call from her niece, screaming: “He’s breathing! He’s alive!”
Cheryl first saw her husband at Mercy Hospital in Muskegon where, like a true fan, the first words out of his mouth were: “What’s the score?”
The score of that night’s game was surprisingly one-sided: Muskegon 53, Mona Shores 0. Since that shocking night, both Mirkle and the Sailors have been on the recovery trail.
Mirkle underwent heart bypass surgery Oct. 23, five days after the game, and ended up spending 11 days in the hospital. He is back home and even mowed the lawn one day, and will start his therapy sessions this week.
“I’m doing great,” said Mirkle, a retired truck driver and devout fisherman. “I’m getting better and getting ready to start going to therapy. My story has a happy ending.”
As Mirkle was recovering, the Sailors and Big Reds were putting together long playoff runs, with both culminating Thanksgiving weekend in MHSAA Finals appearances at Ford Field in Detroit.
Muskegon’s run came to a disappointing end in a 30-7 loss to River Rouge in the Division 3 championship game.
Mona Shores, meanwhile, continued its magic run under diminutive junior quarterback Brady Rose, upsetting Detroit Martin Luther King, 35-26, in the Division 2 title game.
It capped an amazing rags-to-riches story for Mona Shores, which until recently had become synonymous with losing on the football field. Shores had only one winning season during a 14-year stretch from 1998 to 2012, but ended its playoff drought in 2013 and then made it all the way to the Division 2 championship game in both 2014 and 2018, before taking it all this time.
“We have waited all of these years for Shores to win some football games, and now it’s happening,” said Cheryl, who has been going to games with her husband since the late 1980s when their nephew, Sam Wakefield, was playing for the Sailors. “It really has been an amazing season in so many ways.”
At the community celebration at the school’s gym on Dec. 1, Mona Shores athletic director Todd Conrad praised the community for its support of the team and for rising up and raising funds to help defray the cost of travel en route to the championship.
It was actually the second time this season that the Mona Shores community responded quickly in a time of need.
“The saving of that man’s life was a textbook example of an entire community responding in the right way,” said Kinnucan. “People responded in a split-second with training which they had acquired somewhere along the line.
“Sure, we went on to win a state championship, which is incredible, but it still doesn’t top that moment and how everyone worked together to save his life.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top left) Bob and Cheryl Mirkle sit for a photo with their three grandchildren during Christmas 2017. (Top right) Joe Kinnucan, far right, returns to the press box Oct. 18 to share with play-by-play partner Nick Davros and their viewers that a man in the stands who was experiencing a cardiac event was “breathing and had a pulse.” (Top below) The Sailor Nation Sports Network crew, from left: Nick Davros, Noah Kinnucan, Connor Fritz, Joe Kinnucan and John Hall (with videographer Kimon Kotos on the roof). (Middle) Bob Mirkle. (Photos courtesy of Joe Kinnucan and Bob Mirkle, respectively.)
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association began examining several topics during its Fall Meeting, Dec. 1 in East Lansing – including start and end dates of the winter calendar, possible new transfer rule exceptions and emerging sports – that will shape its work during the winter and spring meetings of this 2023-24 school year.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in March and May. The Council did take three actions this time as part of larger conversations expected to continue over the next six months.
The Council joined staff discussion on the start and end dates of winter seasons and the possibility of moving up both, which was among topics surveyed as part of the Update Meeting poll completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state this fall. Staff will prepare a recommendation for Council to review at a future meeting regarding the 2025-26 school year and beyond.
MHSAA staff also provided a variety of transfer rule issues encountered over the last year, and Council discussed the possibility of adding transfer rule exceptions related to military transfer families, fulltime school employee transfers and students returning from a sports academy or prep school and seeking immediate eligibility. The Council did adopt a change for multi-high school districts (with at least three high schools) that include both boundary and non-boundary schools that more clearly defined where students at those schools have immediate eligibility.
The Council also discussed possible new and emerging sports, including proposals for MHSAA sponsorship received by the water polo and field hockey governing bodies and an anticipated proposal to add boys volleyball to the MHSAA Tournament lineup.
Several more conversations regarded MHSAA postseasons:
- The Council reviewed the work of the Football Task Force and considered a staff recommendation to have the Football Committee in January discuss possibly capping enrollment of Division 8 11-player schools at 250 students to incentivize schools within that group to play 11-player instead of switching to 8-player.
- MHSAA staff have identified four areas requiring financial increases – MHSAA Tournament officials fees, host schools compensations, manager honorariums and team reimbursements for Finals participants – and the Council discussed the importance of including these when the MHSAA Audit & Finance Committee meets in February to begin the 2024-25 budgetary process.
- The Council also discussed recommendations from the MHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee addressing possible requirements of emergency action plans and AEDs at MHSAA Tournament sites.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Wyoming Godfrey-Lee Schools superintendent Arnetta Thompson and Freeland Middle School principal Jennifer Thunberg to two-year terms to the 19-person Council, the first terms for both. The Council also reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson as its vice president, and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.