By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We've seen what the reigning title-winner can do. Now it’s time to visit the four schools that hope to unseat Frankenmuth as this season’s Battle of the Fans II champion.
The MHSAA’s BOTF tour continues Thursday at Buchanan, followed by a trip Friday to Vandercook Lake and the final voyages next Tuesday to Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard and Feb. 8 to Zeeland East. (UPDATE Jan. 31: Because Buchanan cancelled its game on this night, the MHSAA will visit Buchanan on Feb. 15.)
Those four already have proven themselves elite among the 27 schools that applied for this year’s contest. But if these challengers are wise, they’ll consider the strengths of the 22 others that were not picked for the finals this season – which we've organized below after watching a re-watching our YouTube BOTF playlist.
Be all in, all the time
Rockford – Although Ram Nation’s section looked a tad smaller than when we visited during last year’s finalist tour, Rockford still comes en masse to make the basket on their side of the gym a distracting place for opponents to visit.
Clarkston – Like Rockford, this is one of the largest MHSAA schools. This section calls itself the “Jungle,” and you could tell from Clarkston’s video that it had a sea of fans creating an imposing presence – with a few of the athletes noting that the section’s performance directly improves their own.
Sterling Heights Stevenson – Another of our bigger schools, Stevenson’s section blocks out a large portion of its gym’s balcony.
Beaverton – This school has only 422 students, but at least half jammed the section for its video clips. As the narrator noted, it’s about “quality, not quantity.” But every fan from the front row to the back seemed to be involved at all times, as evidenced by this clip.
Bring the buzz
Bear Lake – We’re always impressed when a school like Bear Lake, with just 92 students, can provide the kind of energy that would make any opponent take notice. Two-thirds of the school formed a section with plenty of voice although few in number.
Wyandotte Roosevelt – The “Sixth-Man Fiesta” submitted by Roosevelt didn't slow down, even including a Jedi light saber battle and a few other creative efforts and a lot of jumping, yelling and general fun.
Pinconning – As one fan noted, a “true student section is when you have to shower after the game.” Watching this video helped us understand.
Bridgman – The self-titled “folks on exit 16,” also known as the “Orange Crush,” do their own thing in the Bee Hive. Lots of themes, a spirited mascot and we might borrow that catchy hashtag, #originality.
Grand Rapids Northview – The Wildcats showed off a repertoire featuring one of our favorites: before a football game, the members of the student section walked from their three buses to the field, hand in hand, just like the players. No wonder the team was inspired to earn its first playoff berth this season.
Clio – The introduction of the Mustangs’ video told us all we needed to know how about their high degree of original thought. If you haven’t already, click to check it out.
Hemlock – We can always appreciate a flash mob, especially when it looks like everyone is simply having a great time. The Huskies made that case well.
Warren Woods-Tower – We've seen just about everything over the last few years both touring our finalists and researching ourselves. The Titans did some of those moves – and then finished off with a few we hadn't seen, including a surfer in the crowd and a tumbling 10 pin. See the clip above.
Schoolcraft – The “Purple Pack” had a full 15 people speak on its behalf representing everyone from the section itself to the cheerleaders, pep band and team. They love their Eagles, and we’re pretty big fans of this effort as well.
Traverse City West – As the video spokesperson says, “Sadly, your fans aren't Titans.” We liked the sense of pride and the overall army-like uniformity of this section.
Muskegon Mona Shores – The Sailors based their submission on “Jersey Night.” As such, the overall theme was “Sailor Pride,” as we’d expect from a strong section.
Dedicate to the cause
East Grand Rapids – The Pioneers were everywhere in their video – cheering for basketball, football and hockey. The most powerful cheering sections are present at a variety of sports.
Royal Oak – This video featured a different kind of dedication; the video was submitted by hockey players in tribute to their cheering section. A new spin, and a cool one.
Make an impact
Warren DeLaSalle – The “Bro Zone” – DeLaSalle is an all-boys school – brought the level of intensity one might expect from a football team in the stands, plus a healthy level of neon.
Sparta – Plainly put, the Spartans boys basketball team has only two losses over the last two seasons, and the section gets revved up to play its part by a pregame speech.
Keep it positive and HAVE FUN
Kalamazoo Loy Norrix – The “Knightmare” was having an obvious amount of fun, and it was easy to get the sense the section was doing so the right away (and its leaders then explained how the section had changed the perception of the section from negative to positive). Well done.
Saginaw Swan Valley – Dancing, singing, costumes … the Vikings have plenty of fun. And having the narrator hang from the rim gets some extra credit for creativity.
Remember, vote for your favorite of the finalists on the MHSAA Facebook page beginning Feb. 19.
This year’s winner will be announced Feb. 22 and recognized during the Boys Basketball Finals, March 22 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
And for the rest of this year's applicants ... it's never too early to start brainstorming for Battle of the Fans III.
PHOTO: Frankenmuth hosted the MHSAA for its "Christmas Night" game against Bridgeport on Jan. 18. (Photo courtesy of Chip DeGrace.).
Caleb Lewandowski ♦ Traverse City West
Senior ♦ Skiing
Lewandowski, a three-time past Finals individual event winner, will head to his final championship meet Monday after claiming last week's slalom (1:20.90) and giant slalom (55.85) Regional titles at the Division 1 meet at Marquette Mountain. Lewandowski is the reigning two-time Finals champion in the slalom and also won the giant slalom at the Finals in 2023. Another slalom win Monday would make him the first in MHSAA boys skiing history to claim that championship three times.
Traverse City West as a team won the Regional title as well and will attempt to claim a fourth-straight Division 1 Finals team championship at Boyne Highlands. Lewandowski is actually the second individual Finals champion from his family – older brother Aiden was the Division 1 giant slalom winner in 2021 – and Caleb also might not be the last as he has three freshman brothers and a freshman sister skiing for the Titans this winter. Caleb Lewandowski also plays lacrosse for the Traverse City United cooperative program that includes athletes from West and Central.
@mhsaasports ⛷️POW: Caleb Lewandowski #skiing #slalom #giantslalom #traversecitywest #letsgo #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Feb. 15: Jadin Mix, Onaway basketball - Report
Feb. 8: Onalee Wallis, Cadillac skiing - Report
Feb. 1: Abbey DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek competitive cheer - Report
Jan. 25: Ewan Todd, Riverview swimming - Report
Jan. 18: Ashley Weller, Jackson Northwest basketball - Report
Jan. 11: Michael Baldwin, Saginaw Arthur Hill wrestling - Report
Dec. 15: Jena Fijolek, Fenton bowling - Report
Dec. 8: Sophia Wagner, Escanaba gymnastics - Report
Dec. 1: Isaiah Marshall, Southfield Arts & Technology football - Report
Nov. 24: Sarah Bradley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate volleyball - Report
Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10: Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27: Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20: Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13: Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5: Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29: MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22: Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8: Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Traverse City West athletic department.)