SAC Sound-Off: One Team, One Community
December 3, 2012
By Matt Freeman
OWOSSO, Michigan (population 15,000) – To our town, the high school football program had been in a tailspin since its first playoff appearance in 2001.
A group of 24 seniors, 11 juniors and one sophomore decided to change that direction this fall.
Owosso, 3-6 in 2010 and 5-4 in 2011, had tasted success during the previous two years – especially considering our four straight 1-8 finishes from 2006-09. Although the program had not returned to the level of competitiveness set by teams of the mid-1990s, there was hope leading into this fall.
So naturally, during the spring and summer leading up to the beginning of practice, my teammates and coaches were bombarded with questions about this year’s team. It was simple; if we played the way we knew we could, then we would have a great opportunity in front of us. And as the season rolled on, I came to understand just how much our town was cheering us on.
Growing up in a rural community in a family that has lived here since the turn of the 20th century, if I don’t know someone, someone else in my family knows that person. So I was tied in some way to many of the people packing the stands and hoping for us to achieve our lofty expectations.
Splitting the first two games and winning a nail-biter against Haslett, we landed ourselves at 2-1 to start. After two losses and a win, we found ourselves at 3-3 with three games to play: against Ionia, Birmingham Groves and Eaton Rapids. We had to win all three to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years – and we pulled it off, with three of our four biggest wins of the entire regular season.
Next up was the Sunday Selection Show and more backing from our neighbors. For the event, the whole team and lots of fans went to one of our local restaurants that had supported us throughout the season. The show came on at 6 p.m., and we were pretty sure we were going to be in Division 3; we just didn't know who our opponent would be.
Finally it came across the screen: CADILLAC. We were going to play Cadillac that Friday at 7 p.m. We were excited, but also a bit disappointed; the game was so far away. To us, this meant that we would not have a good crowd – just the die-hard parents would be willing to make the trip.
Soon, I learned just how much our team meant to the rest of our fans.
Our football team was the buzz of the school that week, but we tried to stay all business. We knew we had the opportunity to do what no football team in the history of our school had done before – actually win a playoff game. That thought alone drove us. We had the best week of practice since the beginning of the season. Everyone was sharp and focused on one common goal. But we still knew it was going to take a lot more than a couple good practices to win this game.
I stop at our local Speedway station, north of town, to get a coffee almost every day on my way to school. That Thursday, Nov. 1, was no different. Yes, it was the day before a game, but I was not about to break my routine.
I was standing in line with my large coffee waiting to pay when I heard a voice next to me. An older man, wearing old jeans and an old coat that had seen more winters than I had, looked at me and said, “Very proud of what you boys are doing.”
“Thank you,” I said, not expecting the conversation to go further.
“I've been to every home game this year, and I’ll be making the drive to Cadillac tomorrow too. Keep it up,” he then added.
I said thank you again, paid for my coffee and left. I then realized what had just happened
Suddenly, I was hit with a lot of questions. Who was this man? How did he know me? Did I know him and just forget? I then realized that I was wearing my varsity jacket, and that solved how he knew I was on the football team.
After stewing on it for a while, I came to the conclusion that no, I didn't know him, nor did he know me. But yet, he felt like he knew me, because of the jersey I was putting on every Friday at 7.
I posted about it on Facebook and told my team, but no one felt what I felt. He didn't know me from Adam. We very easily could have passed by, not knowing each other, and not caring much about it. But he didn't pass by; he stopped because I had on a blue and gold coat, and he was blue and gold in his heart.
To this day I don’t know his name, and I probably never will. But I know he was in the stands come Friday, cheering us on.
When Friday rolled around, the nerves set in. In fact, that day from 8 a.m. until the end of school was a blur. But 2 p.m. did eventually roll around, and we got on the bus and started our 2-hour, 30-minute ride north to Cadillac. We had a police and fire truck escort to the outskirts of town, which was so amazing. As we neared the city limits, our coach stood up and told us to look out the window. Lining both sides of the street were our player signs, with everyone’s names and numbers on them. A local resident had done this so we could see them as we left town. That was our first hint that this was going to be different than any game we’d played in before.
With a few stops we rolled into Cadillac at 5 p.m. Chomping at the bit to play the game, we went into the locker room and came out about 6 to see the visitor stands already half full, while our two student buses hadn't arrived. We warmed up and went in the locker room with 15 minutes until game time.
When the time came for the National Anthem, we gathered two by two and trotted our way to the field. We quickly noticed our visitor stands were over-flowing with people, with the Cadillac stands not 60 percent full at kickoff. Owosso, a town 130-plus miles away, had more people in its stands than the home team. We were all so proud of our team, our coaches and our community. It was then that we realized just what this team meant to our town.
We won that game with a dominating second half; the Trojans of Owosso finally had their first-ever playoff win. Without a doubt, the mass of fans in the stands was remarkable, as was the way the team played that night.
I've been around Owosso football ever since I can remember, and the volume and energy that night rivaled our best home games. I don’t think there is a guy on our team who will forget that night, ever. I know I won’t, and I do not think our community will either.
Matt Freeman, Owosso senior
- Sports: Football and basketball.
- Non-sports activities: Hunting and fishing.
- Favorite class: Mythology
- Up next: Freeman is considering multiple college football scholarship offers. He intends to study business.
- Shining moment: Freeman was a significant contributor this season as Owosso made the football playoffs for the second time ever and won its first playoff game in school history. The Trojans beat Cadillac 27-14.
- Pump-up jams: Anything classic rock; bands like Journey, Boston and Van Halen.
- Must-see TV: "MythBusters," "Pawn Stars," and ESPN "SportsCenter."
- Favorite films: "The Italian Job," "Remember the Titans," and "S.W.A.T."
PHOTO: Owosso senior Matt Freeman begins emerging from his defensive stance during his team's playoff win over Cadillac this season. Freeman, a two-way lineman, was recently named Division 3 all-state by the Detroit Free Press and earned Division 3-4 all-state honorable mention from The Associated Press. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Performance of the Week: Macomb Dakota's Gracie Maloney
May 12, 2023
Gracie Maloney ♦ Macomb Dakota
Junior ♦ Softball
Maloney struck out 21 batters – for every one of her team’s outs – in Dakota’s 9-1 victory over Grosse Pointe North on May 1. She gave up only two hits and also hit a home run for the Cougars, who are ranked No. 1 in Division 1 in the latest state coaches association poll. Maloney is one of only 13 pitchers in state softball history to strike out 21 or more hitters during a seven-inning game.
Also a third baseman, Maloney started last season’s Division 1 Final at that position and threw an inning of relief as well as Dakota finished runner-up to Allen Park. She also plays basketball, and has committed to sign to play softball at University of North Texas. She’s considering studying sports management there as she aspires to become a college softball coach.
@mhsaasports 🥎 POW: Gracie Maloney #softball #strikeout #strike #performanceoftheweek #homerun #dakota #macombdakota #cougars #MHSAA #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #TikTok #mistudentaid #fyp @gracie ♬ Beat Automotivo Tan Tan Tan Viral - WZ Beat
Follow the MHSAA on TikTok.
MHSAA.com's "Performance of the Week" features are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
May 4: Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron track & field - Report
April 27: Owen Patton, Vestaburg track & field - Report
April 20: Lilly Damm, Millington softball - Report
April 13: Larissa Huffman, Mackinaw City track & field - Report
April 6: Darius Acuff, Detroit Cass Tech basketball - Report
March 23: Regan Finkbeiner, Hemlock basketball - Report
March 16: Alaina Yaney, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Report
March 9: Braeden Davis, Dundee wrestling - Report
March 2: Gabriel Sanchez-Burks, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Feb. 23: Grace Sobczak, Marquette swimming - Report
Feb. 16: Kaitlynn Demers, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer - Report
Feb. 9: Indya Davis, West Bloomfield basketball - Report
Feb. 2: Braydon Sorenson, Onekama skiing - Report
Jan. 26: Shayna Hruska, Iron Mountain wrestling - Report
Jan. 19: Kayla Tafanelli, Warren Woods-Tower bowling - Report
Dec. 20: Brenden Paden, Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey - Report
Dec. 16: Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9: Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17: Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
PHOTOS courtesy of the Maloney family.